Agape Theology

July 14th, 2011 / 64 Comments

I heard several references to the work of Anders Nygren at the recent Oxford University conference I attended, “The Evolution of Morality.” Nygren’s agape theology continues to influence more than seventy years after its publication.

I have been quite critical of Anders Nygren’s views of agape. For instance, in my recent book, The Nature of Love, I devote an entire chapter to evaluating his work.

Below are excerpts from my discussion of Nygren’s work. These excerpts come from the chapter’s introduction and conclusion. They give a taste of what I think of Nygren’s agape theology.

Introduction

Anders Nygren was the most influential theologian of love in the 20th century. His effort to highlight the significance and superiority of agape enjoyed far-reaching success. Many Christians educated during the second half of the century and into the 21st were taught Nygren’s fundamental claims: agape is the Christian form of love, and we discover the meaning of agape by reading the New Testament. Thanks largely to him, many Christians in the Western world know about and value the ancient Greek word, agape.

Nygren’s famous book, Agape and Eros, influenced Christian education in churches and universities around the world. His agape theories were and are preached regularly from Christian pulpits.

The particularities have garnered extensive scholarly response. Yale ethicist Gene Outka, for instance, says Nygren “so effectively posed issues about love that they have had a prominence in theology and ethics they never had before.” Outka concludes: “whatever the reader may think of it, one may justifiably regard his work as the beginning of the modern treatment of the subject.” Edward Collins Vacek says Nygren’s “insights are splendid, his mistakes are instructive, and his views are still very much alive.” The 21st century still feels the influence of Anders Nygren.

Nygren argued the Bible supported his views. In fact, he claimed to portray the authentic view of Christian love as expressed in the New Testament. Because I join Nygren and many other Christians who consider the Bible chiefly authoritative for theology, I take seriously any influential view of love claiming to be the authentically biblical view.

An exploration of Nygren’s ideas, however, shows he reads the Bible through his own particular lens. And that particular lens is not always helpful. Nygren’s theory of agape does not fit the biblical witness well.

Some Conclusions

Although I strongly criticize Nygren’s work in the chapter I devote to his work, Nygren’s ideas provide an important entry into what the Bible says about love. Although much of Nygren’s agape theology should be rejected, it nevertheless helps us see more clearly what ideas should be incorporated into an adequate theology of love.

   Agape is NOT the Only Form of Christian Love

Nygren’s thesis that agape is the only authentically Christian love — excluding all other loves — collapses under careful examination of the biblical witness. His agape arguments are largely unwarranted in the light of the Scripture. Biblical writers use agape with diverse meanings, and they present the meanings of philia and eros in positive ways. The biblical witness suggests Christians should express agape, philia, and eros, rightly understood.

Christians who believe agape is the exclusively Christian form of love should change their belief. Other forms of love are also legitimately Christian. Careful definitions of each form are necessary, of course. I have proposed definitions of agape, eros, and philia to help contemporary Christians reclaim the diversity of the biblical witness to love.

   The Bible Portrays God’s Love as Sometimes Eros and Philia

Contrary to Nygren’s view, the stories and teachings of Jesus, the letters of Paul and John, and the diverse texts of the Old Testament tell us creaturely actions and responses influence the form that God’s love takes. Creatures affect the precise ways in which God loves. God seeks and maintains relationship – including friendships – with creatures in creation. The fact that others influence God’s love and God has fellowship with creation suggests God’s love includes eros and philia dimensions. An adequate theology of love should affirm the various forms divine love takes.

Not only should contemporary Christians embrace agape, eros, and philia as legitimate forms of love for creatures to express. They should also accept the biblical witness that God expresses these forms. Rather than one-dimensional, God’s love is full-orbed.

   God Initiates Fellowship with Creatures

Rather than accepting Nygren’s theology of agape, Christians should endorse the language of prevenient grace, whereby God lovingly initiates relationship moment by moment and creatures freely respond. Divine love initiates fellowship in each moment of a creature‘s life. God enables creatures to respond freely.

God’s loving sovereignty should not be defined in such a way as to eliminate creaturely free response. Prevenient grace offers the way to affirm God’s loving initiative for right relationship and free creaturely response to God.

   God is the Source of the Love Creatures Express

Nygren worries that creatures will be regarded as the source of love. This worry is legitimate, because biblical writers often regard God as love’s source.  Designating creatures as their own sources of love makes God unnecessary for the all-important command to love God and others as oneself. If creatures are the sole source of their own love, they would be entirely independent and autonomous in their decisions to love. Nygren rightly rejects the view love originates in creation.

Unfortunately, however, Nygren’s worry leads him to reject any sense of independence in creaturely love. Although the biblical witness indicates that creatures express love toward God and others, Nygren believes humans do not love God.

Numerous problems arise from Nygren’s denial that creatures express love. Even he admits his view runs contrary to the plain meaning of Jesus’ command, “You shall love the Lord your God” (Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27). To make the Bible consistent with his views, Nygren would need to rewrite much of what the Bible says about creaturely love. The parables of Jesus would make little or no sense. Numerous Pauline statements, such as “anyone who loves (agape) God is known by him” (1 Cor. 8:3), would become meaningless. The Old Testament would be need drastic alteration.

We should acknowledge God as the source and inspiration of the love creatures express. Creatures rely upon God to empower and inspire them to love. Creatures depend utterly upon God. But the response to love creatures make should legitimately be regarded as creaturely love. Creaturely love requires God’s active love as its source, but it remains creaturely love nonetheless. Creatures depend upon God. But they exert a measure of independence when they choose how they will freely respond to God’s call in their lives.

