Types of Love and Types of Exemplars: Implications for Virtue Science

by Thomas Jay Oord

Thomas Jay Oord is a theologian, philosopher, and scholar of multi-disciplinary studies. He is a best-selling and award-winning author, having written or edited more than twenty-five books. A twelve-time Faculty Award-winning professor, Oord teaches at institutions around the globe, and is the director of the Center for Open and Relational Theology. To find out more about him or view more of his works, visit his website or the Center for Open and Relational Theology.

This article was originally published as a chapter in Theology and the Science of Moral Action (Routledge 2012), edited by James A. Van Slyke, Gregory Peterson, Warren S. Brown, Kevin S. Reimer, and Michael Spezio. (Publisher | Amazon)



Can human minds and neural systems – especially of those who love often and well – tell us anything about love and a life of virtue? Oord explores this question and the issues pertaining to it. 

Love is primary for any adequate ethic. At least that is what most Christian traditions say. Most Christians also believe that love is the heart of the virtuous life. But can human minds and neural systems – especially of those who love often and well – tell us anything about love and a life of virtue? I explore this question and the issues pertaining to it.

The Bible witnesses to the Christian belief that love is the center of how humans ought to act ethically. Jesus offers two love commands and says they are greater than all other commands. The first is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second command is “love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus concludes: “there is no commandment greater than these” (Mk. 12:29-31). [1]

Biblical authors testify that God believes no one is beyond the possibility of being a recipient of love. God loves the whole world (Jn. 3:16). Biblical writers teach their readers to love friends, neighbors, family, fellow believers, strangers, enemies, themselves, the poor, and all creation. All creatures are potential recipients of Christian love. Above all else, Christians are to pursue love (1 Cor. 13, 14:1).

Christians seek to emulate those who consistently live lives of love. Those who love consistently – love exemplars – are supreme models of God’s own love. The apostle Paul claimed to imitate the supreme love exemplar: Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). He advised others to do the same: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself…” (1 Phil. 2:5,7a). Jesus washed his disciples’ feet in what many Christians take to be a servant example he intended disciples to imitate. When the washing was complete, Jesus said to his disciples, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (Jn. 13:14-15).

The Apostle Paul also recognized that imitating God required loving as Jesus loved. He commanded his readers to emulate God by living “a life of love, as Christ loved us and offered himself…” (Eph. 5:2). Christians affirm that the best clue as to the nature of divine love is the love example of Jesus of Nazareth (1 Jn. 3:16).

Given that love is central to Christian ethics and God calls Christians to be like Jesus Christ, I explore three issues in the remainder of this essay. The first issue involves considering the nature and meaning of love. I offer a definition of love I believe crucial if we are to make sense of the centrality of love for ethics and Christian theology. The second issue lays out some of what goes into the formation of virtuous people, especially those we might call “exemplars.” In my previous work, I have not given the subject of character development sufficient attention, and I want to begin to rectify this insufficiency here.[2]

The final section is highly speculative. I consider what the neural systems of love exemplars must be like – especially Jesus’ neural system. Considering the complexity and constraints of our neural networks and brain capacity is important for knowing what we should expect when seeking to follow the examples of those we deem virtuous. By the conclusion, we will have addressed some questions about the human mind and the neural system’s role in love.

Defining Love

The majority of Christians recognize the centrality of love for Christian ethics. They claim that God is the source of love. Christians acknowledge that they should respond appropriately to God’s call to love. Love is central to the Christian life and should be the center of Christian theology.[3]

Ethicist Edward Collins Vacek summarizes succinctly why love is the heart of Christian ethics. “Christian ethics is not at bottom a matter of obeying God nor a matter of fulfilling our natures,” says Vacek. “Christian ethics must begin with God’s love for us and it must keep this love central. In acting morally, we Christians cooperate with the God who acted in Jesus and is still acting.” “In one sentence,” Vacek concludes, “the main point for ethical activity is: ‘We are God’s co-workers’” (1 Cor. 3:9).[4]

