The Love of God
"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."
"The love of God has long languished as the Benjamin of theological concepts. Not only has it not received the sustained attention that it deserves, but it has not always been clear where to locate it—in a discussion of the divine attributes, the Trinity, soteriology, creation, providence, somewhere else, everywhere? Another problem is that the love of God is too often conflated with images of human love. John Peckham rightly takes aim at this mistake and at other popular myths about God's love. Here is a study of God's love, based on the whole canon of God, that I admire even at those points (and there are a few) where I disagree."
"In view of the universal agreement that love is a crucially important attribute of God, it is astonishing that we so often are content to operate with conceptions of love that are hastily adopted, often from popular culture, without thorough consideration. John Peckham seeks to remedy this state of affairs with a thorough biblical examination of the love of God, bringing the text into dialogue with the multitude of popular conceptions of love. Strongly recommended for all who seek to understand how it is that God loves them."
"What strikes me about The Love of God: A Canonical Model is four things: its learning, sophistication, originality and comprehensiveness. Concerning its learning: the author is impressively conversant with almost all of the relevant literature, so far as I can see. Regarding its sophistication: the author displays a subtle and sophisticated grasp of the issues; he is sure-footed in theology, biblical interpretation and philosophical theology. That combination is hard to come by. Concerning its originality: rather than running with the crowd, the author questions common assumptions on a lot of points, on almost all of which, in my view, he is correct. And concerning its comprehensiveness: the author looks at God's love from a large number of different angles; every other treatment that I know of is 'pinched' by comparison. My judgment is that this promises to be a very influential book."
"Few beliefs about God are more distinctive of Christianity or more appreciated by Christians than the truth that 'God is love.' But not all Christians understand this statement in the same way. John Peckham focuses on God's love in the context of God's relationship with the world, and he describes clearly and carefully the different conceptions of God's love that exist within the church. Though his main text is not difficult to read, the multitude of biblical references cited and the abundance and diversity of his references to the work of other scholars in his footnotes make this a highly valuable resource for further study. Peckham contributes very helpfully to our understanding of God's love through his presentation of the big picture he has constructed from careful theological interpretation of the Bible, viewed as a whole. His foreconditional-reciprocal model of divine love offers a mediating position between the transcendent-voluntarist model of classical theism and the immanent-experientialist model of process panentheism. This is a model in which God's love is volitional, evaluative, emotional, foreconditional and ideally reciprocal. Although I have arrived at a more monergistic model than Peckham has, I benefited from both his exegetical work and his reverent elucidation of how God loves and relates to the world. His book not only stimulated me intellectually; it often prompted me to worship. I commend it heartily to those who want to grow in their love of God through contemplating anew, and more deeply, what God has told us about his loving self in his inspired Word and demonstrated to us in his deeds supremely in Christ."
"The Love of God: A Canonical Model makes an important contribution to issues that are of central concern to both biblical and systematic theology. John Peckham shows mastery of a wide array of biblical and theological literature and has impressively deployed such resources in this well informed and carefully nuanced and hermeneutically sophisticated work. Peckham is clearly committed to the authority of the biblical text and to letting it guide his conclusions. The 'foreconditional-reciprocal' model of God's love in relationship to the world that Peckham defends is a biblically illuminating and theologically attractive proposal that deserves serious consideration and makes a significant contribution to scholarly theological literature."
"Many people talk about how to do 'theological interpretation of Scripture,' but John Peckham actually does it in this book. He does it in a well-informed and thoughtful way, and he helps us gain a clearer—and more biblical—vision of the great love of the triune God."
"John Peckham brilliantly reassesses the concept of God's love, which is foundational for the theological framework of the entire Bible. Employing mastery of wide-ranging sources and keen, balanced logic, he shows how layers of philosophical and traditional assumptions and notions have come to filter and obscure the biblical perspective. Implications of this study for major aspects of Christian theology are profound. No doubt some scholars will resist Peckham's challenge to commonly held views, but none can justifiably ignore it."
"To my knowledge, no other book on the subject of divine love tackles such an all-encompassing range of issues, lays such a solid biblical foundation for the argumentation, dares to question with such insightfulness many long-held assumptions about God's love that need revision, presents such cogent and erudite discussion of relevant philosophical/theological questions, and provides a model for divine love consciously derived from a sola Scriptura canonical perspective."
"This work is an excellent resource for understanding the love of God. After all, God is love and this book is an outstanding response for those who desire to understand the love of God from a canonical perspective."
"A noteworthy contribution to contemporary reflections on God."
"Whether or not one chooses to pursue all the questions that The Love of God raises, the wealth of information it contains; the clarity of its presentations; and, above all, the lofty theme it pursues will prove valuable to a wide variety of readers."
"The Love of God is an in-depth study of the emotionality of God, his relationship to the world, and the love of God. It's profitability is that it stimulates a renewed interest in rethinking what is meant by the impassibility of God, and especially what do we mean when we talk about 'God so loved the world.' It is a worthwhile read."
1. Conflicting Models of Divine Love
2. Toward Addressing the Conflict: A Canonical Approach
3. Agape vs. Eros? The Biblical Semantics of Divine Love
4. The Volitional Aspect of Divine Love
5. The Evaluative Aspect of Divine Love
6. The Emotional Aspect of Divine Love
7. The Foreconditional Aspect of Divine Love
8. The Reciprocal Aspect of Divine Love
9. Who is the God Who Loves?