   Love is an Essential Attribute of God’s Nature

Contrary to Nygren’s argument, the actions and responses of creatures do shape God’s love, at least in terms of the form divine love takes. The value and responses of creatures God created and deemed good provide a reason to think God’s love at least partially motivated.

In an important sense, however, Nygren correctly claims God’s love is unmotivated. Christians sometimes use the word “unconditional” to describe this sense. Nygren gets at this when he talks about God’s nature as love. “To the question, Why does God love?” he says, “there is only one right answer: Because it is His nature to love.”  God’s love is unmotivated or unconditional in the sense that God’s nature is love. God will express love toward others no matter the condition of creatures, because love is an aspect of God’s essence.

Philosophers often use the word “necessary” to describe the idea an attribute is essential to an object. Unfortunately, Nygren confusingly conflates the idea of love as a necessary aspect of God’s nature and agape as a particular form of love.

Sometimes Nygren talks about God’s unmotivated love in the sense of necessity: “it is [God’s] nature to love.” The fact that God loves refers to love as essential to God’s nature. Other times, Nygren speaks of God’s love as unmotivated and refers to the condition of those whom God loves. God loves sinners. When he claims creaturely responses and conditions in no way motive God’s love, Nygren twists or ignores the biblical account.

We should distinguish, therefore, between various forms of love and the mode of love. Distinguishing between the mode of God love as necessary and agape as one form of divine love brings clarity to the discussion. If God loves others necessarily, we can talk about the particular form God’s love takes as dependent, at least in part, upon creaturely actions and responses.

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Comments

Curtis

Tom, good article as usual. You say, “Biblical writers use agape with diverse meanings, and they present the meanings of philia and eros in positive ways. The biblical witness suggests Christians should express agape, philia, and eros, rightly understood.” I think this true, especially that the NT uses “agape” in some very diverse ways. But I am curious how the biblical witness can suggest right uses of eros when the word never appears in the texts. Is it that there is a right kind of eros or is it that there are many kinds of agape?


David Felter

Dear Tom:

Thanks again for another thought provoking post from your blog. At the outset, I need to remind you and your readers that I am keenly aware of my limitations when responding to the gifts of brilliance and erudition with which God has endowed you. Having said this sincerely, I would like to respond to a couple of statements in your blog.

First, you state: “Creatures depend upon God. But they exert a measure of independence when they choose how they will freely respond to God’s call in their lives.” I find this support of the doctrine of prevenient grace most reassuring. While I may be wrong, I am sensing an emerging strand of universalism that somehow combines a mutant strain of the Wesleyan concept of prevenient grace with a sentimentalism that seems to open the doors of eternal life even to non-Christian religious traditions. Thank you for this strong support of a proper interpretation of prevenient grace.

Second, you write: “Contrary to Nygren’s argument, the actions and responses of creatures do shape God’s love, at least in terms of the form divine love takes.” Again, I admit my limitations in challenging your astute intellect, but I must respectfully disagree with this statement. Working from Romans 5:8, I believe God’s love transcends “the actions and responses of creatures.” Perhaps I have misunderstood you, but it seems to me as I read the Scriptures that God is not only love, He is also holy. God, in my opinion, could not possibly possess contradictory motives with regard to either those with whom He exists in Trinitarian fellowship, or to His creation. It would follow, then, that God’s love remains eternally consistent, unchanging, etc. Now, I recognize that my perspectives in this regard are contrary to Open Theism, however, I find great comfort in realizing that the love of God for me (and all others) is not conditioned upon or shaped by my response.

Finally, you write, “God loves sinners. When he (Nygren) claims creaturely responses and conditions in no way motive (motivate?) God’s love, Nygren twists or ignores the biblical account.” I believe the statement above can be considered with the statement here. How is the love of God for sinners ever changed by even the most profligate sinner’s response, even if that response is rejection? The most reliable definition, foundation, expression, or benchmark for speaking of God’s love to sinners is the Cross, and even there Jesus asked for mercy for the mocking, scoffers assembled around his cross.

Thanks again Tom, for the wonderful service you provide the Body of Christ with your thought-provoking posts. God bless, and keep it up!

Cordially,
Dave


herbhalstead

In my studies, I have found an over-romanticism attributed to “agape” in the Christian realm, given that while forms of it are used by non-biblical ancient writers in the context of affectionate (not necessarily intimate) love, it is rarely (if ever) used in the passionate sense that Coelho asserts, and is often used in a completely non-relational manner, as in “I love cars.” It seems that the very use of “agape” by the biblical authors may be as a phonetic device.


Thomas Jay Oord

Thanks to all for your good responses.

To Dave – Thanks for your note. I think we may actually agree on that which you think we disagree.

Like you, I affirm that God’s nature as love is unchanging. We can rest assured that God will ALWAYS love us, no matter what we do. In this sense, I affirm divine immutability.

But I also think the way God loves us is determined by the context. The way God loved Jonah, for instance, is different that the way God loves Mary. Because God is a living God in relationship with changing creatures, the forms that God’s love takes also change.

In sum, I think the fact THAT God loves us is eternal, unchanging, or immutable. But HOW God loves us changes depending on the people and the circumstances. As the Psalmist put it, God’s mercies are new every morning. Does that make sense?