Despite the centrality of love in the Bible and much Christian ethics, however, few Christian theologians actually think seriously about what they mean by “love.” Love is rarely defined. Even odder, most scholars fail to define love clearly when they appeal to love as the center of their faith. Consequently, the word “love” may be the most used and praised yet least understood word Christians speak.[5]

I seek to rectify this unfortunate situation by offering a definition of love meant to help Christians and non-Christians alike. I intend for my definition to be consistent with and helpful for research in theology, philosophy, and the sciences.[6] Although I admit that no definition is likely to account perfectly for love, I believe that some definitions are superior to others. Having at least some definition is often superior to affirming no definition at all. I think we best define love in the following way:

to love is to act intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.[7]

To say it another way, love purposefully does what is good. Love does what is good in response to others: God, the community, the environment, and/or the lover’s bodily constitution.[8]

I believe love is intentional and relational. It involves cooperating with God to do good. But my definition adds “and others” to account for one’s community, environment, and bodily components. This addition is important for many reasons, one of which – the lover’s relation to his or her own neural system – I address later when talking about the neural system’s role for love and exemplarity.

The relations the lover has with others includes relations both with those outside the lover’s body and with components within the body. Such relations generate and shape emotions and feelings, which are central to the lover’s actions. Emotions and feelings strongly influence without entirely determining the intentional actions of lovers.[9] The “others” noted in my definition include not only those outside the lover’s body and his or her bodily members, it also includes the emotions and feelings that shape a lover’s response.[10]

One strength of my love definition is its ability to clarify the various forms that love takes. Most people acknowledge that we express love in many ways, and love takes many forms. It has become common among theologians and philosophers to use the Greek words agape, eros, and philia to speak about three of the most general love forms.[11] I argue that each form of love promotes overall well-being.

In roughly the last century, the word agape has acquired significant power in Christian theology and ethics. Many who use the word know its frequent presence in the New Testament. But agape has several meanings in the Bible, and contemporary scholars define agape in different ways. The diversity of definitions prompts Gene Outka to say, “the meaning ascribed in the literature to love, in general, and to agape, in particular, is often characterized by both variance and ambiguity.”[12] I agree. Agape is defined variously, and some definitions are internally incoherent or inconsistent with one another.

To offer clarity, I define agape as intentional response to promote well-being when responding to that which causes ill-being.[13] To put it in biblical language: Agape repays evil with good (Luke 6:27-31, Rm. 12:21, 1 Thess. 5:15, 1 Pt. 3:9). This form of love turns the other cheek, does good to those who do harm, and forgives enemies. Agape is “in spite of” love: we express agape in spite of the unloving actions of others. Agape is a form of love, because it promotes overall well-being.

Just as scholars define agape variously, they also afford eros diverse meanings. Plato’s thought influences most of these meanings, however.[14] As classically understood, the affirmation of value is the core of eros. Jules Toner captures the classic understanding when he defines eros as “affective affirmation of its object.”[15] While some have regarded eros as equivalent to desire, such equivalence is problematic if we consider eros a form of love. Love as I define it and as often understood, promotes overall well-being. Desire, as such, does not always promote well-being.

In light of the history of eros and its status as a form of love, I define eros as intentional response to affirm and enhance what is valuable or beautiful. Eros appreciates what is good and seeks to enhance it. Eros not only “thinks on” what is true, honorable, pleasing, and excellent, says the Apostle Paul, it “keeps on doing these things” (Phil. 4:8, 9). Because of the valuable circumstances or individuals we encounter in a world God created and called good (Gen. 1), we appropriately express the eros form of love at least sometimes. Eros is “because of” love: we express eros because of the good or beauty we encounter.

Although the meaning of philia appears often in the Bible -- and occasionally biblical authors even use the word – Aristotle has probably played a more influential role in how scholars think of philia.[16] The philia form of love has typically been identified with friendship, and philosophers and theologians since Aristotle speak of “special” relationships as a way to account for philia.[17] These special relationships have primarily to do with mutuality, reciprocity, or cooperation.

