The Concept of Divine Love in the Context of the God-World Relationship

by John C. Peckham (Author)
©2015 Monographs XVIII, 682 Pages
Series: Studies in Biblical Literature, Volume 159


The Concept of Divine Love in the Context of the God-World Relationship addresses the significant and far-reaching theological conflict over the nature of God’s love, which is deeply rooted in broader conflicts regarding divine ontology and the nature of the God-world relationship. After engaging the traditional historical theology of love and recent exemplars of competing and influential conceptions of divine love, John C. Peckham seeks an alternative to the impasse by an extensive inductive investigation of the entire biblical canon in accordance with a final-form canonical approach to systematic theology, offering an alternative model of divine love that draws on the richness of the biblical text as canon and holds considerable implications for the God-world relationship.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Editor’s Preface
  • Abbreviations
  • 1 Introduction
  • Outline of Study
  • Theological Method: A Final-Form Canonical Approach
  • Method of Investigation and Presentation
  • Methodological Issues of the Canonical Investigation
  • 2 A Brief Survey of Divine Love in Historical Theology
  • Plato’s Conception of Love
  • Aristotle’s Conception of Love
  • Augustine’s Conception of Love
  • Thomas Aquinas’s Conception of Love
  • Martin Luther’s Conception of Love
  • Anders Nygren’s Conception of Love
  • Conclusion
  • 3 Conflicting Models of Divine Love
  • Introduction
  • The Transcendent-Voluntarist Model
  • The Immanent-Experientialist Model
  • The Extent of the Conflict of Interpretations
  • 4 A Canonical Survey of Divine Love in the Old Testament
  • The Meaning of the אהב Word Group
  • The Volitional Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Evaluative Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Emotional Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Foreconditional Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Relational and Multilateral Aspect of Divine Love
  • 5 A Canonical Survey of Divine Love in the New Testament
  • The Primary Semantics of Divine Love in the NT
  • The Volitional Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Evaluative Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Emotional Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Foreconditional Aspect of Divine Love
  • The Relational and Multilateral Aspect of Divine Love
  • 6 A Canonical and Systematic Model of Divine Love in Relation to the World
  • Overview of the Canonical Model of Divine Love in Relation to the World
  • The Canonical Model of Divine Love in Relation to the World Unpacked
  • A Critical Comparison of the Foreconditional-Reciprocal, Transcendent-Voluntarist, and Immanent-Experientialist Models
  • Potential Implications for a Canonical Theo-Ontology
  • Conclusion
  • 7 Summary and Conclusions
  • Introduction and Methodology of the Study
  • Survey of the Historical Theology of Love
  • Conflicting Interpretations of Divine Love
  • The Canonical Investigation of Divine Love in Relation to the World
  • A Canonical and Systematic Model of Divine Love in Relation to the World
  • Conclusions
  • Suggestions for Further Study
  • Bibliography
  • Index

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Writing a book on divine love is a tall task indeed. The work was far greater than I envisioned at the outset but my personal edification has been proportional to the effort. I have learned so much beyond what is found in these pages and I am most thankful to the God of love who reveals himself to humans and seeks a love relationship with each of us. I hope that this work will bring attention to his matchless character and bring glory and honor to his name.

Profound thanks to Dr. Fernando Canale, my dissertation advisor, who inspired me to the task of investigating and articulating a biblical system of theology which subjects presuppositions to correction by the inner logic of Scripture. I will remain indebted to him for his profound teaching and excellent guidance throughout my graduate education. I am also extremely grateful to Dr. Miroslav Kis and Dr. Roy Gane, who have provided their time and considerable expertise as part of my dissertation committee and have both had a significant impact on my theological growth through their teaching and counsel. Dr. Nicholas Miller was helpful as the internal examiner for my dissertation, for which I am thankful. A special thanks to Dr. Jerry Walls, Professor of Philosophy, Houston Baptist University, who graciously served as the External Examiner and provided excellent feedback.

I am grateful to Southwestern Adventist University, especially my colleagues in the Religion department, for providing support and friendship during the writing of the dissertation upon which this book is based. I am also thankful to the Indiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, where I served as pastor when I began to write the dissertation.I undertook the revisions of the dissertation into this book form at Andrews University, where I now teach as Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy in the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, and would like to thank my colleagues; it is a privilege and honor to work among such excellent scholars and teachers. Many thanks are also due to Dr. Heidi Burns, Senior Editor at Peter Lang, and Dr. Hemchand Gossai, Series Editor.