I also think we might agree on the issues of the cross. While God’s love is revealed to ALL in the cross, my point is that the way God expresses love to us depends on who we are. God’s love expressed to a 21st century internet porn addict will differ some from God’s love expressed to a 1st century tax collector. Both are loved. But the forms of these loves differ, because God tailor-makes them for their recipients.

At least that’s how I’m seeing things…

Tom


DinkyDauBilly

Good day to you, doc.

Throughout your essay, you use the term “creature”, or some variant thereof.

Yet here:

“Although the biblical witness indicates that creatures express love toward God and others, Nygren believes humans do not love God.”

you switch to “humans,” and that is your only use of the word rather than “creatures.”  You are a very careful writer, so I don’t think is by chance or error. Why the difference? What entities does/do “creatures” encompass other than or in addition to “humans?”


Thomas Jay Oord

DinkyDauBilly,

You have a keen idea to notice this distinction! I wanted to indicate what I think the biblical witness says, namely that more than just humans can love God. But I don’t recall any instance in the Nygren text in which he includes creatures other than human. So I wanted to be faithful to his writings by saying he only talked about human love.

Hope that helps explain things,

Tom


Paul DeBaufer

I am glad you decided to address the issue of Agape here in your blog. I have tried to explain to some, who have been influenced by Nygren’s thoughts (taken as authoritative as the Gospel itself, in many cases) and consider agape as the only form of Christian love, your ideas from The Nature of Love. I am reluctant to lend the book, now I can send them here for the better explanation. Thank you.


John W. Dally

My journey into theology was at a time when agape was a central part of Christian talk.  Eros and Philia were defined as “passion” driven relationships. Agape was said not to be driven by passion.  Agape was described by a passionless act of righteousness.  If you see a person stranded on the road and you helped them it was based on agape.  Philia was a non-sexual friendship relationship between two people. Eros was physical and driven by passion.  It was said that a marriage must be based on agape because there will be times when philia and eros will fail.  If one at least continues to perform acts of righteousness it can sustain the relationship.  This “sounded” good.

After a while I began to see weakness in this model.  If there is no physical attraction why get married?  If there is no friendship the relationship is doomed.  How boring and dead a relationship based on conscious acts of righteousness!  I came to see that all three must be part of a marriage. 

To expand upon this any relationship must contain all three forms of love. A relationship would naturally include physical contact, a handshake, an embrace, a Holy kiss.  Thus eros is involved.  To have a relationship you must at least like the person. Thus philio is involved.  Our lives are driven by doing right, even when it hurts (tough love).  Thus agape is involved. 

I can see this with any relationship.  How could we love a dog if we do not like it or enjoy physical contact with it?  How could we love nature without feeling stirred in our souls or enjoying the physical experience?  When it comes to God, how can we expect to love God if we do not like God? The psalms testify to the physical impact we get from our communion with God.  What about a “heart strangely warmed?”  How can we live out our relationship without acts of righteousness toward others?

I have come to conclude that love encompasses all three types of love, agape, philia, and eros.

Being created in God’s image, would this not indicate that God’s love is made up of all three types of love?  Do all of God’s creatures posses this intricate love to some degree? Someting to think about.


Noah Chance

The concept that God is love, he expresses love, and is an essential part of His nature. Is hard to grasp especially in a world filled with trials and hardships. We as human beings see love expressed daily and I believe is a part of our essential nature as well. We desire to love others, with the stipulation that we require love ourselves. An almost designed independent and dependent condition that puts that need in us. As for the choice we have of free will, we put that love and receive it in unhealthy and unnatural areas of this life. At the end we wonder why would we suffer, and its the result of not directing that love towards God and others.


Taylor Bickel

I’d never considered the idea of God’s love being “unmotivated.” We see motivated creaturely love all the time, and so to consider God’s love not being motivated is difficult to grasp or to accept as “real” love. However, since this argument stems from the idea of love as a part of who God is, then it is difficult to make an argument for such a love to be motivated. However, this still feels disingenuous to some extent. If He has to love us, then isn’t that problematic to some extent? Where’s the freedom?


Grady Turner

In conversations I have had about the topic of love, I was always struck by how our effort is put into defining love and not asking the question why is there love? I don’t mean to take away from the discussion of what love is, I just want to know why is there love?  Maybe I’m asking the “why” instead of the “what” because of the scientist in me. However, consider I John 4:8 where it says “…God is love.” To me this is a satisfactory answer, loves exists because of God. From this starting point, I believe we can better understand what agape love is.


Patrick Patterson

I found this particular topic very interesting, especially the discussion of creaturely love.  I find it hard to fully understand how Nygren can say that we don’t love God, because I have always understood and believed that God is LOVE.  What is the point of loving if we can’t love the sole person who created us and the world we live in?

I can honestly say, I have never really put much thought into the subject of love as far as the different types (agape, eros, and philia).  After reading this blog, I understand the different aspects of love and that because God is relational his creatures can express his love in many different ways.  After reading this, I conclude that God shows his love in complex ways and to limit this belief to think that agape is the only authentic love is false.


Amanda Peutz

I agree with Nyren’s claim—which you say he is correct—of how God’s love is unmotivated (unconditional—in other words).  As he also stated, “It is in His nature to love.”  I can’t imagine knowing and loving a God that loved us with motives in mind.  How would we then be able to love without having motives prior to loving others?  I believe that we are able to love because God unconditionally loves us.  He provides us with the ability to love those around us—even our enemies.  Overall, I’m glad that our God is one with love as a major aspect to His essence because without Him loving us, he wouldn’t be able to teach us how to love all of His creation.


