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Summary of Love of God: A Canonical Model: Chapter 9: “Who Is the God Who Loves?”

Summary by Gary Yates 

In chapter nine of The Love of God: A Canonical Model, Peckham summarizes the five key aspects of the foreconditional-reciprocal model of divine love that he has developed in the book and then focuses on key questions concerning God’s essence in light of how he loves. God’s love is volitional, evaluative, emotional, foreconditional, and ideally reciprocal. These features highlight the “give-and-take relationality” that exists in human-divine love. God’s choice to love means that he allows himself to be affected by the disposition or actions of his creatures and to engage with humans in profoundly emotional ways. God’s love for humans is undeserved but not without conditions in that it is only those who reciprocate God’s love that enjoy a particular love relationship with him for eternity. God works toward a bilateral love relationship with humans but does not unilaterally determine who will reciprocate his love. Such coercion is incompatible with genuinely loving relationships.

Is Love God’s Essence?

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The bulk of this final chapter focuses on ontological issues that are key to determining what God must be like if he loves in this particular manner. The first of these issues is the relationship of divine love to God’s essence. In light of 1 John 4:8, 16 (“God is love”), many have postulated that love is God’s essence. Because of the mysteries associated with divine essence, Peckham takes a more cautious approach in asserting, “God’s character is love, and God is essentially loving” (p. 252). All that God is and does is congruent with divine love. The members of the Trinity have enjoyed an eternal love relationship with each other, but this “essential intra-trinitarian love relation does not extend to creatures” (p. 253). God is not morally or ontologically bound to love his creatures but voluntarily chooses to do so. This explanation preserves divine freedom in contrast to pantheistic conceptions that view God’s love for the world and his creatures as necessary to his being.

Divine Love and Perfection

Peckham next examines how the foreconditional-reciprocal model of divine love accords with a proper view of God’s perfection. Some forms of the transcendent-voluntarist model often view God’s enjoyment of the world as a defect that impinges on divine perfection, but Peckham argues that while God is ontologically independent from the world and self-sufficient, he also finds enjoyment in the world’s goodness and takes displeasure in evil. Because of his abundant love for humans, God has “voluntarily bound his own interests to the best interests of his creatures” so that the quality of his own life is interwoven with the course of human history (p. 256).

God has also extended significant creaturely freedom to humans, allowing them the choice to reciprocate his love or not to do so. The fact that humans act in ways that either positively or negatively impact God reflects that God himself is not the causal agent of these actions. God’s will is not “unilaterally efficacious,” evidenced by the ways in which “free beings actually affect the course of history, often in ways that are not in accordance with God’s ideal decisions” (p. 258). Peckham provides a helpful distinction between God’s “ideal will,” referring to what would occur if all agents acted in perfect conformity to his desires, and his “effective will,” which refers to what God evaluatively wills after taking into account the wills and actions of his significantly free creatures. God allowed Adam and Eve to not obey his ideal will in favor of granting them this creaturely freedom. The death of Jesus was “God’s will,” not in the sense that he desired it to happen but because it was part of his larger plan of salvation. We clearly see numerous instances in Scripture where God’s desires are not fulfilled (cf. Ps 81:11-14; Isa 66:4; Ezek 18:23; Matt 23:37-39; Lk 7:30), and such occurrences are necessary as a means of securing genuinely reciprocal divine-human love relationships.

Peckham’s distinction between “ideal will” and “effective will” contrasts to how more deterministic models distinguish between “desired will” and “decretive will.” In this, God genuinely desires that all be saved but has not decreed that all would be saved. Peckham raises the question, “If God’s will is unilaterally efficacious and God wants to save everyone, why does he not do so?” (p. 262). God ought to be able to determine every individual to accept his love and be saved, but the reality is that God acting in this way would be incompatible with the biblical ideas of significant human freedom and the bilateral nature of divine-human love.

Divine Love, Passibility, and God’s Constancy

Peckham also addresses how passibility and constancy can both exist within God’s person. Reiterating from his fuller discussion in chapter six, Peckham affirms that God is affected by the disposition and actions of his creatures and argues that explaining the strongly emotional language used to describe God in the Bible as anthropomorphic lacks a clear canonical rationale. God’s relational nature is reflected in the give-and-take aspects of his interaction with humans as he calls for response to his initiatives and then relents, rewards, or punishes based on what those responses are. Peckham is careful to qualify that his view of passibility does not deny divine immutability when understood as the constancy of God’s character and promissory purposes. God has voluntarily chosen to enter into the joys and sufferings of the world and does so “evaluatively and voluntarily but not essentially” (p. 269). God allows himself to be affected by others while also maintaining “ontological independence from the world.”