Finally, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my family. My devoted parents, Ernest and Karen, raised me to love God and seek him and have provided ongoing support and wisdom when I have most needed it. My wonderful wife Brenda has been more to me than words can adequately describe. I could never have accomplished this without her continued patience, support, encouragement, and incomparable love. Through both Brenda and our 3-year-old son, Joel, I have experienced a foretaste of theperfect love that awaits in the world to come.

| xi →

Editor’s Preface

More than ever the horizons in biblical literature are being expanded beyond that which is immediately imagined; important new methodological, theological, and hermeneutical directions are being explored, often resulting in significant contributions to the world of biblical scholarship. It is an exciting time for the academy as engagement in biblical studies continues to be heightened.

This series seeks to make available to scholars and institutions, scholarship of a high order, and which will make a significant contribution to the ongoing biblical discourse. This series includes established and innovative directions, covering general and particular areas in biblical study. For every volume considered for this series, we explore the question as to whether the study will push the horizons of biblical scholarship. The answer must be yes for inclusion.

In this volume, John Peckham explores the Concept of Divine Love in the Context of the God-World Relationship, and provides an extensive examination of love: divine and human in a variety of contexts, biblical, theological and historical. Howsoever scholars respond to the author’s conclusions, and this study is sure to generate responses, and for any scholar that is always a welcome thing, one of the strengths of this study will most certainly be seen in the detailed and copious discussion of the theme of love. The footnotes will certainly provide a mine of information and extended discussion. While examining extensively two models of divine love, namely “transcendent-voluntarist” and “immanent-experientialist” and their principal proponents, Peckham does not dwell on the models in and of themselves but focuses on divine love in the God-world relationship.He proposes a foreconditional-reciprocal model where he argues that God bestows love prior to, though not exclusive of conditions. Thus he concludes that those who respond positively to God’s love will in fact enjoy an everlasting reciprocal love with God. This study is certain to generate ongoing discourse, and will not only further expand the biblical horizon, but will do so in a direction that invites further conversation.

The horizon has been expanded.

Hemchand Gossai

Series Editor

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What is the nature of divine love? The concept of divine love is crucial to diverse paradigms, worldviews, and theological systems. Many theologians consider divine love to be a central component of God’s nature, if not the very essence of God. However, there are significant conflicts in contemporary theology regarding the nature of divine love, the very definition of which is prone to considerable semantic and conceptual ambiguity.1 While conceptions of divine love vary widely, the primary features of the debate may be illuminated by examination of the differences between two prominent and recent models, the transcendent-voluntarist model, wherein divine love is unilaterally willed and unmotivated benevolence, and the immanent-experientialist model, wherein divine love is essentially relational, emotional, and primarily passive.2

The transcendent-voluntarist model is, in many ways, an offspring of the classical doctrine of God, which described God as utterly transcendent and incapable of pathos, and emphasizes the distinction between God and the world, specifically, divine sovereignty and transcendence. Proponents of this model reject emotionless impassibility, yet find difficulty in reconciling God’s love with the sovereignty and immutability of God’s will.3 On this view, God’s love originates in God’s sovereign will and is thus not merited or elicited by humans, ← 1 | 2 → but is totally gratuitous, nearly identical with grace.4 Accordingly, God’s love is unmotivated by external factors, and human love toward God brings him no value.5 The immanent-experientialist model, on the other hand, stresses that divine love is relational, emotional, and supremely passible.6 This model of divine love emphasizes the immanent and essential relationship of God with the world. Proponents of this model claim that the problem with the classical view is a metaphysic that fails to allow for dynamic, reciprocal love.7 In contrast, this model posits a relationship of “communion in freedom” which changes the participants.8 Thus, God’s love is the shared experience of suffering (pathos) with the world. Freedom (of both God and the world) is considered the only context for authentic love such that there is “real chance in what happens.”9

These models depict mutually exclusive conceptions of love and mutually exclusive ontologies of God. Moreover, as shall be examined below, each model’s concept of divine love is the logical outgrowth of their divergent divine ← 2 | 3 → ontologies. This amounts to a fundamental impasse. How should theologians decide whether God should be conceived as the Sovereign Will, the self-surpassing surpasser of all, or something else? These and other models of love move from divine ontology to particular divine characteristics, the latter being shaped by the former. However, what if a canonical methodology was applied that afforded epistemological primacy to Scripture, sought the particular characteristics of God therein and, only then, asked: What is God like? This book does just that, proposing a canonical model of divine love that sheds light on the wider doctrine of God.Specifically, this work will analyze the nature and investigate the source and causes of the conflict of interpretations between the two irreconcilable models and apply a canonical method as a means to address the conflict and better understand the broader issue of divine love.

The transcendent-voluntarist and immanent-experientialist models are herein represented by highly regarded and impactful exemplars, along with selected input from other proponents.10 The immensely influential Evangelical Carl F. H. Henry represents the transcendent-voluntarist model.11 Charles Hartshorne represents the immanent-experientialist model, having framed his influential process ontology in direct opposition to classical ontology.12 Exemplars of other, nuanced positions will also be engaged. An exhaustive analysis of these theologians is not attempted in this work. Rather, the focus of the analysis is on their expressed concept of divine love with emphasis on the God-world relationship.

