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Regis Nicoll Christian Blog and Commentary

Regis Nicoll

Regis Nicoll's weblog

We come into the world as helpless infants totally dependent on the love of our parents. Throughout childhood and adolescence parental love is essential to our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. In adulthood we look to marriage for, what we hope will be, a union of life-long intimacy. And in the twilight of life, when physical and cognitive faculties decline, we depend on the loving care of our family and community.

No need is more basic to human flourishing, and few things less understood, than love.

Depending upon whom you ask, love will be said to be a feeling, a desire, an emotion, a commitment, or the ever-so pietistic “non-judgmentalism” of “never having to say you’re sinning.” As an ideal, it may be considered real or illusionary, possible or impossible, or conditional or unconditional with expressions limited to one’s lover, spouse, family, country, or the global village.

Above the muddle of conventional notions stands the testimony of John, “God is love,” revealing that love is central to God’s nature. And because we are beings made in God’s image, created to love and be loved, love is central to our nature, as well.

But what is love, really? And how is it distinguished from our human conceptions?

Four Loves
In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis parses love into four expressions: storgē (affection), eros(romantic love), philia (friendship), and agapē (charity).

Storgē relates to affection primarily between family members. Lewis describes this as the natural love parents have for their children and children for their parents; it can also characterize the tenderness one has for close acquaintances.

Eros is what is normally meant by “being in love.” Derived from sexual attraction and desire, eros is expressed in the romantic love between a man and woman. Like storgē, eros is designed into our nature. Lewis notes that without storgē, none of us would have been reared, but without eros, none of us would have been born.

Philia is love between friends—groups of “two’s and three’s” drawn together by a common interest. From an evolutionary perspective, philia is superfluous because, unlike storgē and eros, it is unnecessary for either our arrival or survival. Rather, Lewis offers, “it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

These natural love expressions are exclusive, reserved for those who are intrinsically lovable by virtue of shared genes, interests, or sexual attractiveness. Collectively, they are a part of common grace—God’s benevolent provision to flourish creation.

By contrast, agapē is inclusive, seeking the highest good of others irrespective of natural affinity, merit, or attractiveness. Characterized by self-giving and sacrifice in the supreme symbol of the Cross, agapē is the commerce of those who, under the Yoke of Christ, are being transformed into his likeness by loving as he loved. For that reason, agapē is often distinguished from the other loves as “divine love.”

Therefore, if storgē, eros, and philia are a part of our design as beings made in the image of God, they must be intrinsic to the Godhead, too. Continue reading here.

Some years ago, I told a friend that I had visited a local evangelical church. Unhesitatingly, he remarked, “Oh, you mean that homophobic church!”

While such remarks reveal a lack of understanding about Church teachings, I can see why some people make them. It’s because of something I call, “selective tolerance.”

While Christians are known for their high regard for scripture, their acceptance of certain behaviors at odds with that standard has not gone unnoticed. As Anglican cleric Robert Hart has noted, “[Christians] have become more and more accepting of sexual relations that fall far below Christian belief in chastity, to the point where many churches accept unmarried couples, as long as they are not homosexual.”

Sadly, selective tolerance encompasses much more than acquiescence toward heterosexual immorality. Moral silence on various forms of self-indulgence, pride, gluttony and other “socially acceptable” sins has allowed Christians to remain in a spiritual orbit overlapping that of their secular neighbors, while the moral voice of the Church has dampened to a murmur

How did it come to this?

The Supreme Virtue
One factor is the desire to measure ourselves by looking around rather than up. We believe that a loving God would not condemn a majority of mankind to eternal destruction; so, we set our sights on the righteous midpoint—or maybe just a smidgeon above it.

Instead of looking to Jesus to become holy as he is holy, we look to our neighbor. If our sins are not too different than his, we can chill. If they are, we can either work ourselves up to the moral mean or assuage ourselves by what is legally permissible. In fact, civil law has been an effective tool in “defining deviancy down.”

Within a generation after Roe v. Wade, the number of abortions increased 30 percent. During the same timeframe, “no-fault” legislation helped skyrocket the divorce rate by a factor of two, affecting nearly half of all marriages. The de-criminalization of homosexual sodomy and the legalization same-sex “marriage” and assisted suicide continue the tradition of normalizing what were once considered deviant behaviors.