I define the philia form of love as intentionally responding in solidarity with others to promote what is good. Philia works cooperatively for the common good and often seeks to establish deeper levels of cooperative friendship. Philia co-labors for good; it cooperates with God and others to foster shared koinonia. Philia is “alongside of” love: we express philia as we come alongside of others to promote overall well-being.

These are dominant and overarching forms of love. Love may take many lesser forms or other particular expressions. The possibilities are vast and perhaps endless. But I argue there is only one definition of love that correctly unites the legitimate forms and expressions. That one kind involves acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being.

Becoming Like Those We Admire

Defining love is important. Without a clear definition, we will be unclear about the general ethics we should expect from Christians who seek to fulfill Jesus’ commands to love God and others as themselves. We will spin our wheels and talk past one another, all the while using unrelated languages of love. It is hard to overemphasize how important it is to define love clearly.

Having a clear definition of love, however, does not explain how and why some people develop into persons we call “virtuous.” We all recognize that some people love more consistently and even form a character or general disposition we consider to embody love on a regular basis. If love is an intentional act done in response to God and others to promote overall well-being, we need to determine why some people love more consistently than others do. After all, most humans – and especially Christians – want to become loving people.

Righteous people frequently express love and thereby develop habits of love. Repetitive proper responses to love shape a person over the course of time. Successive moments and ongoing histories of love shape people in ways that change their character in positive ways. Love becomes a habit, and we rightly deem people who habitually love “loving people.” They are “new creatures” who go about doing good (2 Cor. 5:17). The key to developing into a person with a loving character – an exemplar – is frequent intentional responses to promote well-being.

We can think of instances in which a person who normally does not love will uncharacteristically choose to express love. Sometimes, an act of love might even be heroic. For example, in Clint Eastwood’s 2009 movie, Gran Torino, we meet an ornery and cantankerous old cuss who typically acts with indifference or even hostility to his neighbors. He often behaves selfishly, acting apparently only for his own convenience.

Occasionally, however, the old codger acts heroically by promoting another person’s well-being. He rescues those in grave danger, for instance. The movie concludes with the old man giving his life to benefit a neighbor for whom he had earlier seemed to care little. While we find this self-sacrificial love heroic, we also wish the old man consistently loved during the more mundane and normal situations of life.

While we admire those who act heroically in an instant of love, other people repeatedly express love. They serve as examples – exemplars – of steadfast love. The occasional heroic self-sacrifice makes headlines. But we mostly wish the people we know would engage in more mundane forms of love. We would like them to speak kindly to us, take out their trash, treat their children and spouses well, give to the poor, and be patient. We admire people who love on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis.

In one sense, love exemplars are experts in love. The nearly one-thousand-page Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance concludes that experts in any number of activities are people who have 1) the desire to perform that activity and 2) practice that activity often.[18] In the case of love, continual practice of love and the desire to show love in both usual and unusual ways is part of what distinguishes moral exemplars from others. Love experts express love in both ordinary and extraordinary ways.

Ideal exemplars love consistently and can rise to the challenge of heroic love. At our best, we want to imitate them. Put in terms of Christianity, we might say Christians want to love like Jesus as they develop lives of love. Jesus loved heroically sometimes, not the least of which was his death on the cross. But Jesus’ life was also characterized by more mundane forms of love. He developed friendships, taught individuals and crowds, healed others, spent time with children, prayed, gave a drink of water to the thirsty, celebrated at parties, forgave sinners, and attended weddings. For Christians, Jesus is the ideal exemplar.

Christians also often say their relationships alongside other believers – those who comprise the Church – profoundly affect their love. Together, Christians can be “taught by God to love one another” (1 Thess. 4:9), and Christians “abound” in love for each other (1 Thess. 4:10; Phil. 1:9). In a healthy community of Christ-followers, love for fellow Christians includes “brotherly affection” (Rm. 12:10a).

In the context of the Church, believers can learn to love their enemies and themselves. Exemplars in the church are living examples of how to care for adversaries who hate us and care for our own bodies when we hate ourselves. Following the example of Jesus and living in community with others who follow Jesus’ example helps Christians develop a Christ-like character.[19] The life of love has both personal and corporate dimensions. Virtuous Christians are those who, “above all, put on love” (Col. 3:14).