Rather than approaching the entire conception of love, or even that of divine love, this book focuses on divine love within the context of the God-world relationship. Metaphysical, ontological, and epistemological issues are ← 3 | 4 → addressed only as they relate to divine love. Moreover, intra-trinitarian theology is addressed only to the extent that it sheds light on the nature of God’s love in relationship to the world. Although the reality of intra-trinitarian divine love entails vital information, the nature and operation of this love is secondary, in this research, to the love between God and other than God. Moreover, the loving actions of God are not sufficiently elaborated upon due to the lack of an objective way to delimit which actions would receive treatment. Indeed, one could make the case that all God’s actions are loving. That is, God’s actions are always good and appropriate to the state of affairs in accordance with his love. It should be noted here, then, that God’s love is consistently manifested in action throughout the canon, though such actions are not identical with love itself. In this work, actions appear as they relate to the specific questions at hand. In this and other ways, this study is limited to the articulation of the outline of a biblical model of divine love in the context of the God-world relationship.13

Outline of Study

After this introductory chapter concludes with a brief excursus on the final-form canonical approach to theological method used in this work, chapter 2 continues with a brief historical survey of divine love, tracing the central conceptions of divine love as exemplified by a few selected, highly influential, thinkers. Next, chapter 3 engages the exemplars of the transcendent-voluntarist and immanent-experientialist models, analyzing their views on divine love in relation to the world as well as the ontologies that ground their conceptions.This analysis highlights the vital role of underlying ontological suppositions,14 which directly ← 4 | 5 → impact conceptions of divine love. Indeed, the conflicting interpretations of divine love appear to spring from a deeper, underlying conflict of ontological interpretations about the being of God and the God-world relationship.15 Following this analysis, a sample of recent reactions to both models demonstrates the current dissatisfaction, indicating the potential for paradigm change in the theological model of interpreting God’s love to the world.

Chapters 4, 5, and 6 shift to the investigation of a canonical and systematic model that addresses the issues raised by the conflict of interpretations. Chapters 4 and 5 present the results ofextensive canonical investigation of the data regarding divine love in the OT and NT.This fresh study of divine love in the canondoes not assume the ontology of either model but deliberately brackets out (epoché) extra-biblical ontological presuppositions regarding divine love.16 This inverts the prevalent order by investigating the nature of divine love prior ← 5 | 6 → to the supposition of a pre-existing ontology.17 The material from the biblical investigation is then utilized to construct a model of divine love that addresses the conflict of interpretations identified in chapter 3. Chapter 6 concludes by outlining and unpacking this canonical and systematic model of divine love, critically comparing it with the two representative models, and exposing implications for divine ontology and the God-world relationship.

Theological Method: A Final- Form Canonical Approach

Toward a systematic model of divine love thataddresses the issues raised by the conflict of interpretations, this study utilizes a final-form canonical approach to systematic theology.18 This approach accepts the biblical canon as the basis of Christian doctrine and thus reserves epistemological primacy for the canon as divine self-revelation.19 ← 6 | 7 →

Canonical Correspondence and Coherence

Two criteria of adequacy pertain to this canonical approach: correspondence to the canon and internal coherence.20 Canonical coherence seeks a system that is internally consistent and lucid.21 Such an approach entails a sympathetic reading of the canon where the congruity of diverse texts is sought without injury to the meaning of individual texts and pericopes. As a starting point, then, this approach subscribes to the canon’s own claims to internal coherence and thus looks for internal consistency “while conscientiously dealing with areas of perceived or apparent tension.”22 The historical rationale for approaching the ← 7 | 8 → canonical text, written by numerous different authors in different times and places, as mutually consistent and complementary stems from the view that canonical texts were written from within the stream of canon that preceded them such that their successive human authors were overtly influenced, having their preunderstanding shaped by existing canon and consciously intended faithfulness to preceding canonical writings.23 The theological rationale for such an approach affirms the canonical claim that Scripture is divinely revealed and ← 8 | 9 → inspired and is, as such, a unified (though not monolithic) document; not merely the words of humans but the word of God (cf. 2 Tim 3:16; 1 Thess 2:13).24 The canon itself contains numerous examples that provide the basis of something like a canonical approach.25 ← 9 | 10 →