Another factor is cynicism. As noted by George Barna and others, belief in unchanging moral truth is held by a waning number of Christians. I’ve had Christians tell me that Jesus lovingly accepted everyone and wasn’t too particular about moral absolutes. It is a strange argument regarding someone who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life.

However, the rejection of absolutes is never absolute. As the acid of cynicism dissolves the obelisk of objective truth into relativistic rubble, one spire remains: tolerance—the supreme virtue in a “live and let live” world that keeps seven billion “sovereigns” from mutual destruction.

An Insidious Ruse
Tolerance means that any biblical passage can be trumped by sincerity and goodness. As long as a person is sincere and lives an otherwise upright life, his lifestyle choices should be free from criticism or correction. Through that moral lens, even “loving neighbor as self” takes on a twisted shape. Continue reading here.

Pentecost celebrates the birth of the Church with the coming of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of Jesus’s promise to his disciples.

Yet, few doctrines of the Church are as misunderstood as that of the Holy Spirit. I suspect this is partly due to the fuzzy image connoted by a name that conjures up notions of wraiths, mysterious life-forces, and formless impersonal beings which incline us to think of the Holy Spirit as “it” rather than “him.”

There’s also the matter of instruction. Although we give the Holy Spirit a nod in our slogans, mission statements, and church talk, he is largely ignored in our teaching. In my long Christian life, over a number of denominations, I recall hearing only one sermon devoted to the comprehensive ministry of the Spirit.

He Creates
For folks who think of the Holy Spirit only as a New Testament gift to believers, his involvement throughout the Old Testament can come as a surprise.

In the opening verses of Genesis, the Holy Spirit is seen “hovering over the waters” of the unformed earth. When Elohim (the Hebrew plural name, in form, for God) said, “Let us make man in our image,” he was referring to the triune partnership of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Job’s friend, Elihu, confirms the Spirit’s creative role in his counsel to Job: “The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

From Creation to the Incarnation, the scriptures tell of the Spirit descending upon individuals who are tagged for some divine task: defeat a pagan foe, lead a rebellious nation, or speak a prophetic word. In contrast to the “indwelling” of believers in the Church Age, the Spirit’s “ondwelling” was temporary and selective.

But whether by “ondwelling” or “indwelling,” the Holy Spirit empowers humans to accomplish things that are humanly impossible, thus giving witness to the God “who is.”

He Inspires
The second letter of Peter is addressed to a church that was scattered, suffering, and swaying under the influence of heresies. To encourage the believers and help shore up their faith, Peter reminded them of the apostles’ accounts of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection; eyewitness accounts detailing the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies.

Peter went on to explain the Source of the prophetic accuracy: “No prophesy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the biblical narrative contains dozens of prophesies fulfilled in precise detail centuries after they had been predicted and recorded.

He Gifts
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul introduces the concept “spiritual gifts,” writing: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men.”

Notice the Trinitarian partnership: spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit, in service of the Son, according to the sovereign purposes of the Father.

Paul goes on to say, “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (Between this letter and Romans chapter 12, Paul lists 15 spiritual gifts, including things like wisdom, knowledge, serving, giving, prophesy, teaching, and mercy.) Also notice, that it’s not a question of whether a believer has a gift. It’s a question of what gift or gifts he has, and in what measure.

Although everyone has some capacity for each gift—with a number of them, like mercy, giving, and serving related to spiritual fruits that every Christian needs to cultivate—it is our primary gift that determines our spiritual role within the Church, whether as a member of the clergy or lay “helper.”

The gifts imparted by the Spirit support the roles established by the Son for the God-sized task of kingdom-building.

He Teaches and Convicts
With the Cross looming before him, Jesus spent his last hours on earth preparing his disciples for his departure. He promised not to leave them as orphans—he would send the Spirit to teach them and remind them of all they had been taught.

The good news, though it didn’t register at the time, was that unlike the pre-resurrected Lord whose company and wisdom they could enjoy only when he was physically present with them, the Spirit, unencumbered by the limitations of a material body, would reside in them, all of them, as an ever-present Teacher, Comforter, and Equipper.

What’s more, the Spirit’s ministry would extend to non-believers, as well. “He will testify about me,” Jesus told them, and “convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” In fact, without the ministry of the Holy Spirit belief “unto salvation” is not possible. As Paul explained, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Continue reading here.