Cover Image: Love in Hard Places

Love in Hard Places

D. A. Carson (Paternoster, 2002)

Blurb Review by Graham Beynon

Review by Graham Beynon

This book follows on from the 'Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God' and so moves from the ways in which Scripture speaks of God's love, to the love Christians are to display. It focuses on situations where Christian love is hard (hence the title) rather than attempting a full orbed discussion of Christian love.

The first chapter focuses on the commandments to love God and neighbour and here we first meet one of the tendencies of the whole book. That is something that is simultaneously stimulating and frustrating. The reason is simply because so much ground is covered on inter-related subjects with insight and a deft touch, but without the depth of discussion that satisfies. So here love as the fulfilment of the OT law is helpfully sketched but for many this will be by way of teaser rather than a satisfying explanation.

However the main points remain clear and penetrating, and in this chapter we are confronted with our first 'hard place' in which to love - that is our own loveless hearts which desperately need God's transformation by his word and Spirit.

Chapter two examines loving our enemies. This involves discussion of the nature of the anti-theses in Matthew 5 and their correct interpretation, and the distinctions that have to be made in what love involves. This is applied both and outside the church very helpfully and Carson's pastoral as well as theological acumen is on display.

Closely allied to Christian love is Christian forgiveness, and this occupies the next two chapters. This is complicated terrain both because of the multitude of exegetical issues involved e.g. what can and cannot be deduced from Jesus' prayer for forgiveness on the cross, and the larger systematic issues, such as how justice and forgiveness inter-relate.

Some material is stimulating but frustrating for the reasons mentioned above -helpful insights are given but questions are raised. However an attempt is made to redress this by focussing on two specific examples. The first is racism, which in the North American context, involves a number of issues and references that British readers will not be familiar with. However only a little thought is required for cultural translation, for example to elements of the remaining 'class' system. A theological matrix is presented with which to interact with the issue, and this is done with clarity and passion.

The second hard case is that of Osama bin Laden and the 'war on terrorism'. The discussion takes in just-war theory and American foreign policy. Occasionally one feels Carson spends too much time on some peripheral issues but this is stimulating reading, and he always returns (eventually) to the question of what love entails in this situation.

The fifth chapter is a discussion of love and correction, taken from Paul's rebuke of Peter in Galatians 2. In an age where tolerance is redefined as allowing any view or action, the church desperately needs to understand this point. Loving church discipline has never been a strong point and Carson lays the ground work here for us very helpfully.

The last chapter looks at the possibility of our losing our love for God (Revelation 2) and attempts to draw together the themes of the book. This is a helpful summary, and challenge as to what love will look like in our lives and churches.

A clear running theme of the book (as with that on God's love) is the danger of absolutising any one statement about Christian love. This is a danger I fear we fall into far too regularly and this book gives much needed clarity. One might take issue with this or that comment, and occasionally want more discussion on some questions, but these do not detract from the main points and its overall value.

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