Leslie Warwick

Agape love is to love divinely, to love with the power and inspiration of God! This is my understanding of agape. That it is the purest form of love, the love that comes from God through us to His people and creation. But what I don’t get is how can Nygen say we can’t love God. Did he mean we can’t love God in the way God loves us? Or that we don’t have the capability to obtain and to sustain such Agape? I would like to not believe this because like it was said later on that Gods holy spirit flows through us when we become sensitive to its presence. Like the “Hillsong United” song that say “break my heart for what breaks yours.” We become capable of such love when we become fully human with our sympathy and empathy when we intentional think with our Jesus goggles on.


Jennifer Yearsley

•  I would definitely agree that “Christian’s love” is far more than just the “agape” form of love. Yes God’s love is unconditional, self-sacrificing, and unbound to all. Although, there are many ways that Jesus/God displayed their amazing love for others. Jesus shows philia love with his disciples and the people he met daily, and in the ways he cared for those around him. Also, God provided Adam with a woman because no other creature on earth could fulfill the type of love, emotion, companionship, or bond that as humans we long for, and eros was intended by God in that way. We are called to love and live as Jesus did and it is by lived experience, prevalent grace, scripture, and tradition that we know and understand what this looks like. These pictures of love that I have formed from Jesus and God’s is more than just agape love.


Alexandra Jarratt

I agree that Agape love is not the only form of love that God requires of Christians. If that were true, there would be no evangelism to show God’s love to our brothers and sisters, no helping those in need, no marriage, and therefore no children to bring up in a way that is pleasing to God. Philia and Eros definitely have their place in Christianity, given the right circumstances. I also liked how it expresses that God’s love is what inspires all the other forms of love in us. Since love is an essential part of his character, and he made us in his image, it makes sense that he would create us with a capacity for love, both to reciprocate back on him and to lavish on others.


Molly Breland

I found your thoughts on the need for adopting the idea of prevenient grace most interesting. I’ve discovered that some of your views are similar to mine, but I have difficulty describing them as I have so little background in the subject. This is something I’ve believed in since learning about God being “omni-” everything. I would agree that He presents us with choices, but allows us the free-will to choose our paths. With this though, he is all-knowing, and knows the outcome of each. I believe this is just another way for us to show our love for Him (and others), by showing that we care about the well-being of ourselves, and others (if effects others) if we choose one of the best paths for us in that moment.


Sydnee Oord

It is interesting to me that Nygren had such an influence on Christian ideals of love when his claims often did not match up with Scripture. I find it strange to argue that love is one-sided, that it only comes from God and not from His creation. Is Nygren too nervous to give the power of love to God’s creation? I would say that to have any type of relationship with anyone, including God, the feelings must be mutual. I would expect that God would want His creation to have love for Him, the Creator, as well. I can understand Nygren’s argument that God is the source of love, but I also think that we have the power to decide whether or not to use that love for God and for others.


Hillary Ashmead

I think that as humans, since we are made in God’s image, our intentions are to love but a lot of the time we fall short since that too is human nature. I think we can not truly experience “agape”, if God is the source of love then thats the strongest form. We can not be God, so how can we achieve that caliber of love? But we do experience different forms of love which I believe God values just as much. Like I said earlier we are intended for good and love, to be Christian is to love others, yourself, God and God’s creation. How can we do that without the different forms of love. I think if we were supposed to only have one way to love it would become a lot more “robotic” and not done freely by our own will, as it should be.


calvin fox

At first glance Nygren’s thesis seems reasonable. That agape love in the only authentic Christian love, and all other loves are not. I think that agape is a good idea of God’s love but I would not limit God’s love to just agape. Love seems to be our best word for God’s nature. I think even our ideas of love fall short of describing Gods nature, but it is all that we have.


Joey Norris

Very important things distinguished and crucial ideas discussed. Some say God is in his essence ‘love’ is to say that God’s existence is somewhat contingent on his being the fullest instantiation of ‘love’ (I hope that sounds consistent). Furthermore, if God necessarily loves His creation, with agape or unconditional or unlimited love, then God could and would choose to love his creation (assuming God has free will). It may seem necessary that loving, in the agape sense, is in His essential nature, but I don’t understand how that connects to His “necessary” outpouring of love. If I fully instantiate ‘whiteness’, say my skin, and I was born with it. But, would I necessarily have to always instantiate ‘whiteness’. I could dye my skin or take it off or do want Michael Jackson did to his skin. I think this anthropomorhpic analogy holds. Perhaps God’s instantiation is more analogous to my being ‘human’ like Aquinas argued. So long as I am living I will instantiate ‘human-ness’ and I cannot help it. My existence is contingent as opposed to God’s necessary existence (I am assuming God exists in that way). Moreover, we as human beings respond to God’s love and choose to cooperate with it along with His divine Will. We are able to partake as well as receive His love, but only to a limited and perfect capacity (perfection as functioning well).


Holly Sheffield

The idea that humans cannot love God seems completely ludicrous to me. As it was stated, love is essential to God’s nature. We were created out of love, and as such, love is also an essential part of our being. I cannot imagine that God would create beings who could not love him back, especially since it is God who provides inspiration to Christians how to love others and the world more deeply and purely.


Greg Hata

The only reasons that humans are able to love is because God loved us first by sending His son to die for us. God himself is perfect love, and being a being who has fallen from perfection we are no longer able to love like God loves us. We are only able to love because he has shown us how to love. And since he has shown us how to love, and combining it with free will, we can express what we think God shows us. I also think that since God is love and that we really do not know any physical characteristics of God, he allowed Jesus to give us examples of what God is and what love is.


