The Unconditional Love Heresy
It would be difficult to conceive of a more destructive antithetical doctrine to the gospel of Jesus Christ than the man-invented travesty known as “unconditional love.” While not a new concept, what is new is its rampant use in Christendom. It may be worth considering that, in some cases, unconditional love is simply being repeated by some well-meaning but intellectually lazy pastors and teachers. In others, perhaps it is being recklessly spread afar in some attempt to mimic the secular culture or by those who feel duty-bound to defend God’s reputation. In any case, the damage done by this untenable and unbiblical ideal is far-reaching and significant, and it’s use within the Church is tragic and indefensible by any thinking person.
The term “unconditional love” is widely believed to have originated with German psychologist, psychoanalyst, author and devout atheist, Erich Fromm, in his book The Art of Loving. There is plenty of room for debate over Fromm’s assertion that the highest form of love is unconditional love. Some will argue that love without condition is not love at all. In many instances, unconditional love may be seen as an emotional or mental pathology, such as that described as battered wife syndrome. Others will claim that unconditional love is God’s love for mankind what has historically been called, prevenient grace.
Nevertheless, the foray of unconditional love into mainstream American culture seems to have begun in the 1960s with the LSD-using hippies and flower-children. To many in that era, however, if not most, love actually meant nothing more altruistic than sex. Unconditional love soon fell out of favor being recognized by many critical thinkers as untenable, if not self-contradictory. After all, how can love that has no basis or condition be love at all? Proving once again, that there is nothing new under the sun, unconditional love has resurfaced, this time, coming from the pulpits of Christian teachers and preachers.
Why This Matters
One great danger comes when teachers of the gospel use unconditional love to describe God’s love for humankind. In doing so, they create pitfalls for themselves in which they are unable to explain passages in scripture that demonstrate that God’s love for man was clearly not unconditional. Among them are the flood of Genesis in which only Noah’s family was spared, the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, and in Exodus, when God killed Judah’s sons for their wickedness. They are unable to explain how, when Moses was confronted with the rebellion of Korah, God could say to Moses, “Step aside that I may consume them in a moment” (Num. 16:21) or how an unconditionally-loving God could destroy thousands of rebellious Israelites and the tens of thousands of Canaanite pagans.
Worse by far, is the suggestion that agape, the selfless love that Christians are to demonstrate toward one another, must be unconditional. This fallacy of extra-biblical, unconditional love is being parroted by none other than well-known pastors and teachers, Chuck Swindoll of Insight for Living, Charles Stanley of In Touch, James McDonald of Walk in the Word, Focus on the Family’s James Daly among others. A few of these will privately acknowledge that God places limits upon unconditional love, by saying that it’s only for the believer or describing it as God’s unmerited favor or grace, but publicly, such explanations are rare or non-existent and certainly unsatisfactory. Unconditional love as most people understand it, knows no limits and has no end and that is the problem. Certainly, God’s love for us is not a result of our goodness or righteousness because we have none.
Why God’s Love is Not Unconditional
Every student of scripture recognizes that God is loving, merciful and kind and He is also holy, righteous and just. By over-exaggerating part of His character, unconditional love denies or diminishes God’s holiness, His standard of righteousness and His quality as the Just Judge. It precludes anger, punishment, discipline and correction. When love becomes unconditional, it ceases to be love at all.
If God’s love for mankind is unconditional, then the Commandments are void, since they are ten conditions of God’s favor. If God’s love is unconditional, then sin is irrelevant and God cannot arbitrate between men or between Himself and mankind. If God’s love for man is unconditional, then we are unable to explain why God said, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated” (Mal. 1:3). If God’s love is unconditional, then Christ’s death was in vain, and the gospel is null because forgiveness is unnecessary. If God’s love is unconditional, then everyone deserves entry into heaven, and Jesus’ command, “You must be born again” is null because it presents a condition. If God’s love is unconditional, then He was unjust and capricious in commanding Israel to wipe out the Canaanites. If God’s love is unconditional, then there can be no unforgivable sin, and we know that there is.
The statement that God’s love is unconditional is an absolute assertion. Therefore, just as in mathematics, if it is shown to fail at any one point, the assertion is proved false. To posit that God’s unconditional love can be resisted, and therefore, limited, as an explanation of how people end up in hell, is nonsense. Likewise, to state that God’s love is unconditional, but His forgiveness is not, is contradictory. Indeed, if God’s love is unconditional, so must His forgiveness be. No, if God’s love is unconditional, it must be demonstrated to be so throughout the Bible in all of His dealings with man, and we must conclude that it is not. Therefore, God’s love for mankind cannot be unconditional.
As illustrated by the many messages delivered by radio and television preachers on resolving conflicts between members and confronting a depraved culture, the Church has its hands full working out the Bible’s instructions regarding charity, philos or friendship, and selfless agape love. It’s absurd to now raise the bar to an unachievable high level, especially when Christ Himself does not do so.
The Imminent Damage
Once unconditional love is demanded of Christians, by one another and by the unredeemed world, rampant abuse and injury will be the predictable result, and indeed, already is. Unconditional love becomes a club with which many will bash Christians who dare to speak out against the wickedness of our age. Virtually any criticism of sin, corruption, criminal or abusive behavior can be blunted by the simple question, “Where’s your unconditional love?” Instantly, victims have no cause to protest any kind of sinful behavior. In fact, the victim is immediately judged and condemned as unloving and unforgiving and victimized anew. This is why Christians must be careful not to regard teaching that either takes away from scripture or adds to it. The result of both is always perilous deception.
For nearly two thousand years, theologians and biblical scholars have been explaining the amazing and overwhelming love of God without resorting to the newly fashionable term, “unconditional love.” To suggest that they were all wrong or that they somehow missed something that our sophisticated generation has now discovered is supreme hubris.
God needs no man to defend his reputation among a corrupt generation such as ours. If any man would attempt to do so, he cannot exalt the name of the Almighty by appealing to an untenable precept invented by an atheist like Erich Fromm. God’s amazing love is not diminished in any way by rejecting the fallacy that it is unconditional. But man’s attempts to define God’s love or explain His character in ways other than those contained in scripture is always costly and destructive.
In John 14:15, Jesus told His disciples, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
The question for us is not, How much does God love me? The question each of us needs to answer is, How much do I love God? The Holy Spirit of God was sent to us so that we can know all truth. His truth sets us free from deception, free from manipulation and free from confusion. Unconditional love is heretical because it is unbiblical, it creates confusion and it is used to manipulate others. Nuances like unconditional love will come and go. Taking God at His word is always the safest way to avoid being pulled off the straight and narrow road and into a deep ditch.
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