Beyond coherence, this approach seeks discernible correspondence to the canonical data.26 That is, this canonical and systematic approach seeks the maximum achievable correspondence to the intention in the text that is discernible, demonstrable, and defensible.27 As such, theological construction must not be isolated from exegetical considerations but based upon them while at the same time taking care to avoid extra-canonical presuppositions that might unduly affect interpretation.28 The intention in the text is the effect of authorial (divine and human) intent in writing that text but not identical to authorial intent. While the text inscripturates, to some degree, authorial intention, one has only the effect of that intention (the text) as object of investigation.29 It is thus the job of the interpreter to find the intent that is preserved and discernible in the text ← 10 | 11 → and thereby interpret the meaning in the text, insofar as possible.30 Accordingly, this approach adopts a hermeneutical (critical) realist perspective31 “while recognizing that the interpreter brings his/her own horizon to the text such that explicating the meaning in the text is an imperfect, complex, and continual process, which the interpreter must recognize and apply in an ongoing hermeneutical spiral.”32 In this approach the text as canon is always the source ← 11 | 12 → that the interpreter seeks to understand rather than replace as well as the objective control to which interpretation seeks to conform. Accordingly, in the absence of either internal coherence or canonical correspondence, the interpreter should return to the canonical data to identify and correct any discrepancy.

Focused on interpretation of the canon as a unified, literary document in accordance with the analogy of Scripture, less consideration is given to questions of introduction.33 The canonical approach includes exegesis as the crucial starting point for gleaning biblical data but transcends its traditional limitations by looking “beyond (without overlooking) the limits of individual texts and pericopes, toward the entire canon.”34 It further transcends biblical theology insofar as that discipline refers to the compilation of an exegesis of particular books or themes. It includes such exegesis and compilation of biblical data but utilizes that data in the quest for the “patterns and inner logic of the texts in relation to the whole canonical text” without dismissing the complexity of the texts.35 The product is not merely an outline of biblical data. Rather, the systematician asks theological questions of the canon, seeking text-based and text-controlled answers,apart from extra-biblical sources or presuppositions.36 ← 12 | 13 →

Hermeneutical and Phenomenological Exegesis

This process is further clarified by Fernando Canale’s distinction between hermeneutical and phenomenological exegesis. Hermeneutical exegesis refers to the philological and historical dimensions of the exegetical method, whereas phenomenological exegesis refers to interpretation that goes beyond a particular pericope in seeking the canonical horizon that impacts the meaning of the text(s).37 As such, phenomenological exegesis utilizes exegetically derived canonical data in order to uncover the first principles of reality that are implicit in the canon and, in so doing, addresses the conflict between the interpreter’s presupposed (whether conscious or unconscious) metaphysical framework and that which is constitutive of the internal logic of the canon by continually subjecting the interpreter’s horizon to the canonical horizon.38 Accordingly, this ← 13 | 14 → approach “brackets out [epoché], as much as possible, the interpreter’s preunderstanding in favor of the preunderstanding required by the text in its pericope as well as the text as canon, thus allowing the canon to provide its own metaphysical framework.”39 Phenomenological exegesis complements, rather than excludes, hermeneutical exegesis by way of reciprocal interdependence since the former keeps the canonical horizon in view while the latter’s focus on individual verses and pericopes “contributes to and corrects the wider metaphysical framework” of the interpreter in an ongoing spiral that does not subvert the multivalency of the text(s).40 Therefore, these complementary ← 14 | 15 → categories of exegesis address the two hermeneutical circles (that of the text and the interpreter as well as the canonical parts and whole) from the standpoint of the epistemological primacy of the final-form canon for systematic theology.

Overall, this final-form canonical approach uses the canon as the theological source from which answers to theological questions are derived, toward the articulation of a coherent system that corresponds to the text as nearly as achievable while continually subjecting the interpreter’s horizon to that of the canon in a hermeneutical spiral. The extracted canonical and systematic model is by no means the final word but remains secondary to the canonical text, which further corrects the system via ongoing canonical investigation. “Hence, the system will never exhaust the canonical text but endeavors to persistently move toward thorough correspondence and rigorous inner coherence.”41 Therefore, the model of divine love, sought in this study by way of canonical investigation, intentionally moves away from presupposing an ontology toward rigorous correspondence to the canon.42 This is accomplished by first ascertaining the canonical description of divine love and thereafter asking what must God be like in coherence with that description.43 Thus, the prevalent order of presupposing ← 15 | 16 → ontology then reasoning to divine characteristics is inverted by investigating the nature of divine love prior to supposing a pre-existing ontology.44


XVIII, 682
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (May)
theological conflict ontology alternative
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 682 pp.

Biographical notes

John C. Peckham (Author)

John C. Peckham (PhD, Andrews University) is Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Philosophy at the Theological Seminary of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. His articles have appeared in Trinity Journal, Mid-America Journal of Theology, Themelios, Didaskalia, the Journal of the Adventist Theological Society, and others.


Title: The Concept of Divine Love in the Context of the God-World Relationship
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