Divine Love and Theodicy

Lastly, Peckham examines divine love in relationship to the issue of theodicy and argues that the foreconditional-reciprocal model has advantages over the other models in outlining why there is evil in the world if God is good, all-powerful, and all-loving. The determinism of the transcendent-voluntarist model asserts that God predestines all evil but does no evil himself in that God wills these actions for different reasons. Peckham contends that this perspective is unsuccessful in attempting to avoid making God culpable for evil, asking how God could be good if he could have unilaterally willed to prevent evil without hindering his purposes and why God did not unilaterally determine that he be fully glorified before his creatures without evil. The pantheism of the imminent-experientialist model goes in a different direction, positing that God is not responsible for evil because he was unable to prevent it. This view offers an impoverished view of God and also raises the question of whether or not evil will ever come to an end.

The foreconditional-reciprocal model explains that God is omnipotent but that possession of all power does not require the exercise of all power. God freely grants power to other agents whose choices he does not unilaterally determine. God’s voluntary allowance of evil testifies to his loving nature. Since love must be free and cannot be determined, the necessary context for genuine love requires the possibility of evil and the rejection of God’s ideal will. Peckham writes, “God allowed evil, while passionately despising it, because to exclude its possibility would exclude love” (p. 274). Though creatures suffer greatly, God suffers more, and the voluntary suffering of God on the cross ensures that evil will be eradicated in the eschaton and that the universe will continue in “unceasing love and uninterrupted goodness.”

Summary of Love of God: A Canonical Model: Chapter Eight: “The Reciprocal Aspect of Divine Love”

Summary by Gary Yates

Chapter eight of John Peckham’s Love of God: A Canonical Model focuses on the ideally reciprocal nature of divine-human love. While God has a universal love for all persons, he “enters into and enjoys a particular, intimate relationship only with those who freely reciprocate his love” (p. 220). Humans must choose to respond to God’s love in order to enjoy its blessings and benefits, and this reciprocity is necessary because of the nature of love, which involves the free and mutual giving of the self to the one who is loved. This discussion of reciprocity in divine-human love overlaps in many ways the previous discussion of the foreconditionality of God’s love in chapter seven.

God has foreconditionally bestowed love on every person, enabling a reciprocal response by humans to that love. God seeks these relationships because he is by nature love (1 John 4:8), and the revelation of God’s triune nature reflects that the Father, Son, and Spirit have eternally enjoyed a reciprocal love relationship. God is not in need of relationship with his creatures, but he desires and seeks relationship with humans. He expects that humans will reciprocate his love and responds with love and special intimacy to those who do so. In the Old Testament, God shows his “lovingkindness” (hesed) to those who “love” (’ahav) him and keep his commandments (Exod 20:5-6; 34:7; Deut 7:9; Neh 1:5; Jer 32:8; Dan 9:4). Similarly, the New Testament teaches that both God and Jesus respond with love toward those who love and obey the Son (John 14:21-23; 16:27). Followers of Jesus enjoy an intimate friendship with him because of this reciprocal love (John 15:14), but must remain in that love (John 15:9-10).


The Biblical Evidence for Reciprocity in Divine-Human Love

The reciprocity of divine-human love is especially reflected in the covenant and kinship relationships that God enjoys with his people. God initiates covenant relationships through calling and election prior to any human response, but those in covenant with him are expected to love him in return and to keep his commands. Providing a corrective to the sharp distinction between promissory and obligatory covenants in the Old Testament, Peckham rightly emphasizes that all covenants between God and humans contain elements of conditionality that place obligations upon those in covenant with the Lord. Even promissory covenants like the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants that guarantee the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises place conditions of loyalty and obedience upon those who wish to personally experience their blessings  (cf. Gen 18:19; 22:16-18; 26:4-; 1 Kgs 2:3-4; 8:2; 9:4-9).