Tobie

It is very difficult for an author to foresee criticisms that may arise against his work decades after its publication, and to preemptively and conclusively address them therein. If Nygren were alive, he certainly would have had much to say in response to the comments and conclusions above. I certainly don’t think he can be dismissed in the way that some have tried to do. The love of God is something wholly other to the love of the creature, although there are certainly commonalities between the two. Jesus spoke of a “new” commandment to love one another, yet the commandment was as old as the decalogue. The key, of course, has to do with the qualitative “as I have loved you”, Herein is the newness – a love that is not evoked or stirred up, a love that is not dependent on the prospect of a reward, a love that is not aimed at satisfying some need in the lover, but a love that is free and gratis, as Barth used to say in his endorsement of Nygren, because it is birthed out of the very contentment that exists in God. Of course Agape does not suspend Eros or Phileo, but it rules over them, and herein is the key. Nygren serves as a mere introduction to the New Testament contrast between the love of God and the covetousness of humanity. If anything, his thoughts call for further development, not dismissal.


Noelle Parton

I am quite struck by the fact that some people may believe an idea when it goes against what is explicitly said to be true in the Bible. The Bible claims many times that we are to love God, which would imply that we are capable of doing such a thing. I would find it very hard to believe in something that clearly opposes what the Bible says. While Nygren does make several accurate points, I believe, he sadly misses the very part of life that Christ claims to be the most important- loving God.


Matti Munger

I found it very interesting that such an influential theologian could twist the Bible’s words around and still be so influential. He was “the most influential theologian of love in the 20th century” yet said so much wrong information about his agape theory. This was important for me to read because not only did I learn some truths about the agape theory and what to look more into, it also set a strong example about how we can’t always believe what we hear. There are many pastors and preachers that influence millions of people and are just twisting the words of the Bible into their own opinions and making that many people think that what they are saying is the “truth” because they are pastors. This is obviously not always the case but it’s so important for us to think on our own and do our own research of the Word.


Cali Carpenter

As I was reading this blog post, the topic of God’s love being unmotivated and unconditional really stuck out to me. Throughout my whole life, I have always been told that God loves me. Growing up in church I think this is a phrase that is used excessively. While I have always known this to be true, it never crossed my mind as to why he loves me. It is very interesting to think that his love is unmotivated because unmotivated love is something that does not happen all the time. People often have an alternate motive when they are doing something, whether it be they are gaining something physically or maybe they just like the company of having someone there. No matter what the motivation may be for a person to love another people, it is mind-blowing for me to think that God loves us and he has no hidden motive behind doing so.


Allie Kroeger

I have always found the topic of the different types of love to be very interesting. I especially thought it was interesting that you pointed out that God displays multiple types of love, not just one. I think that a lot of christians believe that God only is capable of one type of love, but I really like the points you made to state that that is not true. I also enjoyed how you talked about prevenient grace. My favorite aspect of God’s love is that it is unconditional towards us. He loves us so much that he forgives us no matter what we do, as long as we ask for it. I am so thankful for his grace and love for me!


Kara

I have learned about the different kinds of love before. It was very general and not too much in depth, but I could tell you their definitions. I believe that we express every form of those loves in your life times, but I thought it was very interesting when you said that God could also embody all of those types of love. I mean, it makes sense that He would be able to since he created us and everything that we experience (love), but I just can’t rap my head around when and how then would be. That is definitely something I am going to have to think about and mull over.


Michael Delie

This was more of an uplifting message for me. It just spoke to me and made me feel great to be a child of God. The fact that we are all children of God and He loves us in all these specific ways is pretty cool. I have always heard that God loves His children and creation, and that is what we are. I just never thought about all the specific ways that He does this.


Taylor Gould

This article hit close to home with something I tend to struggle with in my faith. I understand that God loves all His children and more ways than one, and what a wonderful relationship that is to have! My struggle comes in when the words of the Bible begin to become others opinions of what they think certain passages meant. I have a hard time seeing the same things others see after reading the Bible, and I think that’s point. God’s love for us is so unique and His words reside with us differently than others. I think our society begins to forget that we don’t all have to have the same feeling or thought of a passage, but can in fact apply it to our lives in a different way. God loves all His children but for so many different things, and that is what I love most about this faith.


Andong Yue

I like the way the article define the love of God as “more than agape”. Most the time people have the mindset that the love of God is so lofty and high above all to a degree that we cannot even reach it. Such view is not wrong by any means, but it is clearly not the entire picture. Sometime people overly focus on the divine nature of God and ignore the basic fact that God is with us.


Connor Magnuson

When I first heard Nygren’s theology of agape, there was something that did not sound right to me but I could not put my finger on it. After hearing the explanation given by Oord, it made a bit more sense to me. I do feel that it is important to consider that humans on earth can affect the love of God and how God loves others. Not knowing the technical theological jargon initially, it helped me to understand what agape, eros, and philia meant and how they came into play. I think the biggest thing that I took away from this is that we, as humans, do have a free will to do as we please and love the way that we choose to. Many of the arguments given by Nygren seemed to discard that variable when sculpting his agape definition.


