Agape: Unconditional Love?
One similarity between the emerging church theology and that of a segment of Seventh-day Adventists is the concept that agape should be understood to be the Biblical ideal of God’s love as unconditional. Yet enough Scriptural evidence exists to prove the concept so faulty as to make it altogether unreliable, except to show the connection to the omega deception.
One proponent of the concept, Elder Jack Sequeira attempts to establish that agape is unconditional because it is unselfish and contrasts it with human love that is selfish. (Beyond Belief, 20.) The problem with his effort is grounded in the simple fact that not all conditions are selfish. Righteousness is a condition of God’s love. The law of God is the standard of righteousness. That is why it is called the law of love. The conditions of righteous, unselfish love are in the best interests of all God’s creation. Those conditions are inherently a part of God’s wisdom.
When we make a comparison between the same approach to unconditional love made by the thought leaders of the emerging church movement, the language used is strikingly familiar. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, and an emergent church leader, wrote, “It is important to understand how the Bible uses the word love in the New Testament. The original language of the New Testament is Greek. The Greek language uses different words for different types of love. The Greek word phileo and the Greek word agape are both translated as love. Although phileo and agape are different Greek words, the English translation for both words is love. The Greek word phileo refers to natural human love. The Greek word agape refers to the God-kind of love.
“Natural love is a friendly affection, an emotional response to appreciation for the qualities of a person. The God-kind of love is sacrificial and selfless. Natural love cherishes a person. The God-kind of love values and esteems a person. Natural love gives love when it receives love. The God-kind of love constantly gives love; it is unconditional.
“There are significant differences between unconditional love and love that is withheld unless it is also received. Agape love is much deeper than phileo love. Agape love is constant, selfless, and sacrificial. Agape love is given by choice and perceives a sense of value and worth in a person. Agape love is unconditional. Agape love is the God-kind of love.” (Jim Collins, Beyond Positive Thinking: Success and Motivation in the Scriptures: How to Tap Into the Force that Created the Universe, 2010, Excel Books, A Strang Company, 60.)
While many would like for this description to be true, it is unscriptural. A very close and attentive scrutiny of how agape and phileo are used in the Bible will prove that both kinds of love are used to describe God’s unselfish love, and how agape is used to describe man’s selfishness as well.
The apostle John clearly shows how agape is used to describe God’s unselfish love and to expose man’s selfish love: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life…. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (KJV, John 3:16, 19.) This ought to raise the question of how men can be condemned for loving darkness with the unconditional love of God. But what it does is help us understand that agape is a deliberate, willful love that operates more by a prioritizing reasoning of the mind which in turn is capable of loving by degrees of hierarchy. Here, men loved darkness more than light—to such an extent that men hated light altogether because it exposes their evil deeds (verse 20.)
Again, John wrote of human love using the term agape when he described the prevailing attitude of those opposing Jesus: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (KJV, John 12:43.)
Peter wrote of the selfishness of Balaam in his second epistle, using the term agape: “Which have forsaken the right way, and are gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; But was rebuked for his iniquity: the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbad the madness of the prophet.” (KJV, 2 Peter 2:15, 16.) Again, the question is raised as to how Balaam could be condemned for forsaking the right way, leading others astray by his example, and loving the wages of unrighteousness with God’s unconditional love—agape.
Paul wrote of Demas’ faithlessness using the term agape: “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia.” (KJV, 2 Timothy 4:10.) How can Demas be faithless by loving the present world with God’s unconditional love—agape? Apparently Crescens and Titus were not faithless, but were right where God wanted them. Demas? He “agapao” the present world.
Elsewhere, we see depictions of Jesus loving with phileo. Lazarus, as he lay in the tomb. (John 11:36.) John, who was the disciple Jesus loved (phileo, John 20:2; agape, John 13:23.) Sequeira would have us believe that this is in the context of agape, but he doesn’t really provide us with just how that context evolves. (Beyond Belief, 20.)
The simple fact is that both Sequeira and Collins are departing from what otherwise has been the conventional definition for phileo and agape—a definition recognized by theologians for centuries. James Strong, 1822-1894, provides us just that definition. “Agapao… to love (in a social or moral sense).” (The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 2010, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Greek Dictionary of the New Testament, #25.) The distinction is more elaborate when looking at phileo: “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling; while 25 [agapao] is wider, embracing espec. the judgment and the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty, and propriety: the two thus stand related very much… the former being chiefly of the heart and the latter of the head…”. (Ibid., #5368.)
So, what have we learned? Unconditional love still means what it means to the spiritualist and the universalist. And the manner in which it is used by emergent church leaders is so very similar to the way Jack Sequeira used it that we should sit up and take notice. Both make unconditional love a matter of feeling and sentiment just as Dr. E. J. Waggoner made it out to be. “Just as if anybody could give a reason for love! Love is its own reason.” (E. J. Waggoner, Present Truth [UK], April 28, 1898.) And while they may not have any motive or cognitive desire to teach spiritualism, that is exactly what they have been deceived into doing. Let us not be found joining them in the work of deception. Rather, let us make the deliberate choice to follow Jesus in magnifying the righteous love of God.