Systematic Theology Biblical Theology Book

Review: The Love of God

Conclusion: An important and balanced contribution to the ongoing debate about the nature of the God-human relation.

I stumbled across the author of this book, John C. Peckham, through the Premier Christian Radio Podcast and I must admit, I truly enjoyed reading this work. It proposes a third, alternative way to two prominent extremes: a true relationship between God and humans.

On the amazon website one can find a very good summary of the book and therefore I will repost it here:

“For God so loved the world . . .” We believe these words, but what do they really mean? Does God choose to love, or does God love necessarily? Is God’s love emotional? Does the love of God include desire or enjoyment? Is God’s love conditional? Can God receive love from human beings? Attempts to answer these questions have produced sharply divided pictures of God’s relationship to the world. One widely held position is that of classical theism, which understands God as necessary, self-sufficient, perfect, simple, timeless, immutable and impassible. In this view, God is entirely unaffected by the world and his love is thus unconditional, unilateral and arbitrary. In the twentieth century, process theologians replaced classical theism with an understanding of God as bound up essentially with the world and dependent on it. In this view God necessarily feels all feelings and loves all others, because they are included within himself. In The Love of God, John Peckham offers a comprehensive canonical interpretation of divine love in dialogue with, and at times in contrast to, both classical and process theism. God’s love, he argues, is freely willed, evaluative, emotional and reciprocal, given before but not without conditions. According to Peckham’s reading of Scripture, the God who loves the world is both perfect and passible, both self-sufficient and desirous of reciprocal relationships with each person, so that “whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (amazon product description)

To use the terms Peckham uses, he proposes a foreconditional-reciprocal model of love over and often against a transcendent-voluntarist model on the one hand and an immanent-experientialist model on the other hand. In less technical terms he proposes that the God-human interaction is a true relationship that is, despite some important differences, analogical to close human relationships. I am fully on board and I believe that this book is an important contribution and alternative to some of the so called “open and relational” approaches.

Nonetheless there are some minor critical points I want mention:

  1. A formal critique. For my taste it has alot of repetitions. The basic argument and message of the book can be absorbed by reading the introduction and chapter nine. There one finds the essence of the book. The rest, revolving around the five terms describing love, are overlapping so much (on purpose and rightfully so) that it is sometimes tiring to read the same statements again and again. Nonetheless, in the chapters between one finds many jewels and the biblical references.
  2. A second formal critique. While the core message of the book is very relational, its presentation is rather technical (e.g. the difference of objective and subjective love on page 212) and of universal and particular love on page 242). This might be on purpose and justified, however, for my taste it produces a dichotomy between the content and the form (language used).
  3. A small, yet specific issue: Peckham cites Emil Brunner from time to time, yet misrepresents him due to the lack of knowledge of Brunner’s work as a whole (I assume). He cites certrain portions and puts Brunner in the camp of the transcendent-voluntarist, while Brunner has proposed a long time ago what Peckham presents in this book (see, e.g., Review: Truth as Encounter)
  4. Overall I believe that Peckham almost identifies God’s love and the positive relationship. This renders some problems since then we (our response) would condition God’s love. If I understand him correctly I woud slightly disagree since the relationship is God’s love fulfilled, whereas God can still love while being displeased by the human answer and human acts (he does not withdraw his love). At least, Peckham is not entirely clear on this point and/or the term “condition” is not very helpful (see e.g. page 124, 193, 203).
  5. His specific proposal of an analogy of relationship needs further work and clarification. Consequently, some of his definitions, terminologies and differentiations of the God-human relationship are not as precise as they could be.

However, these are minor points of critique given the overall value of this work.

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