"The Nature of Love" by Thomas Oord

Thomas Jay Oord, The Nature of Love: A Theology. Chalice Press, 2010. 208 pages. 

#SpeakEasyLove Book Review


Whenever you pick up a systematic theology textbook you will find that the author has been forced to make a decision about what he considers central, and what he considers peripheral, in talking about God. There is not space nor intellect enough in this world to say everything, so where do you begin? And, just as important, where do you end? 

According to Oord there is only one answer to these questions: Love. Love ought to be at the center of our conception of God, our theology, our reading of the bible, and more. Of course, this begs another question: What is love? It certainly doesn't do any good to say 'God is love.' A more circular argument would be hard to find. Instead, Oord works out his own definition of love which, he claims, is consistent with the biblical witness though not found in this precise form therein. That definition? "To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being." 

In this book, section 1 defends the centrality of love, defines love, and defends that definition. Oord then devotes three sections to exploring different theologians works on love: Anders Nygren (agape theology), Augustine (Augustinian love; desire, philosophy, eros, and more), and Clark Pinnock (open theism). In each case he offers a summary of their position followed by a criticism and a brief explanation of what good we can draw from there accounts. Section 5 then outlines Oord's own love theology: Essential Kenosis. 

Essential Kenosis is the idea that God is, in His very essence, loving in such a way that He always gives agency and freedom to creation. He is ever self-emptying, ever creating, ever loving (of course). Along the way, Oord proposes several other key moves: a new theology of Creation (out of eternal creating, rather than ex nihilo), the necessary love of God for creation, the inability of God to stop evil (since it is in His nature to grant freedom and God is therefore incapable of total coercion), and an explanation as to why miracles occur when and as they do (they are only possible through the willingness, or faith, of creatures, otherwise they would represent instances of total coercion). 


At several points I found myself saying 'yes' very strongly with Oord. Putting love at the center of our theology makes sense to me. The problems Oord outlines with traditional answers to the problem of evil, with predestination, and within the three love theologies, echoed well in my mind. 

However, I was disappointed with this book.It felt like I was reading about half of God. God is love, as the famous verse goes, but we must never forget the twin verse in 1 John that tells us that God is also light. Neither one of those can eclipse the other. Often I wanted to say to Oord, "but, what about....".  But what about Jesus as judge of all things? God as defender of His people? And 'miracles' which clearly are not asked for by the participants? 

A perfect example comes in Oord's doctrine of creation. Oord denies that God creates out of nothing because this would represent a moment of complete coercion and God is, according to Oord, not capable of this. However, in so doing, Oord has set up a world in which God is co-eternal with creation (at least some form of creation). Either there was a moment when God created (and thus was coercive) or there was not (and thus something has eternally co-existed with God). Noting that Genesis does not teach creation ex nihilo does not resolve this philosophical quandary. 

Oord starts well, but he does not finish in good condition. 


2 Stars. Not Recommended. The theology is poor, the writing is average at best, it is just not worth it. There are definitely valuable nuggets within this book though, if you really want to dig for them. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

NNU is a Nazarene college, but the entire Nazarene church has kind of fallen away from being Bible-Believing. The theology department at NNU reflects that falling away more than any other department. It is still a nice, conservative college with good education, but they aren't committed to God or His Word anymore. Thomas Oord has something to do with it.