The Christian exemplar loves in any particular moment. Consistent expressions of love form various patterns of life. Habitual love develops into a loving character. Those whose characters are distinguished by repeated love are regarded as loving people. We rightly regard loving people – in the Christian tradition – as saints. In the midst of more mundane expressions of love, saints occasionally express heroic acts of love which we regard as supererogatory – acts that go the extra mile (Mt. 5:41).[20]

At their best, then, Christians heed the Apostle Paul’s command: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14). In doing so, they become people with dispositions and ingrained inclinations to love.

Jesus and Implications for Neural Theories of Virtue

My definition of love gives a clearer idea of what love is. The definition also highlights the importance of relationships. I suggest that these relationships occur between people and within each person. Love responds to others. The “others” to which lovers respond include a wide variety of actors, conditions, and constraints.

People who love consistently – exemplars – are people who love in both mundane and heroic ways. At our best, we seek to imitate these exemplars, because their love is profound and steadfast. Exemplars provide insights and information that we may not discover through abstract reasoning. Their examples can stir us to love in specific ways we had either not imagined before seeing exemplars in action or imagined but were not sufficiently inspired to put into practice.[21]

Christians believe the best model of love is Jesus Christ. Becoming like him –Christlikeness – involves expressing love. Christians rely upon God’s acting to inspire and empower them to love in response to God’s initiating – prevenient – action in their lives.[22] They love when they “work out their own salvation,” for “God is at work within” them “both to will and to work” for God’s loving purposes (Phil. 2:12).

In this final section, I focus upon a particular kind of relationship that lovers possess. I have already mentioned that the lover’s relationships with other creatures influence the forms their love takes. An often-overlooked dimension of a lover’s relations, however, is the lover’s own bodily conditions and constraints. In particular, I explore what a loving person’s neural system might be like.

Well before the famous Phineas Gage incident, philosophers and physicians have studied the role of the brain for morality. While working for the railroad in 1848, an explosion propelled a metal rod through Gage’s face and out the top of his head. His prefrontal cortex was severely damaged. Surprisingly, Gage recovered from the blast relatively quickly. Apparently due to the accident, however, he went from being reliable, efficient, and well balanced to being irreverent and unsympathetic. The post-accident Gage was capricious, indecisive, and seemingly unable to plan for the morrow. “Gage was no longer Gage,” his crewmates famously remarked.[23]

The dominant hypothesis in neuroscience is that Gage’s character changed because he suffered damage to his ventromedial prefrontal cortex. In the 1990s, a model developed by the neuroscientists Antonio and Hanna Damasio and colleagues supports this hypothesis. The Damasios also document a number of contemporary cases in which the neural systems necessary for effective use of emotional information for adaptive decisions are destroyed or rendered dysfunctional from brain damage.[24]

In one research project, the team studied thirteen adult patients who experienced prefrontal cortex damage. The wife of one patient with neural system damage testifies that her husband was caring and affectionate prior to his neural system alteration. After it, however, her husband reacted with indifference when she became upset or distressed. Despite the fact that his verbal and performance IQ scores ranked in the high 90th percentiles, the husband lacked empathy. Adults with damaged frontal lobes could not employ social and emotional facts to respond sympathetically.

A second study by the Anderson and colleagues analyzed two individuals in their early twenties who had suffered prefrontal cortical damage. The damage suffered by these two occurred, however, before each reached the age of two. Although both performed normally on standard measures of cognitive performance, both showed signs of deficient behavior control and poor peer interaction. Neither demonstrated a sense of guilt or remorse for actions that would seem obviously immoral to others. This condition is called “acquired sociopathy,” and to date there is no effective intervention, despite the great plasticity of the neural system in infancy and early childhood.

