Love as Part of Theological Method

Many theologians speak about the importance of love in theology. In most instances, love is viewed as a result, perhaps even a goal, of knowledge: we learn about God so that we may love him. Sometimes, love is even identified as a motivation for theology, insofar as we seek to understand the God that we love. While love is often cast as valuable aspect of theology, it is rarely employed as part of the theological task itself.

In this paper I explore the place of love in the methodology of systematic theology (and by extension, all theologizing). The paper takes two steps. First, I survey the role of love in a several well-known Evangelical systematic theologies, such as Erickson, Grudem, Grenz, Letham, and Clark & Feinberg. I find that in almost all cases, theological method does not include love, or that love is present only obliquely.

In the second step I outline an account of the necessity of love as part of doing systematic theology. To begin building a case, I draw from Ephesians 3, 1 Corinthians 13, and Philippians 1. These passages are suggestive in situating knowledge within love. Helping me think through a biblical methodology of love, I enlist a few historical theologians. For example, Gregory the Nazianzen consistently preached that, yes, knowledge of God leads to love; but just as critically, love leads to knowledge. For Bonaventure (13th century), love is a way of knowing. According to Bonaventure, we can know something well only if that knowledge includes love. Further, the most fundamental way to know something is by loving it.

Stated briefly, I argue that in doing theology, love and knowledge are more integrated than has typically been recognized. We do not merely love God while, simultaneously, we think about God. Instead, we love God with our hearts and minds (and everything else). For the theological task to be done well, love must be place as one the guiding methodological elements.