WHY I BELIEVE THE TERM IS UNBIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICALLY INCORRECT
The term and the expectation of ‘unconditional love’ do not exist in the New Testament. Unconditional love is a modern assertion. It is a concept that skews the idea of sacrificial love. The German psychoanalyst Erich Fromm coined the term unconditional love in 1934 and developed it further in his 1956 book, The Art of Loving. Fromm connected unconditional love with motherly love. Fromm taught that fatherly love was conditional. In our modern American culture, “unconditional love” has bordered on becoming meaningless, a trite slogan popularized in the Oprah Winfrey Jerry Springer world of gab television, spewed as pseudo-insight, regurgitated into a banal commonality. It is reasonable to assert that just because Oprah says it doesn’t make it Gospel, or scriptural, for that matter.
Many have argued that Agape love is ‘God’s love’ exclusively and is unconditional because only God could love this way. John Piper, a Calvinist, has popularized the term unconditional love. Piper borrowed the pseudo-psychological term incorporating unconditional love into modern substandard theology. However, when Agape is used in the New Testament, it is primarily used for believers toward God or others, not God to us. Sacrificial love is conditional in acceptance and implementation.
Some argue for unconditional love, argue that John’s phrase ‘for God so loved the world,’ proves the point. However, without finishing the clause that He gave… and whosoever believes… both conditioned clauses based on the extended love of God conditioned on believing the message and messenger, Jesus. The bottom line is that love is demonstrative, and a mutual covenant of action based on… love.
I say all this to point out what I see as the biggest problem I have with the concept of ‘unconditional love, which is that it is not a theological term nor a biblical term used in the Bible. People who employ the Calvinistic model of interpreting Scripture have advanced the concept in recent years. As this position believes that believers are pre-selected and those who do not qualify for this advanced status from eternity past are irredeemable, the concept of unconditional love becomes a primary point of doctrinal belief.
John Piper advances this view in an article about Unconditional Love. In it, he says: There is such a thing as unconditional love in God, but it’s not what most people mean by it. Piper says:
- It’s not a saving love that he has for everybody, or else everybody would be saved, since they would not have to meet any conditions, not even faith. But Jesus said everybody is not saved, and these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Matthew 25:46).
- It’s not the love that justifies sinners since the Bible says we are justified by faith, and faith is a condition; therefore, having been justified by faith, [a]we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1).
- It’s not the love of working all things together for our good because Paul says that happens “to those who love God (Romans 8:28).” And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
- It’s not the love of the most intimate fellowship with the Father because Jesus said, “He who loves me will be loved by my Father (John 14:21).” And James said, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8).”
• It’s not the love that will admit us into heaven when we die because John says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10),” and faithfulness is a condition.
How, then, does God love unconditionally? Two ways (at least):
1) He loves us with electing love unconditionally (Piper). “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world . . . for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:4-5).” I would respond by saying that this is not a statement of love; it is a statement of being elected through Jesus as the vehicle of salvation. God does not base this election on foreseeing our faith. On the contrary, our faith results from being chosen and appointed to believe, as Acts 13:48 says, “As many as were appointed (given) to eternal life believed.” This is not a statement of love, unconditional or conditional. Thist is a statement of being elected through Jesus as the vehicle of salvation (Bill Bolin).
2) Piper also says that He loves us with regenerating love before we meet any condition. The new birth is not God’s response to our meeting the condition of faith. On the contrary, the new birth enables us to believe. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been [already!] born of God (1 John 5:1).” Piper’s assertion of “already” is a theological statement based on his Calvinistic approach to Scripture and is not in the context of the passage. “[We] were born, not . . . of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God (John 1:13),” I say. No one could be saved without God bridging the gap.
“Let us pray that thousands of people who speak of the unconditional love of God would discover the biblical meaning of what they say. If that happened, many would find their feet on solid ground.” I would say the same of Mr. Piper. Again, I am not a Calvinist, and I see Calvinism as detrimental to biblical faith, as it is rooted in Platonic philosophy, using Plato’s ideas as a basis for interpreting Scripture. However, that is a different story altogether for another day.
Piper asserts that unconditional love is a predetermined commodity, which is not biblical. He is attempting to replace irresistible grace (also unbiblical from my perspective) with the term ‘unconditional love.’ God’s grace is not irresistible, or there would be no free will, nor is His love without condition. This does not mean it is not eternal, everlasting, overwhelming, sufficient, or any other adjectival term Scripture uses. It is that and then some. It just isn’t unconditional.
Unconditional love would make Jesus’s sacrifice without merit and lead to the error of universal salvation. But that is a story for another day.
For me, God’s love defies comprehension, so we must be willing to accept the biblical record concerning His love. Yes, God loves. Yes, God banished our progenitors from the Garden. Yes, God loves. Yes, God destroyed the entire human race, minus one family, in a flood. Yes, God loves. And yes, God was willing to wipe out the Hebrews in the wilderness minus Moses’ pleas. In light of the biblical record, how do we define the love of God? It is incomprehensibly deep, wide, and high. Shalom!