In researching and writing a book on love in the Bible, some interesting things come to the surface.
Did you know, for example, that agapē (the noun for love) does not appear once in the book of Acts? Another is the curious marginalisation of love in many systematic theologies and in NT theologies. There are surprisingly few full length treatments of love in the NT.
And when it comes to Paul, I suspect that love is not one of the first things that many people associate with the apostle. More likely you’ll think of justification, or mission, or modern debates over women in ministry or church leadership etc.
So it has been refreshing to read Douglas Campbell’s Pauline Dogmatics. I read it over the summer when working on an academic article on love in Paul. More than anyone I’ve read recently, Campbell (rightly) puts love front and central in Paul. He calls this ‘agapeism’ – that love explains everything important in Pauline ethics.
The other refreshing thing about Campbell’s big book is how he doesn’t just unpack Paul’s theology and leave it there. His whole enterprise moves in the direction of application to the complexities of our modern world.
Here’s a flavour of Campbell talking about how Paul talks about the love of God revealed at the cross.
This is the first post of a series on love in Paul.
The story about Jesus centered on the cross is a story of love. To speak of a God acting definitively in Jesus as he goes to the cross is immediately to grasp that God is love and to a degree that we find hard to fathom. This God was prepared to die for us – the critical import of Rom 5:6-10. The Father and the Spirit delivered up their beloved Son for us to a horrible death, and the Son obediently accepted this fate, sacrificing himself for our sakes. And they did so while were yet sinful and hostile. There is no greater love than this – a love, it should be emphasize, that was revealed ultimately in the ghastly event of the cross and that must never as a result be reduced to mere sentimentality. Jesus loved us enough to die hideously for us when we stood on the side of those who executed him. Love is this sort of action, and it characterizes our God all the way down.Douglas Campbell, Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of Paul’s Love, p. 257.
Cruciform love is just one way Paul talks of the love of God. We’ll explore a few more in the posts to come.