Posted by: rogermitchell | April 5, 2016

With God, love comes first

I have found Thomas Jay Oord’s innovative theology hugely helpful. This is particularly true of his definition of love in his The Nature of Love, (St.Louis, Missouri: Chalice Press, 2010) and his developed concept of essential kenosis in The Uncontrolling Love of God, (Downers Grove , Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015). While I wish to make it clear once again that I believe all theology, and indeed all knowledge, to be relational rather than propositional, it is still helpful to have a definition of love as we work out the relational consequences of being loved and loving others. In fact I think that it may have been a lack of such definition that explains why some readers of this blog and the related books have not always grasped what us kenarchists are on about. Although it has been useful to escape the baggage that the phrase kingdom of God has carried for some people and in some contexts, love is essential to it, and the politics of love is another way to describe it. So providing a definition of love may help us, and this is what Oord provides.

“To love is to act intentionally in sympathetic/empathetic response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.” (The Nature of Love, p. 17).

When I first read this I did a double-take. Love is surely more emotional, immediate and far less rational than this bald and careful statement. For me, it is true that love is first an encounter, an experience, a connection with another. But the advantage of Oord’s definition is its capacity to differentiate the love encapsulated by the incarnation, from the friendship, desire and familial bonds indicated by the other original Greek words for love. While they can all entail or include the love for God, self, neighbour and enemy that sums up Judaeo-Christian love, they are not love at all without it. Above all, what Oord’s definition does is to disclose the fully political nature of love. Coupled with his concept of essential kenosis which sees this kind of loving as God’s very nature, it puts the politics of love at the very core of God’s image and therefore of both creation and us human creatures. This is why Oord’s work is such a complement to kenarchy.

The practical implications of this are massive. It means that everything I encounter as love is qualified by the condition of overall well-being. Secondly it means that this condition is achievable – indeed ultimately inevitable – because love is the nature of God and the end of all things. So to add love to any situation is to suffuse it with hope.


  1. THANKS Roger…I have found Thomas Oord’s thinking on love very helpful over the years… love his nature photography too!!

  2. Thank you so much for this, Roger. I read it on a day when I was grappling with a tweet that stated ‘Love can’t be the basis for a Christian ethic. It too easily can be “a cover for all manner of vapid self-indulgence”‘ (Richard Hays). Admittedly I don’t have the context for this, but I find it profoundly puzzling in the light of Jesus’ two greatest commandments. Are we now claiming to know better than Jesus?

  3. Dear Roger and Sue, thankyou so much for this post and others previously. I choose to live the Kenarchy way and follow Jesus all the way, to love my enemies. Yours loyally and truthully from Christine. My prayer – Help me o Jesus

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