Addressing Omnibenevolence Part II: How the Bible Speaks of the Love of God

A couple of days ago, I posted on D.A. Carson’s five reasons why the doctrine of the love of God must be judged difficult. Today, I want to continue with Carson and add his contribution by referring to the five different ways the Bible speaks of the love of God. These five ways are key to understanding Carson’s approach, delineations, and balance in understanding the love of God. Carson concludes with three observations about these different ways which I have included as well. Feel free to interact and respond in the comments section if you so choose. Remember, these posts are intended to probe into the idea of “omnibenevolence”.

5 Different Ways the Bible Speaks of the Love of God

  1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (16). [Texts: John 3:35; 5:20; 14:31]
  1. God’s providential love over all that he has made (16). [Texts: Gen. 1; Matt. 6]

Quote: “If this [Matt. 6] were not a benevolent providence, a loving providence, then the moral lesson Jesus drives home [feeding birds of the air and caring for sparrows], viz. that this God can be trusted to provide for his own people, would be incoherent” (17).

  1. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world (17). [Texts: John 3:16; 1 John 2:2]
  1. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect (18). [Texts: Deut. 7:7-8; 4:37; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3; Eph. 5:25]

Quote: “In each case, God sets his affection on his chosen ones in a way he does not set his affection on others. . . . The striking thing about these passages is that when Israel is contrasted with the universe of with other nations, the distinguishing feature has nothing of personal or national merit; it is nothing other than the love of God. In the very nature of the case, then, God’s love is directed toward Israel in these passages in a way in which it is not directed toward other nations” (18). (emphasis original)

  1. Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in a provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience (19). [Texts: Jude 21; John 15:9-10; Psalm 103:8-11, 13, 17-18]

3 Observations on These Distinctive Ways
of Talking about the Love of God

  1. It is easy to see what will happen if any of these five biblical ways of talking about the love of God is absolutized and made exclusive, or made the controlling grid by which the other ways of talking about the love of God are relativized (21).

Quote: “If the love of God is nothing more than his providential ordering of everything, we are not far from a beneficent if somewhat mysterious ‘force.’ It would be easy to integrate that kind of stance into pantheism or some other form of monism” (21-22).

Quote: “If the love of God is exclusively portrayed as an inviting, yearning, sinner-seeking, rather lovesick passion, we may strengthen the hands of Arminians, semi-Pelagians, Pelagians, and those more interested in God’s inner emotional life than in his justice and glory, but the cost will be massive. There is some truth in this picture of God, as we shall see, some glorious truth. Made absolute, however, it not only treats complementary texts as if they were not there, but it steals God’s sovereignty from him and our security from us. It espouses a theology of grace rather different from Paul’s theology of grace, and at its worst ends up with a God so insipid he can neither intervene to save us nor deploy his chastening rod against us. His love is too ‘unconditional’ for that. This is a world far removed from the pages of Scripture” (22). (emphasis mine)

  1. We must not view these ways of talking about the love of God as independent, compartmentalized, loves of God (23).

Quote: “We must hold these truths together and learn to integrate them in biblical proportion and balance” (23-24).

  1. Within the framework established so far, we may well ask ourselves how well certain evangelical clichés stand up.

Note: Two cliché’s which Carson specifically mentions:

    1. “God’s love is unconditional.”
    2. “God loves everyone exactly the same way.”

I think these expressions of God’s love as described by Carson is helpful to the discussion of omnibenevolence. It also helps in defending against hyper-Calvinism which I will address in later posts. Finally, I believe it warns us against misuse or misinterpretation of God’s love in absolutizing it (which I believe the Caner brothers have done in their thesis).

Addressing Omnibenevolence Series:

Denying the ‘Core and Classical Attribute’ of Omnibenevolence?

Part One: Why the Love of God Is a Difficult Doctrine

Explore posts in the same categories: Doctrinal Issues, Omnibenevolence

2 Comments on “Addressing Omnibenevolence Part II: How the Bible Speaks of the Love of God”

  1. Bill Isley Says:

    Part of the idea of “omnibenevolence” in modern evangelicalism comes from humanistic psychology (one of the handmaidens of Semi-Pelagian and Pelagian soteriology). Carl Rodgers and others expressed the concept of “unconditional acceptance” and this became translated into “unconditional love” by well meaning but misguided professing Christians. For the few professing Christians that have thought about the theology of this concept, they usually go back to man as he is in Adam (made in the image of God and therefore “unconditionally loved” by God) as opposed to fallen man and the special love that God has for His elect out of that fallen race.

    Soli Deo Gloria,

    Bill Isley

  2. […] Having addressed how the Bible speaks of God’s love and the reasons why the doctrine is so difficult, we must being to tackle some of the biblical tensions between God’s love and other realities such as God’s sovereignty, impassibility, and wrath.  In the next three posts in this series, I will address these points of tension according to the D.A. Carson and possibly a few other authors.  The doctrine of omnibenevolence, when applied to soteriology (as the Caner’s have done in their thesis), encounters serious biblical and theological problems as we shall see.  Now, let’s address God’s sovereignty as prescribed by Carson. […]

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