Hanna Damasio concludes that after damage to this portion of the brain, “empathy, as well as emotions such as embarrassment, guilt, pride, and altruism, is not evoked, and personal and social decisions become defective.” “Without the prefrontal cortex,” she says, “empathy, along with other adaptive social behaviors, becomes impaired.”[25] Various regions of our neural systems may influence our capacity to empathize well with others, but these studies show that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex are especially important for some forms of empathy.[26]

If empathy is a major factor in our how we respond to others when choosing to love, the lack or severe restriction of empathy will influence the kind and complexity of love we can express. If damage to the neural system can restrict one’s capacity for empathy – which the evidence summarized above suggests – a healthy and well-functioning neural system seems essential for at least some forms or expressions of love.

The issue of neural system damage brings to the fore intriguing questions. For instance, which areas of the neural system are required to facilitate a person acting intentionally, in response to God and others, to promote overall well-being? Are some forms of love possible that do not require complex expressions or even the capacity for empathy? These questions have not been afforded sufficient empirical research.[27]

While some neuroscience research suggests that damage to the neural system constrains the kinds and forms of love possible, other research suggests that our experiences influence brain structure.[28] One of the more interesting studies pertains to the neural systems of London cab drivers. In a study of the brain size – specifically the hippocampus portion, researchers discovered that the complex thinking required for driving a cab apparently generates a larger brain in cab drivers than in the average person. Researchers also found a correlation between the size of some brain regions and the length of time a cabdriver’s tenure.[29]

Taking this very small sample of neuroscience research together with the issues of love and exemplars raised earlier suggests some possible implications. First, the work involving neural system damage suggests that perhaps moral exemplars have qualitatively different organizations of their ventromedial prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices. If damage to these areas can impair virtuous behavior, could certain organizations of these areas promote virtue?” Some damage to the neural system seems not to negate entirely the capacity to love. [30] But severe damage ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex apparently restricts some capacities to empathize and therefore the forms of love that require these types of empathetic response.

The example of the taxi drivers, and the demonstration of brain plasticity into adulthood, suggests, secondly, that the loving done by exemplars – which is intentional and entails at least some cognitive employment – is expected to have a direct effect on networks in the exemplar’s neural system that support loving action. It may even be that habitual love and repeated loving practices influence the size and structure of a love exemplar’s neural network. More research would obviously need to be done, of course.

I suggest that a research program be undertaken to compare the neural systems of those who are known to have developed habits and characters of love – i.e., exemplars – be compared with those who did not love consistently nor develop loving characters. Obviously, criteria would be needed for deciding who developed a loving character and who did not. But the testimonies of those who knew well both types of persons – those consistently loving and inconsistently loving – could serve as verification of the legitimacy of the specimens in this research program.

All of this has implications for what we might think Jesus’ neural system would be like. Perhaps Jesus’ neural system, so similar to our own neural systems in so many ways, was different in just those networks that contribute to loving cognitions and actions.. For instance, if Jesus expressed the kind of empathy that John suggests when Jesus heard of Lazarus’s death (Jn. 11:35), he must have had functioning neural system supportive of robust empathy.

It may also be that Jesus’ repeated expressions of love – most Christians would confess that his sinlessness included loving perfectly from birth onward – would shape the physical structure of his brain. And perfect love from birth onward would mean his neural system would be unlike any other human neural system in significant ways that go beyond the normal individual variation in human neural systems. In ways that matter for various neural networks, Jesus’ neural system must have been unique only to him. All others would have intentionally not chosen to promote overall well-being at least once in their lifetimes (Rm. 3:23).

In sum, the one whom Christians consider exemplar of all exemplars – Jesus Christ – must have had a neural system both similar and dissimilar to our own.[31]

Of course, we don’t have access to Jesus’ brain to know any of this. But it may still matter. After all, Christians typically want to avoid the Docetic error of considering Jesus’ physical dimensions unimportant for theology and anthropology. Regarding Jesus’ human aspect unimportant has been deemed heretical by the Church. And were exemplars to possess neural structures significantly different from nonexemplars, it might give new meaning to Jesus’ phrase that you know the character of a person by the fruit generated by his or her life. Such fruit might be judged by both moral and neural measurements!


