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Love and judgment: are they compatible?

This is an unusual book, at the same time both good and difficult. Its message—inspired by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, upon whom the author admits leaning heavily—is basically that Christian love (agape) and the making of judgments are total opposites. The book is Repenting Of Religion: Turning From Judgment To The Love Of God By Gregory A. Boyd (Baker Books, 2004. ISBN: 978-1-5855-8948-7).

The kind of judgment the author refers to is earthy: feeling warm towards some people but judgmental towards others whom we consider fat, tastelessly dressed, short-tempered with their kids, ugly etc. But we like to pass verdicts, he notes. We get a sense of increased worth from putting other people down. In doing so, Bonhoeffer taught, we are exercising ‘the knowledge of good and evil’—and making a poor job of it.

I found the book frustrating at times. It is certainly repetitive, laden with abstract vocabulary and sometimes heavy with Bible references. I found worrying the author’s statement that Bonhoeffer’s thesis is ‘difficult for nonacademics to grasp’. If his and Boyd’s message is fundamental to everyday spirituality it must surely be accessible to all? But maybe in expressing such a thought I am proving myself guilty as charged by that very message!

The book opens up the key Bible passages on passing judgment, including Matthew 7:1-5, Genesis 50:19-21, Romans 2:1-4, James 4:11-12 and sections of Romans 14. It goes on to show that, when we judge, we fall for the same satanic ruse that tripped up Adam and Eve in Eden. It also deals with the book of Job and the folly of thinking we can fully understand God and other people.

Boyd has a good section on God’s way of accommodating himself to human weakness and extraordinary circumstances. This, of course, fits in with aspects of ‘open theism’, of which he is a popular advocate (though not openly in this book).

I am uncomfortable with his notion of ‘church’. In the interests of eschewing judgment he scorns any attempt to discern who is ‘in’ it and who is ‘out’. If, as I believe, the church is by definition the redeemed community, such a stance is impossible. The church can—and, I think, must—love and welcome sinners without accepting them as members.

This book’s message challenged me, as well as raising some concerns. But in line with the spirit of that message I’ll give it overall a ‘B plus’.

[I read the book in Kindle format, so the numbers are Location, not Page, numbers]

Love is the central command in Scripture and judgment the central prohibition.  (57)

Our fundamental sin is that we place ourselves in the position of God and divide the world between what we judge to be good and what we judge to be evil. And this judgment is the primary thing that keeps us from doing the central thing God created and saved us to do, namely, love like he loves.  (162)

The thesis of this book is that love is the central goal of creation and thus of the Christian life, and that its main obstacle is our getting life from our knowledge of good and evil— from our judgment.  (181)

Paul is not giving people a new set of ethical rules; he is calling people to live out a new identity.  (526)

Through the church, the world is supposed to literally witness and experience the perfect love that God eternally is.  (556)

Our primordial parents, Adam and Eve, are the prototypes of each of us. With them we choose to live from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of living in union with the Father, through Christ, in the power of the Spirit. Consequently, as was the case with the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, the church has to a significant extent become the promoters and defenders of the very thing from which Christ came to free us.  (580)

We love God— we affirm the unsurpassable worth of God— by obediently ascribing unsurpassable worth to those to whom he ascribes unsurpassable worth. We love those whom God loves, and we love them the way God loves them.  (617)

Nothing less than the credibility of the gospel, the reputation of God, and the salvation of people hangs on our fulfilling the commandment to love.  (662)

It is precisely the radical, unconditional nature of our love that testifies to the world that our love does not originate in ourselves but in God.  (700)

Because the command to love is the central biblical doctrine, it is the only one we can, and must, hold in an “unbalanced” way. Put differently, the only way to be “balanced” in our understanding and practice of love is to see all other commands as aspects of it, not competitors alongside of it.  (775)

We have neglected the biblical teaching that the origin and essence of sin is rooted in the knowledge of good and evil. Consequently, we have tended to define sin as that which is evil, over against that which is good, rather than defining it more profoundly as that which is not in union with Christ, whether “good” or “evil.”  (853)