Kevin Field

I can appreciate Nygren’s emphasis on agape love and his passion to maintain a holy view of God. However, differentiating the way in which God can express love, in my opinion, does not limit his power, but instead grants God the relational quality required for us to have intimacy with God. Similarly, the brief discussion of God being the source of love and yet giving humanity the ability to freely express and engage in love was a powerful articulation of God’s desire to have relationship with us. The idea that God’s very nature is love and yet God willingly gives us access to it is wonderful to me.


Tawni Palin

I never really thought about the different types of love and the way that they are attributed to God. I just assumed Agape Love is the strongest and covers all bases. The “subcategories” were just human made.


Rachel Ball

“We should acknowledge God as the source and inspiration of the love creatures express.” This idea intrigues me because of the obvious question: what about people who do not know God, or even openly reject him? Can they love? Even if they say they love someone, do we just assume that they don’t actually love them? Then the question is raised, are they merely loving to the capacity that they know? The solution I have drawn over time is that God can love these people regardless of their rejection of Him. They can love, because He loves them, even though they don’t love Him. Or, is the solution that they are not loving at all, but believe that their ‘love’ is real because they don’t know, or reject, Love himself.


Kristen Loper

I relate God’s love as I do the love I have for my own children. Depending on the situation , the way I love my children is different. Punishment for the betterment of character is a form of love and so is affirmation. Both are ways to love. The circumstances are the only thing that changes. God ‘s fibers are love, He has shown us what it is to love in His message sent in the life of Christ and also in the stories of the individuals throughout the Old Testament with His patience, training and stern resolve in correcting those He made, chose and used. Love was and is the goal. He has in teaching us how to be with each other and in our relationship with him and ourselves. We learn love from watching Him. The knowing that He does this without motive is just awesome.


Lexi Sterling

With all of the different types of love talked about, and the different types of agape love as well, it never really occurred to me that can God also share in these various types of love. One of my favorite things the article talked about was that it is in God’s very nature to love. That is wonderful. I wish sometimes that it was my very nature to love…to respond with love instead of frustration at times, or to love instead of hate, ect. While I am certainly capable of love, I also feel the temptation to not respond in that way at various times and or situations. Overall, I am incredibly thankful that God still longs to be in a relationship with me, and initiates relationship, and I am free to choose Him daily in my moment by moment life.


Cassidy Ball

It is disheartening to me that he believes that humans can’t love God. We may not be able to love God in the exact and perfect way that he loves us but we were created to be in relationship with him. To me, a relationship takes both sides. I also wonder where he got the idea that God’s love is unmotivated. Yes, it is in his nature to love but he created us, in his image. There are definitely good and bad aspects to Nygren’s theory that deserve to be considered.


kayla sevier

Once again, a very mind boggling blog and read here. I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember and I have recommitted my life to the Lord just a few years ago really pursuing a life through Christ… going to church regularly, attending NNU, involved in the ministry department, and am apart of many “Christian” things. I mention all of these things that i am always around because being around all of these i have never once discussed the meaning or thoughts behind this word agape until tonight in class. After class and after reading this blog i have come to a realization of the importance and possible use that this word holds. If it is so important in the Christian faith, why am i, personally, just now hearing about it? Agape should maybe be discussed more with in our Christian tradition considering it means something along the lines of “Christian love.”


Allison Christy

While I do not necessarily agree that Nygren’s stance ought to be dismissed entirely, I do agree with the sentiment that Christian love can more than just agape love. If God’s “essence” and “nature” is truly defined by his love, than as Christians we ought to strive to live and love in every way we can. Just like God’s love is not confined to a single type, neither should ours. In that sense, the variety of different ways in which God loves and had loved us allows us to know of all the ways to love we have at our disposal. This allows us as humans to exercise free will even in the way that we love, which means that as Christians we are allowed to act and love others in our own, unique way and the best way we, as individuals, can.


Tyler Mahaffy

Such a confusing yet knowledgeable thing to contemplate about. Reading all this, I keep thinking about the film “Beyond the Gates”I remember from the film when someone asked John Hurt’s character “God loves us, but does he those men outside the gates?” (Referring to the Hutu extremists) and John Hurt responds with “God does not loves some of the things we do or how we do things, but he loves us all.” or something along those lines. This sounds like God is like a parent is to their children. Their children with do something bad or stupid, but even though they made a mistake or got in trouble, the frustration will be there and the disappointment, but the love is still there. And then at the end, when he was attempting to smuggle out those children and was stopped by the extremists, (one of them was someone he knew) despite all the anger and hatred they through at him, despite all the things they did, he responded “The only thing I feel for you… is love.”


Rachel Finley

Although I mostly disagree with Nygren’s view on agape love, I am glad that I was introduced to this idea. Through this, I have found that I have a stronger, more rooted belief system than I thought. The God that Nygren describes, is most definitely not the God that I serve or ever would have any desire to serve. I don’t believe that God loves me only because His nature is love. That means that He is basically forced to love me. God calls me His daughter. Father’s don’t love their children because they are forced to, and they certainly don’t force their children to love them back. A truly loving Father also wouldn’t send His only begotten son to earth just to be crucified so that we could be saved. It is obvious to me that through all our sin, God has chosen to love us – all of us. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the WORLD…” Last time I checked, world meant all of us, not just a couple that are predestined. Nygren’s perspective has really made me realize that I do in fact serve an incredible God, who’s amazing love for me and everyone else on this planet goes far beyond my understanding.