What would Jesus’ neural system look like? We obviously don’t know. But the witness of Scripture suggests that Jesus loved perfectly from birth onward. And biblical authors call Christians to emulate Jesus, their perfect exemplar. In the imitating of Jesus, Christians develop loving characters as they repeatedly respond well to God’s empowering and inspiring call to love. Their neural systems play a role in this responding. And the neural systems of virtuous people may actually end up “wired” in particular ways. If so, those who love others may not only have the mind of Christ Jesus (1 Phil. 2:5,), they may also develop a similar looking neural system.


  1. Biblical writers and theologians in the Christian tradition employ various words for love. The meanings given these words also vary. For instance, there is no single or uniform meaning for words like agape or philia in the biblical text. Contemporary scholars propose various definitions, some of which account better than others for the more common meanings these love words possess in Christian writings. I explore these issues, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010), ch. 3.

  2. I explore some issues of love and character development in Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010), ch. 3. The issue is also pertinent to living a holy life, something my co-author, Michael Lodahl, and I address in Relational Holiness: Responding to the Call of Love (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2003).

  3. I offer a sustained argument for why love ought to be the orienting concern of Christian theology in my book, The Nature of Love: A Theology (St. Louis, Mo.: Chalice, 2010).

  4. Edward Collins Vacek, Love, Human and Divine: The Heart of Christian Ethics (Washington, D. C.: Georgetown University Press, 1994), 136, 138.

  5. I argue this in more detail in my book, The Nature of Love.

  6. For a sustained argument for why my definition accounts for scientific research, see my book Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos, 2010).

  7. I often preface the word “response” in my love definition with either the word “sympathy” or “empathy” or both. These words identify the affective, emotional, or feeling aspect of love. Scholars contest the precise meanings of sympathy and empathy. Philosophers typically mean by “sympathy” that a person “feels with” others. Psychologists and sociologists typically mean by “empathy” the same thing. L. G. Wispe offers a fine article on the issue of the uses of sympathy and empathy (“The Distinction between Sympathy and Empathy,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50 [1986]).

  8. This definition of love proves useful for a variety of metaethical schemes, including virtue theory, feminist ethics, utilitarian ethics, divine law ethics, emotion-based ethics, and many others.

  9. Implicit in the definition of love I propose is a view of libertarian creaturely freedom, which states that love involves free actions. Such freedom is greatly limited, however, by various factors in one’s body, environment, and history. But it is genuine freedom nonetheless.

  10. To say that emotion and feeling shape intentional response is to acknowledge that emotion and intentional reasoning are interconnected. While I am not claiming the two are identical, I am suggesting the two are intertwined. For an argument against a neat separation of emotion and reasoning and for the importance of a neuroscience of emotion for moral theory, see Michael L. Spezio, “The Neuroscience of Emotion and Reasoning in Social Contexts: Implications for Moral Theology,” In Modern Theology, 27:2 (April 2011): 339-356.

  11. For examples, see David L. Norton and Mary F. Kille, eds., Philosophies of Love (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1983), Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, tr. Philip S. Watson (New York: Harper and Row, 1957 [1930]), Thomas Jay Oord, Science of Love: The Wisdom of Well-Being (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation, 2004), Stephen G. Post, Unlimited Love: Altruism, Compassion and Service (Philadelphia: Templeton, 2003), Irving Singer, The Nature of Love, vol. 1, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), Alan Soble, Agape, Eros, and Philia: Readings in the Philosophy of Love (New York: Paragon, 1989), Paul Tillich, (Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analyses and Ethical Applications (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), Edward Collins Vacek, Love, Human and Divine: The Heart of Christian Ethics (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1994), Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and the Forms of Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1968).

  12. Gene Outka, Agape: An Ethical Analysis (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972), 257-58.

  13. Agape does not have a uniform meaning in the Bible and has been given diverse definitions by theologians and philosophers. For an essay exploring this diversity, see Thomas Jay Oord, “The Love Racket: Defining Love and Agape for the Love-and-Science Research Program” in The Altruism Reader: Selections from Writings on Love, Religion and Science, Thomas Jay Oord, ed. (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2008) 10-30.