We are not satisfied being God-like in our capacity to love; we also want to become God-like in our capacity to judge, which is how the serpent tempts us. But in aspiring toward the latter, we lose our capacity for the former, for unlike God, we cannot judge and love at the same time.  (881)

No-one accuses churches of compromising the Word of God because they accept overweight people into fellowship. Indeed, few would think of questioning the commitment even of churches that have an obese pastor. Consider then, why is this same gracious mindset not extended to gays, for instance?  (1145)

The self-serving strategy of discriminating between greater and lesser sins, and thus between those who are in and those who are out, is so ingrained in the idolatrous form of religious life that those who feed off it sincerely believe they are simply reflecting the mind of God in their distinctions.  (1202)

Perhaps the greatest indictment on evangelical churches today is that they are not generally known as refuge houses for sinners— places where hurting, wounded, sinful people can run and find a love that does not question, an understanding that does not judge, and an acceptance that knows no conditions.  (1387)

The sins we declare ourselves to be against are invariably selected to not target ourselves. If we were consistent in cracking down equally on all sins, we’d be cracking down on ourselves more than on those outside the church.  (1404)

The judgment Jesus prohibits [in Matt 7:1-5] is not about ascribing worth to others by helping them be free from things in their lives that suppress their worth. It’s about trying to experience worth for oneself by detracting it from others.

We must simply trust that God’s character and purpose are what he reveals them to be in Christ and then try to imagine what possible circumstances might have required God to engage in behavior that seems contrary to this character and purpose, such as ordering the slaughter of the Canaanites.  (1913)

Jesus systematically evaded attempts to engage him in the numerous ethical, social, and political problems of his day (e.g., Matt. 22:15–22; Luke 12:13–14). His concern was not to bring clarity to ambiguous ethical, religious, and political dilemmas but to provide people with a relationship with God that would transform their perspective on all ambiguous dilemmas and on all of life.  (1946)

The serpent promised Eve that she could be “like God.” Yet she and Adam were already made in the very image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26–27). The craftiness of the serpent is found in his cunning ability to make Eve think she had to become what she in fact already was.  (2090)

As much as God hates astrology and divination, he apparently loves astrologers and diviners who have a genuine hunger for him. [Commenting on Deut 4:19; 17:2-5; 18:10 cf. Matt 2:1-14]  (2516)

Though the principles of God’s character are absolute, God accommodates his perfect moral principles to our fallen reality as he patiently leads us toward his ideal. We might say that God chooses perfect love over perfect ethics, and this very accommodating choice expresses the essence of who God is. God is a God of love whose love covers a multitude of sins.  (2535)

If we see things through the lens of the cross, our welcome cannot be on the condition that [other people] first clean up their act. Scripture does not say that Jesus fellowshipped with former prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners. The Pharisees would not have found this as objectionable. What outraged them was that “this fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2, emphasis added).  (2787)

We are not even to welcome them back on condition that they first believe. They will never see the reality of love that leads one to repent and believe if we withhold love until they repent and believe (Rom. 2:4).  (2805)

To love like this, a community has to be freed from an obsession with its perimeter—its ability to know or decide who is “in” and who is “out.” It has to be okay with wheat and weeds growing alongside each other. Indeed, it has to surrender to God any attempt to distinguish wheat from weeds (Matt. 13:24–30, 36–43).  (2880)

The evangelistic task of the Christian community, in other words, is to live and love in a way that draws people and cries out for explanation. Our proclamation only has as much credibility as our love requires explanation.  (2915)

When we communicate, however indirectly, that we are not like you, so you need to become like us, we impose our own self-serving sin scale.  (3069)

The New Testament’s teaching about our need to confess sin to one another and to hold each other accountable…can only be applied in a healthy, loving way in contexts such as a house church.  (3208)

We who are the body of Christ need to repent, individually and collectively. We need to ask forgiveness from God, and from the world, for being religious. We have striven to be religious when we were called to be loving.  (3313)

Look at my reviews of other books by Greg Boyd:

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