Spend any amount of time on social media or reading the news and you’re sure to hear the mantra of today’s society, “Love is Love”. That’s the phrase that carried the U.S through the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case ending with the legalization of same-sex marriage as well as a cultural revolution surrounding sex. But the phrase, “Love is love” is packed full of cultural implications and meaning that’s assumed at its utterance. “Love is love” is true but what is love? And who defines it? In Jonathan Leeman’s book The Rule of Love, he sets out to answer just those questions.
Love in the Culture
We’re no longer interested in the God who is love. Rather, we’re interested in our own ideas of love, which become god. “God is love” is traded in for “Love is god.” Instead of going before the Creator of the universe and saying, “Tell us what you are like and how you define love,” we start with our own views of love and deify them. -Jonathan Leeman The Rule of Love
Leeman begins by recognizing and questioning common assumptions of love in the culture. He points to the individualism that has rotted how we understand love and the anti-authoritarian nature of what love is understood to be today. He shows how we’ve come to be the ones that decide what love is instead of rightly submitting to God’s definition. Leeman argues we’ve redefined love as something outside of God and apart from Him, then we use that definition to criticize God and abuse the Church for how they love others. But Leeman doesn’t leave you there. He takes the time to show how we got to where we are. He looks at the movement, however briefly, of the redefinition of love. And from there he sets out to tackle the question…what is love?
Love Among the Theologians
After identifying and pushing back against the errors of the culture Leeman works to build his own definition. He looks at theologians of the past and how they define love. He looks at Augustine, Aquinas, and others. From them, he concludes that love is by definition God-Centered.
We would say true love is God-centered. It’s loving others with respect to God. It’s wanting another’s good and knowing that that good is always God. He is the most glorious and beautiful thing in the universe. – Jonathan Leeman The Rule of Love
Leeman concludes that with God-Centered love comes love as both Agape and Eros. Agape means love of gift where God chooses to love whom he loves and Eros is one of affection and over the worthiness of the loved object. He says that God loves us not simply as gift love but more than that as he defines in later chapters.
God’s Love For God
In order to define love, Leeman looks to the Trinity. Specifically the relationship between Father and Son. He shows that God’s love is God-Centered and primarily concerned with God. He says it’s affectionate, giving, exalting, and obedient. All of these being played out in the Triune relationship of the Godhead.
The Father gives his righteousness and glory to the Son and delights in that glory above all. The Son, in turn, gives his righteousness and glory to the Father and delights in that glory above all. – Jonathan Leeman The Rule of Love
But what does all of this have to do with our actions? Leeman argues that to love God is to internalize His commandments. This is seen in the Son as He is the expression of the Father’s law. The Son loves the Father in such a way that he is the embodiment of the Father’s character, His law, and obedience. This leads to what Leeman calls an expanding universe of God’s love. His love creates, satisfies, and glorifies. He calls it the boomerang of love, going out and in and out again to create, satisfy, and bring about joy for the lover and the one loved. This stands against our love which is naturally self-serving and a black hole (Leeman’s metaphor). Not only this but God’s love is a Holy love. As Leeman says…
If a church abandons holiness, it abandons love, and if it abandons love, it abandons holiness. God’s love and holiness are inseparable. – Jonathan Leeman The Rule of Love
Leeman defines God’s holiness as God’s consecration to His glory and a Holy love as one that is likewise devoted to His glory.
God’s Love for Sinners
If God’s love is Holy and affectionate than to what degree does God love sinners? How could He since we’re so unworthy of such love, let alone one that brings about the death of Christ for the forgiveness of sin? I’ll allow Leeman to take the responsibility here of explaining that but I’ll say that Leeman attempts to bring together the many threads and of God’s love, the Difficult Doctrine as D.A. Carson put it to create a helpful tapestry centered on God’s love for His creation.
Like the Father’s love for the Son, God loved creation with respect to himself. – Jonathan Leeman The Rule of Love
Love and Judgment
Leeman moves to bring his work home with two final sections on judgment and authority. What does all of this, this definition of love centered around God and from God have to do with our relationships with one another? Leeman addresses church discipline (Mat. 18:15-20), Hell, and the Glory of God. He carries this into how churches are to relate to the world, declaring God’s judgment against it and welcome others into fellowship with God.
Love and Authority
Finally, Leeman shows how authority and love are not at odds with one another but go hand in hand. Authority and Judgment were first separated in the Garden by a lie from the mouth of a serpent. God’s authority was thrown off and love doubted in the Fall (Gen. 3) and since then have been separated by the world. This isn’t the case with love as defined by scripture and Leeman shows how this plays out in the church through submission and faith. He concludes with a description of correct authority and its loving effects in marriage, the church, and relationships.
If you’ve read much of Jonathan Leeman or are familiar with his work you know that Leeman has a gift at putting his finger on the cultural pulse. Leeman’s expertise is in politics and is a pastor at Cheverly Baptist Church outside of D.C. He’s also the editor of 9marks a parachurch organization that seeks to help build healthy churches. This combination uniquely equips him to write such an impactful book.
Leeman rightly recognizes major errors in the culture as it fails to define love biblically. He sees major errors that flow from this problem and a world that is dealing with the crumbling worldview of a postmodern world. His solution, to start with God and let Him define love within the Trinity, and only then to move to creation is the correct approach to defining love.
Leeman’s ability to wrap his head around such a difficult topic and lead his reader through the weightiness of the issue is fantastic. He writes clearly and succinctly about a massive awe-inspiring topic. While at times one feels a bit overwhelmed by all Leeman has to say, the topic itself is what’s overwhelming not the author.
Beyond these excellent major points in The Rule of Love, Leeman has strong points on peripheral issues as well. He provides a great look at God’s holiness, how it relates to love and the individual believer’s life. He educates his readers on Agape and Eros love and how authority affects and upholds love. He also helps his readers to identify common lies, misunderstandings and failures one often has as they think about love. Leeman is able to look past the chaos, see the underlying issues, and bless his readers with clear insight.
With his experience as a pastor and a sound ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), he applies his conclusions well by bringing such a difficult and abstract idea down to earth for the common reader. He applies this teaching through Church Discipline, Pastoral ministry, and membership in the body of Christ. It’s hard to walk away from this book not deeply encouraged by such a wonderful love of God in scripture.
The Rule of Love by Jonathan Leeman is available for purchase here
You can find other work by Jonathan Leeman here
For more resources on healthy churches go to 9mark.org