Love, Apocalypse, and What Counts as Analytic Theology

February 23rd, 2017 by

Fuller’s own Amos Yong, a widely published Pentecostal theologian, presented a paper as part of our AT colloquia titled, To Him Who Loves us And Freed Us from Our Sins By His Blood: An Analytic Pneumatic Unveiling of Apocalyptic Love. In my response I will summarize what I understood Yong to be doing, and then follow (per Yong’s own invitation) with some thoughts on whether his project approximates the Analytic Theology genre, and if it not, how it might be tuned to operate on that frequency.

Amos Yong’s Project

Yong’s goal was to present textual clues from the Book of Revelation that aid the reader in seeing a God of love at work in a book which (a) rarely mentions love and (b) is full of divine judgement. Yong’s intuitions seem correct that if Revelation is the final book of the Christian scriptures, and the scriptures focus on a  loving God, then, as he puts it, “It would seem that the end of the creation story MUST climax towards love.”  

In Part I, of his presentation Yong surveys the paucity of references to love in Revelation. His account of these is that the profession of Christ’s redeeming love (perfect tense in Greek) at the book’s opening (Rev 1:5) and the bridal-wedding allusions at its end (Rev 19:7-22:17)  indicate that love serves as bookends for Revelation. This implies, furthermore, that despite the lack of explicit references to love in chapters 3-19, an arc of love runs through Revelation, where, as Yong puts it, “Divine love vindicates God’s people, encourages them, and admonishes them towards faithfulness”.

In Part II, Yong rightly turns to the Hebrew Scriptures. Given The Book of Revelation’s 600 plus references to the Old Testament, no analysis of God’s love in Revelation is complete without accounting for these. Yong points out the bridal love between Yahweh and Israel, his faithfulness to her throughout cataclysmic upheaval, and the question of their choosing to respond to God’s love rather than the seductions of Babylon/Jezebel figures. Such intertextual links between Revelation and books like Exodus, Ezekiel and Zechariah strengthen the thesis that, while love is not explicit between Revelation’s “bookends,” the theme of how God’s people will respond to his love in trying times is at home in Revelation.

In Part III Yong makes a third pass by turning to the “pneumatologically empowered praxis” of believers in the book. He reviews references to the Spirit throughout Revelation, along with exhortations to the seven churches. In these he finds a theme of the Spirit’s role in warning, aiding, and motivating God’s people to respond rightly to God’s love (even stand as a witness to it) while avoiding the siren call of the World. Revelation is about moving the readers to right action, belief, and affection in their own context vis-a-vis that of God’s people in Revelation. While I have not mentioned his references to love in other Johannine literature, I take it that the above is a fair summary of Yong’s  project.
Is This Approach an Example of Analytic Theology?

The focus of Yong’s project was largely on locating the loving actions of God within the pages of the Apocalypse. For that reason, I would classify Yong’s paper as a biblical theology of love in Revelation rather than an analytic theology of love, or divine attributes. This is not a criticism. In fact, at last year’s ETS conference several theologians called for practitioners of AT to attend carefully to biblical theology before they made use of biblical concepts in their ensuring AT work. How then might an analytic theologian respond to the biblical-theological data provided in Yong’s paper? Here are two routes she might take.

Route One:  How Does Yong’s Biblical Theology Inform a General Account of Love? Yong’s paper routinely mentions God’s love and our loving response to God. What do we mean by the word ‘love’? Many are unable to give a satisfying analysis of the words they frequently use (e.g., jealousy, love, holiness, truth). Christians might point us to passages like 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 3:16-18, and 1 Peter 4:8 as a way of getting at what love is, but  these passages illustrate behaviors motivated by love. The question, “What is love?” remains unanswered. Is love a desire for the beloved because of qualities she possesses? Is it a volitional act of the will from the lover to the beloved even if valuable qualities are lacking in the beloved (the volitional account of love)? Is love a desire for union with and desire for the good of the beloved (Aquinas’ account)? Let us suppose we are convinced Aquinas’s account of love is the better account. The analytic theologian might proceed to ask: Does Yong’s biblical theology of love from the Apocalypse support this account of love? Alternatively, does love, coming as it does from a God associated with apocalyptic judgement scenes, explode our categories of love and require a fresh assessment? How does love in Revelation affect our understanding of what love is?

Route Two: How Does Yong’s Biblical Theology Inform Our Understanding of Love Towards Enemies? Yong pointed out the fact that judgement, not love, is the main theme of Revelation. Do the judgement scenes in Revelation challenge our understanding of God’s love for his enemies? Here I repeat Jordan Wessling’s comment from our session regarding Rev. 16:11.  We read that those undergoing the judgement of God “refused to repent.” Is the wrath of the lamb in Revelation seeking to turn the enemies of God towards repentance? This reading of Revelation might support a Thomistic account of love (even for God’s enemies) by offering evidence that God uses extreme measures to bring about their good. Alternatively the passage may be affirming that some will repent under no circumstances. In other words, God knows this and is not seeking to bring these enemies to repentance, any longer, but is instead demonstrating their desert of justice by means of such intransigence. Does God’s love, in such cases, require that he protect some of those he loves by punishing others of those he loves?  

These are two of the many directions one might take an analytical paper given the biblical-theological account of love derived from Yong’s study of Revelation.

Jesse Gentile is a new PhD student at Fuller seminary studying systematic theology. He has interests in theological anthropology, epistemology, ethics, technology and pretty much everything else. Jesse is the father of two awesome elementary school kids and is the husband of Ella (who works as a wills and trust attorney). He regularly does itinerant preaching among plymouth brethren assemblies throughout the U.S. Jesse hold’s degrees in Biblical Studies, Philosophy, and Instructional Design.

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