  14. See Plato’s discussion of eros in his Symposium in The Dialogues of Plato, B. Jowett, trans. (Oxford University Press, 1892). For a detailed analysis, see A. W. Price, Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

  15. Jules Toner, The Experience of Love (Washington, D.C.: Corpus, 1968), 177.

  16. Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Christopher Rowe, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) 1155a.

  17. For arguments about the role of philia in Christianity, see Liz Carmichael, Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love (London: T & T Clark, 2004), Thomas A. F. Kelly and Philipp W. Rosemann, eds. Amor amicitiae: On the Love that is Friendship (Leuven: Peeters, 2004), and Gilbert Meilaender, Friendship (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).

  18. K Anders Erickson, et. al., eds., Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006).

  19. For discussions on the kinds of virtues that can emerge when following the example of Jesus, see Richard A. Burridge, Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2007), John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? The Good News of Postmodernism for the Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2007), Paul Victor Furnish, The Love Command in the New Testament (Nashville: Abingdon, 1972), William C. Spohn, Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics (New York: Continuum, 2000).

  20. On supererogatory love, see Andrew Michael Flescher, Heroes, Saints, and Ordinary Morality (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003).

  21. For an argument on the importance of virtuous practices among Christian nuns and the benefits of such practices, see Steven R. Quartz and Terrence J. Sejnowski, Liars, Lovers, and Heroes: What the New Brain Science Reveals About How We Become Who We Are (William Morrow, 2002), 241.

  22. For explanations of God’s prevenience, see John B. Cobb, Jr., Grace and Responsibility (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995), Kenneth J. Collins, The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 2007), H. Ray Dunning, Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology (Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1988), Michael Lodahl, God of Nature and of Grace: Reading the World in a Wesleyan Way (Nashville: Abingdon, 2003), Randy L. Maddox, Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1994), and Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism (Kansas City: Beacon Hill, 1972).

  23. Malcolm Macmillan, An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage (Cambridge: MA: MIT Press, 2000).

  24. Other interpretations exist of the Gage example. Michael L. Spezio cautions against drawing large implications from the case, especially since a great deal of evidence is not available. In addition to damage to portions of the brain commonly associated with emotion for moral reasoning, for instance, damage to portions associated with memory and reasoned judgment is likely. For Spezio, the interconnectedness of emotion and reasoning proves important for taking care to draw conclusions from the Gage case. (Spezio, The Neuroscience of Emotion and Reasoning, 343-44).

  25. Hanna Damasio, “Impairment of Interpersonal Social Behavior Caused by Acquired Brain Damage,” in Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue, eds. Stephen G. Post et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 281. Antonio Damasio’s essay in the volume is “A Note on the Neurobiology of Emotions.”

  26. I am grateful to James Van Slyke for his insights on this issue. See his dissertation, “Theology in Mind: Reduction, Emergence, and Cognitive Science,” Fuller Theological Seminary, 2008.

  27. See Amos Yong, Theology and Downs Syndrome: Reimagining Disability in Late Modernity (Waco, Tex.: Baylor University Press, 2007).

  28. For a powerful argument for genuine moral responsibility and freewill based on neuroscience and philosophy, see Nancey Murphy and Warren S. Brown, Did My Neurons Make Me Do It? Philosophical and Neurobiological Perspectives on Moral Responsibility and Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

  29. Maguire, EA; Gadian DG, Johnsrude IS, Good CD, Ashburner J, Frackowiak RS, Frith CD, “Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers,” PNAS 97 (2000): 4398–403.

  30. Kevin Reimer has studied the cognitive capacities of the mentally disabled in the L’Arche communities and found that mentally disabled members of the community possess profound capacities to love. This suggests that “normal” brain activity is not a prerequisite for at least some forms or expressions of love (Kevin Reimer, “Fiat Lux: Religion as Distributed Cognition,” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 24:2 (2005): 130-139.

  31. For insights on theology and neuroscience, see Gregory R. Peterson, Minding God: Theology and the Cognitive Sciences (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2003) and the Van Slyke dissertation noted above.