Matt Silva

It is interesting to see that what has become the common understanding, in Christian circles, of what agape means can be traced back to a single and problematic source. That the Greek word agape has received so much attention is also interesting to me. Issues of translation are always informative, and interesting to study. There are many instances where Greek does not translate perfectly into English. The fact that we only have one word for love and they had at least three is definitely a problem for translation. However, I do not understand why what is essentially an issue of translation has morphed into the discussion that it has become. Shouldn’t any discussion of the meaning of any particular Greek word be primarily focused on studying Greek. The word agape has been taken completely out of context by both parties in this debate.


James Shepherd

I find it Nygren’s thesis on agape, the only authentically Christian love, to be rather interesting. While I do not hold to his beliefs, I think it speaks volumes to the relationship he thinks God has with humans. I am also sure that many held and still hold to this belief, which I think is vital for Christians to understand. Many Christians out there hold the view that their current beliefs are the “ones.” If anyone challenges these beliefs or disagrees with them then they are wrong. In todays world we don’t let people share what they believe unless they believe what I believe. This is a wrong way to go about it. We should allow these people to question what we believe and why we believe it. This is only way we can grow and develop in our faith, and continue to strengthen the Christian community. I fond this article mind blowing!


Linnea Phillips

“An adequate theology of love should affirm the various forms divine love takes.”

I strongly believe that Christian’s love is more than just the “agape” form of love. Although I believe that agape is a necessary and important form of love; however, I think it’s important to understand that God’s love is “full-orbed”. In other words, I think that God is capable of more than one type of love. With that said, I think that as God’s children, it’s critical to recognize and demonstrate all the forms of love, equally as important to the other.


Jackson Bevens

I have heard the word “agape” many times throughout my life, and never has anyone really dissected the word to decide or prove what it really means. I really liked this process in class and on this blog, because it gave me a lot of insights into the true meaning of it for me, and everyone else. I think that the most important part that I took from this topic is that we have free will to love, and to show acts of love. Sure there are biological things that we can’t control that helps us make decisions about romantic love, however we still are able to show acts of love on our own. In Nygrens theory it makes it so that we have no control of this love that we show. I can’t believe my relationship with God is like that. We love because God loves us, but what we do with that love is our choice, and that is the beauty of our relationship with God, without it, I don’t really know what that relationship would look like.


Cass Hinton

I thought this post was really interesting. I think that it is really important to understand all of these different words and their many meanings. I do not think, however, that an attempt to force Gods love into one of these definitions is completely necessary. I do not think that we can put a limit on the love of God and that may be why there are so many words and definitions of His love in the Bible. I actually like that there are so many different ways of thinking about God and his love for us and how we should love each other because it allows God to be viewed in a more approachable way. I love that God loves in all these different ways.


Spencer Hassman

I completely agree with your stance that agape is simply one form of love, specifically God’s love, and that trying to use any one word to describe the love of God is a gross oversimplification of the nature of God’s love and relationship for and with us. Also, like any good Wesleyan, subscribe to, and find beauty in, this idea of prevenient grace. However, that being said, I do not necessarily reject the possibility that the love that I feel I am expressing could actually be the outpouring of the love of God through me. Regardless of how I think I engage in the world and whether or not I have free will or not, that does not effect my call and responsibility to behave in accordance with scripture and with love.


Curtis Mostul

After learning more about Agape love and its implications it has helped me to think more about all of the Sunday school lessons that I was told that God’s love is more than just human love its Agape love. Something more than we can comprehend. However, I do not think that we can love like God because he is too almighty to compare to a human. Humans can love and humans want to love. When the definition of Agape love it to do what is best for the most when a situation of ill consequences arises then I do think that we can show this agape love. Ways in which I fell that I show this love would be through not responding to people who insult me or try to bring me down. Instead I try to ignore them and wont let them try to hurt be because I do not need to let them hurt me. Using violence to solve these kinds of problems will never result in the situation I would want it to be. You have to show love and try not to let anyone ever bring your down. God loves us and we can love God. For that we are very lucky and must cherish this gift.


Brad

My favorite line from this blog was, “Creaturely actions and responses influence the form that God’s love takes”. I love this line because it rings so true throughout the Bible. In the Old Testament and the New Testament there are many stories of God changing His heart. For example Abraham cries out to God and negotiates with God to have mercy on His people. I love knowing that I can partner with God and that it is a relationship and that my actions and responses can influence the form of God’s love.


Jacob Neff

Growing up, I was always told that Agape love is God’s love. That is, that only God can show agape love, and it’s accessible to humans only because He shows agape love to us. Of course, I do believe that agape love is shown to us by God, but now I’m not convinced that only God is capable of showing agape love. I believe that God shows us different forms of love, at different times in our lives, so that we can see it, and then show that love to others. That’s where my biggest disagreement with Nygren lies.


melissa verhage

After reading this and then talking in class last night about agape, I realized that I didn’t fully understand what it meant. I had my own idea of it which did not match up to what we talked about. I thought of agape as a true and unconditional love that is apart from a romance type of love. I never had thought about it being one that is seen when a tragedy strikes and is a response of that. However, you touched on this too how we can read about it in the bible and find so many different meanings of it. This was a good subject to talk about for me personally so that I really understood what agape is.


Julie Armbruster

I appreciated your blog post and the lecture on the topic of agape love. I was hesitant to hear how the lecture would go and in the end I see truth in what you said about agape having several meanings., as if it were a slang word for the day in which it was written. Your definition of agape love is also one that I can grasp and appreciate, in the past I believed that I could pray to God and ask Him to give me agape love to express to another. In some ways I still believe that to be true, now I can see that agape love can be the way in which I respond to others (in a Godly manner). I truly appreciate your view on this and I can’t wait to hear more as the semester moves on.


