Several years ago I earned the wrath of a group of teenage girls at a Christian school. No, I didn’t question the divinity of Jesus or the historical reality of the resurrection. I did something worse: I made a sarcastic comment about the movie, “The Notebook.”
If you haven’t seen the 2004 film, it tells the story of Noah and Allie, who meet as teenagers in 1940s South Carolina. Noah is a poor country boy and Allie is an heiress. You can pretty much guess what happens next: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets her back again, and their love lasts through all kinds of trials and tribulations, including Allie’s eventual dementia.
The movie’s “message” is that their love “can do anything,” including arranging the time and manner of their mutual deaths.
As I describe in my book with Sean McDowell entitled, “Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage,” the girls at the school were aghast that I criticized the film and asked me how I could not like a movie with such a great picture of love.
They’re hardly unique in their confusion. It’s become increasingly apparent to me how impoverished our ideas about love truly are, and by “our” I include many Christians.
My response to the girls was that, in the film, the love that was supposedly unconquerable and inescapable was really nothing more than just strong emotions, strong feelings. And of course our feelings are fickle and transitory. What’s more, the feelings on display in the movie led the characters to break commitments, act selfishly, and otherwise behave badly, all in the name of, and somehow justified by, their “love” for one another.
Recently on “BreakPoint,” Eric Metaxas took the idea of romantic “soul mates” to task and exposed it for the unbiblical and pernicious notion that it is. Eric’s comments brought my experience discussing “The Notebook” to mind.
It also reminded me of the timeless importance of C. S. Lewis’ classic book, “The Four Loves.” Multiple generations raised on movies, television, and other popular culture are only acquainted with visions of love that are sentimental or erotic. For them, like the characters in “The Notebook,” love is just a matter of feelings.
But as Lewis told us, love is much more than that.
The first of the four loves is storge, the natural bond of affection that is the product of familiarity. Storge is the love a parent has for a child and vice-versa. The second love is philia, the bond of friendship. For Lewis, friendship was about more than shared interests; it was a spiritual bond. Friendship was about seeing or at least caring about the “same truth.” For Lewis, “Life—natural life—has no better gift to give” than the bonds of friendship.
The third love, eros, or romantic love. According to Lewis, eros is what “makes a man really want, not a woman, but one particular woman.” And finally, there’s agape, or as Lewis called it, charity. It is “wholly disinterested and desires what is simply best for the beloved.”
While storge, philia, and eros all have their place, they’re prone to selfishness, pride, and possessiveness in and of themselves. It’s only in submission to agape, the love of God, that their risks and dangers can be overcome.
In agape, familial affection, friendship, and even romantic love find their highest expression. Agape enables us to love our family, our friends, and our spouses for their own sake and not for what they give us and do for us.
There just may be no more abused word in the English language today than “love.” Or to paraphrase Inigo Montoya in “The Princess Bride,” “We keep using that word. I do not think it means what we think it means.”
So Church, let’s enrich our understanding of love. I can think of no better place to start than to read or to re-read “The Four Loves” by C. S. Lewis. We have it for you at our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org. And please, take a young adult along that journey with you. They may not know how much they actually need it.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
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Publication date: October 1, 2015