There are so many books on love because love is at the core of human existence. There are many loves, and innumerable angles of vision from which they can be seen. This book interprets love in a theological perspective. It seeks to answer the question, ‘What is the meaning and truth of the Christian assertions that God is love, that love to God and the neighbor are the two great commandments, that the fulfillment of human love depends upon God’s action of reconciliation, and that the love of God is the ground of all hope?’
We cannot escape the aura of implausibility which surrounds the claims that love is real, that love transforms human life, that it is the key to the foundation of all things. Yet along with the implausibility there is a blunt, solid truth. We live largely by our loves. Even our hates are twisted and frustrated loves. Men fight one another, slaughter in war, and kill in cold blood. Yet often they fight to defend something they love, their land, their families, their view of life. Indeed men fight to protect themselves, their securities, their sense of importance. Rather than find this a reason for cynicism I have come more and more to regard it as one ground of hope. For the power of love is great, and those who love can find more adequate objects. Achievement of a way of life beyond combat requires a transformation of our loves and their embodiment in new ways of life. This is why the analysis of the forms of love is relevant to human action. Far from being self-defining, love needs the discipline of knowledge and rational criticism. And it needs the clarification as well as the empowerment which faith can bring.
What I try to present in this book is a perspective on the meaning of the love of God and the loves of men derived from that mode of Christian thought which has come to be called ‘process theology’. A revolution has taken place in our view of the world. The concepts of evolution, development, growth, and becoming have become indispensable terms for conceiving what things are. Process theologians believe that this revolution in our world view must be incorporated in Christian doctrine and that it brings us closer to the biblical view of the creative and redemptive working of God than theology has been since the first century. Among the recent books in process theology there are W. Norman Pittenger’s The Word Incarnate, Bernard Meland’s The Realities of Faith, John Cobb, Jr.’s Toward a Christian Natural Theology and Schubert Ogden’s The Reality of God. There are strong resemblances between these Protestant expressions and the concern of Roman Catholic thought with the evolutionary mysticism of Teilhard de Chardin, the work of Peter Schoonenberg, and Leslie Dewart’s The Future of Belief. Most of the process themes are found in Nicolas Berdyaev’s philosophical and religious writings. A special indebtedness must be expressed to my teacher and sometime colleague, Charles Hartshorne, whose interpretation of Whitehead’s philosophy and whose constructive metaphysical reflection has been one of the authentically creative movements of religious and philosophical thought in our century. It is time process theologians turned to the analysis of particular Christian doctrines in the light of the new metaphysical outlook. This book hopefully is one small contribution to that end as it seeks to interpret the doctrine of love on the basis of the conviction that the eternal God is involved in the world’s becoming, and that his love takes new forms in history.
In these days of complex academic pressures even a modest book becomes a project depending upon the support and co-operation of many institutions and persons. This book had its origin in lectures at the General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in Claremont, California, in 1952 and the Nathaniel W. Taylor lectures at the Yale Divinity School in 1953. Some Christological themes were first worked out in the Oren E. Scott lectures in Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. None of these lectures appears here in its original form but I am grateful for the opportunity to work out the ideas which the lectureships provided.
Time to write was made possible by the Faculty Fellowship of the American Association of Theological Schools, and by sabbatical leave and research aid from Union Theological Seminary in New York City where I am privileged to teach.
I remember with gratitude and affection students in Seminars on the doctrine of love over a period of twenty-five years. The completion of the manuscript was made possible by the critical work of Marvin Shaw, and expert and painstaking editorial criticism by Mrs. Margot Biersdorff. My wife, Eulalia, prepared the entire manuscript. More than this, her patience and understanding has been for me a demonstration of love deeper than any words can express.
‘Brotherly love’ has a broad meaning and a more special sense. I have dedicated the book to my brothers and to one who has become a brother to us.