Posted by: rogermitchell | March 18, 2010

kenarchy and unconditional love

It does seem to me that God’s love is unconditional, as I remark to Hywel in my response to his recent comment on the kenarchy and capitalism string below. A fairly recent discussion during the Chester University Theology department’s theological texts seminar centred around Walter Brueggermann’s subheading “Conditional and Unconditional: A Misleading Distinction” in his exposition of  covenant in An Unsettling God p. 24. He regards the attempt to sort out this distinction as futile and misleading. As he puts it “The attempt to factor out conditional and unconditional aspects of the covenant is an attempt to dissect and analyze the inscrutable mystery of an intimate, intense relation that, by definition, defies all such disclosure.” I am very wary of a recourse to the inscrutability of God like this. I admit that Brueggermann is talking of the Old Testament covenant here and that it may appear to be conditional. But its Genesis 12 origin issues from an unconditional promise and calls for its continuation through the Jews to all the families of the earth. God said “go”, [not if you go], “and I will bless you .. and through your seed all the families of the earth will be blessed.” It seems to me that the later qualifications and conditions were God’s accommodations to Israel’s emotional and mental inability to grasp the nature of his kenotic, unconditional love in the cause of getting them to see and receive it, a purpose which Jesus consummated. This plea to God’s inscrutability, almost always, in my experience, covers up a personal unwillingness to love unconditionally and the desire to justify and hold on to positions of power and control. The operation of kenarchy is to seek for and take up opportunities to love unconditionally.



  1. At first I read this post as though it was self-evident. But in a lot of ways, it really isn’t! The idea of God as one who loves unconditionally fits with my own conception/experience of him. But it strikes me that much theology – and certainly church teaching – is premised on God being just as Brueggemann describes (replete with Platonic bipolar disorder?).

    I should say that I’m approaching this from the assumption that God acts in gift (enabled by unconditional love) whereas human society acts in a mixed economy of exchange or greed or some gift (which usually takes us back to exchange as the only condition in which a measure of justice/equality can be reached without unconditional love).

    Clearly this leads us to at least two sticky but important questions:

    (1) How do we reconcile the OT God of exchange (or domination) with the NT God of gift? (My own tendency is to read the OT as being more likely to transfer human traits to God before we knew the Son of Man)

    (2) Is there a price being paid in the death of Christ? (is God the giver, given and receiver? – I think not because this would make the death of Christ inconsistent with both the life and resurrection of Christ which both belong to the order of the gift and not exchange.

    But perhaps these are questions for another time…

  2. Thanks Stephen, it seems to me that you have raised the central questions that I was hoping would spring from this post. These are, for me, definitely questions for now and so I will take them forward in a new post accordingly.
    It’s very good to collaborate and I look forward to others taking up this string here or after the next post!

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