Todd Burus is reading a book by David Powlison called Seeing with New Eyes.
Following this Powlison argues for how God’s love in better than unconditional, how it embraces and yet goes further than some aspects of unconditionality, and how the idea of unconditional love is in some ways inadequate to explain God’s love for his people. Of these the one that struck me the most, and what I believe is the impetus behind why true biblical counseling must be different than secular psychology, is the fact that speaking of God’s love as unconditional misses the point that “God’s grace is intended to change people.” Powlison says that,
There is something wrong with you! From God’s point of view, you not only need someone else to be killed in your place in order to be forgiven, you need to be transformed to be fit to live with. The word ‘unconditional’ may be an acceptable way to express God’s welcome, but it fails to communicate its purpose: a comprehensive and lifelong rehabilitation, learning ‘the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.’ (pp.168-169)
These words are so important for us to hear today. I would argue that probably 95% of the people in our congregations would affirm that God’s love is unconditional– I might even have raised a hand in agreement to this at the start of the day– but when pressed to define what the Bible really says about God’s love we have to acknowledge that the modern secular psychological concept of “unconditional positive affirmation” (the jargon equivalent of “unconditional love”) is in no way sufficient to speak of what is revealed to us.
Without understanding or believing in a love of God that requires transformation, we fall into all kinds of traps. Like Todd says:
But even further than this, I think that by referring to God’s love as unconditional we have begun importing the cultural understanding of this concept into our Christian practice. We are tolerant of all sorts of devaint behavior and sin, especially our own, and so is “God”. We want to be able to pray a prayer and then go back to business as usual and so that’s what “God” commands. We have trouble speaking up about the Bible’s comments on gender roles and sexuality and so we find inventive ways to change “God’s” mind on them. From all of this we get things such as easy believism, free grace theology, and even Christian universalism, which in my mind is the next big conflict rising within the church.
If you don’t believe this is happening, then you aren’t paying attention.