Toniessa Phelps

I think the concept of agape love is very interesting. I always thought of agape love as unconditional love l, which is one of the definitions that was expressed. Going off of Nygrens view of Agape love is a weird way to express agape love in my eyes. It’s weird to me because I can’t believe that God would only choose one group of people and not others, when in the bible evangelizing is expressed a lot. So why would God even bother to make us and have us witness to others if we were all chosen. I go along with the Wesleyan view of agape love. I believe that God calls everyone and it’s people’s choice on whether or not they want to respond. I love reading this blogs because it just reinforces what we learn in class.


Brenden O’Neill

I learned of agape love when I was in high school. The teacher of the leadership class which I participated in described agape as seeing the best and wanting the best for those around you, and then acting on that love. I do still agree with the main aspects of this theology of agape love, but I also enjoyed learning the fact that agape cannot be defined in just one definition. This is why agape is a special kind of love. We cannot keep it confined to our own understanding; it is truly a transcendent kind of love.


Caleb Gerdes

So I didn’t respond to this blog immediately because after the last class I just needed some actual happiness in my television watching. Responding now: still don’t get this full concept of agape, philia, eros. I mean agape seems to to once again take this multi-functional definition of love that is positive at least. I guess what strikes me is Nygren’s denial of choice of man and our love not affecting God. I mean pre-destination and a master plan of utter control by God? Infallible evidence I’m not just in the Matrix? I do lean towards choice and options though to love God. I just find it ironic that to not is to be condemned in some fashion; so what choice is there? As to whether or not if we affect God with our love? I like a description that God has a shelf full of blessings addressed to me that I receive when I find myself doing his work. That is the reward based philosophy of Christianity though, but I don’t think it always means material blessings. Spiritual and relational rewards are all the more worthwhile.


Shantay Perry

Love, and more specifically Agape love is a topic that most people find confusing and difficult to understand. I have always thought of Agape love as the purest form of love that comes from God, which in my mind does make it that “special” love that only God can give. This idea of Agape love came from what I was taught in Sunday School. To clarify I am not saying anything was wrong with what I was taught, but it does make it confusing to understand what people mean when they define eros, philia, and agape. I think that Nygren’s ideas of love at the time were insightful and profound to catch the attention of many. It made people question and wonder about all of these topics that we still discuss and think about. Even though I do not agree with his idea that we cannot love our God and love comes only from God, I still find it interesting that some people agree with his ideas. We all have opinions and different views on the concept of love and I think that shows just how important “love” is in all of our lives.


Kendra Wilson

I am late on this post but I needed to post anyway because I loved this discussion. It is so incredible to me that we can feel the love we feel with the people in our lives that mean everything to us and it still isn’t the love that God has for us. I think about my niece and nephews, and my parents, and my boyfriend and all the love I have for them and the most importantly the incredible love I have for God and how I feel like I would lay my life down for any of them but it still may not be agape. When these people do wrong to me I still can’t come back at the immediately with love, like our Father can. Its an unbelievable thing.


Michael Gordon

Agape love that we talked about in class is very hard to find nowadays nevertheless have agape love for someone else or something else. There are few people left in this world that give up everything for the sake of someone else’s benefit and expect nothing in return. I think of many times when I have given freely and felt so good about it, but I feel that a little bit of my sinful humanity took over and a small part of me expected something in return, not in a physical form, but a very outspoken gratitude of the generosity that I had. I think that is what most people struggle with today is loving like God loves in a way that no matter what we say or do to upset God, He is always more than willing to take us back and love us. He is always waiting at the door.


Ana

We are made in the image of God. We are not perfect in our manners and our ways. We are a world full of sin and chaos. God who is love, loves us regardless of all the sin that we have might encountered. Agape like we learned in class is God’s love. God is love, love is literally flows through what God has provided us with. God loves the sinner of all sinners because it is God’s nature to love his children. This kind of love is very hard to find in the world we live in today. THere are only a few people perhaps in this world that truly know what that is. THe first person that comes to mind is the Pope. The Pope is a man that advocates for the poor, the people that have experienced injustice, and sinners in the world. Regardless of the sins and or mistakes that one has committed he tends to treat them just like any other human being should be treated. Agape is a rare kind of love found in our world today and it makes me more conscience of how I love others.


Spencer Hassman

I appreciate your distinction between the forms of love, and recognizing that agape love is not necessarily the only proper form, or the “mecca” of love, if you will. However, I am a little reluctant to say that God’a nature as love is unwavering. While I believe that is a significant part of who He is and how he interacts with us, I have trouble prescribing characteristics to God as permanent or “essential.” I tend to view God (and His love) as a choice that is made and that He has an all-powerful existence outside of anything we can fully understand, so what we are sensing, describing, and philosophizing about is only a glimpse of the eternal, omnipotent nature of who/what God is.


Spencer Hassman

….. I think.


Jared

The breakdown of love builds on process of signal to signal communication that work towards well-being. This comes in a variety of forms, but begins with the act of God towards Creation. This very Breath of Life creates the relationship that sustain us and Creation’s choice to participate in Kenosis yields a grand story of love between God and Creation.
This is essentially connected in Christ’s Love, which demonstrated God’s full sacrifice of life for Creation. In this way Divine Presence is loving Creation through the Holy Spirit, which renews our soul towards God’s loving plan. We can measure this love by objective and subjective experience. It is with relationship with God and with each other that Divine Presence ratifies common truth.


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