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The use of marriage and parent-child metaphors to portray the covenant relationship particularly highlights the bilateral “give and take” involved in divine-human relationships. God has an enduring and patient love for his people, but he also expects the love of his people in return (cf. Ezek 16:8-13; Jer 2:2). God’s compassionate love for his people surpasses that of a human parent (Isa 49:15), but humans can also reject God as husband or parent and thus sever the kinship relationship (Isa 50:1; Jer 3:8; Hos 2:2). In the Old Testament, Israel’s repeated apostasy brought a rupture of their special relationship with Yahweh so that they forfeited their claim to be his “wife” (Jer 3:1) and “children” (Hos 1:6, 9; 2:4). God gave his wife a certificate of divorce (Isa 50:1) and sent her away into exile. God’s love for Israel was enduring so that he called for their repentance and return even in the midst of their apostasy and he promises to make a new covenant with those who seek him and return to him (Jer 31:31;36; Ezek 16:60-62; Hos 2:19-20; 14:3-4). In the New Testament, only those who respond by faith in Jesus Christ are allowed to be called children/sons of God (John 1:12; Rom 8:14; 1 Jn 3:1-2).

Regarding the human reciprocation of divine love, Peckham makes two important clarifications.  Reciprocal love does not mean that humans can love God equally or that the relationship between God and humans is symmetrical, but it does mean that a relationship between God and humans is possible in which “God’s love is responded to positively so that humans become conduits of divine love” (p. 231). The second is that the reciprocal nature of divine-human love also means that human love for God is not the result of God’s unilateral action. While God is the prime agent and initiator of divine-human love, he does not unilaterally cause humans to enter into a love relationship with him. Peckham states that “humans possess the divinely granted freedom to reciprocate or reject God’s love” (p. 231) and views this understanding to be in line with the numerous exhortations in the Bible for humans to love God and statements in the Bible concerning human love for God. He argues that “the divine exhortations for human love would be superfluous and misleading if human love were unilaterally determined by God such that those who do not love God could not love God” (p. 231). The numerous passages that speak of the reward given to those who love God “strongly imply genuine contingency and significant human freedom” (p. 231).


God’s Universal and Particular Love

Peckham’s view of divine-human love as ideally reciprocal necessitates a distinction between God’s universal and particular love. There is a universal invitation to all, but God’s relational love can be rejected and forfeited. There is a special “insider love” for those who respond to God, but those on the outside who reject God’s love could have been insiders as well but were not willing. Humans do not earn God’s love by responding to his initiatives because their response “is no more meritorious than the acceptance of a gift from a benefactor” (p. 234).

Pekcham rejects universalism in all of its forms, because God’s love ultimately can be rejected and resisted. He also rejects the idea that God’s particular love reaches only those whom God as chosen as his elect. Peckham, in agreement with Walls and Olson, finds it problematic to say that God truly loves those whom he has unilaterally chosen not to save. He also raises the question of why God does not save all if he truly can unilaterally impose his love on humans.  A reciprocal view of divine-human love instead asserts that God does all he can “within the bounds of bilateral significant freedom” to bring about the salvation of all, but ultimately each individual must choose to accept or reject the offer to enter into relationship with God.


A Further Canonical Perspective to Consider

Peckham’s model of the reciprocal nature of divine-human love accords well with the canonical interplay between the divine initiative to enter into relationships with humans and the contingency of human responses to those initiatives. Peckham also raises important questions regarding how divine-human love can be genuine and mutual if unilaterally imposed on humans. At the same time, there appears to be a canonical movement in Scripture that perhaps does not receive enough attention in Peckham’s treatment. In the new covenant that God would make with Israel, there is a greater emphasis on the circumcision of the heart, writing the divine law on the heart, or the giving of a new heart that would serve to override Israel’s unbelief and that would guarantee the nation’s fidelity to the Lord (cf. Deut 30:16; Jer 31:31-34; Ezek 11:19). Walter Brueggemann writes of this movement from a “Deuteronomic model,” stressing human repentance as a condition for Israel’s restoration, to a “Prophetic model,” in which restoration occurs without Israel’s repentance. This movement does not eliminate reciprocity, because human repentance/response remains a part of the equation, but Peckham could devote more attention to this greater emphasis in the new covenant on divine initiative in securing the human responses that God desires. Peckham states that “those privy to God’s particularly relational love allow God to love them forever” (p. 243), but it seems that there again needs to be greater emphasis on the indwelling of the Spirit (also a new covenant reality) that seals the believer in this love relationship and that secures the believer’s enduring love in relationship with God. The power of God that acts to hold the believer in this reciprocal love relationship once it is initiated is also an important part of the canonical presentation concerning divine-human love.



Summary of Chapter 7: “The Foreconditionality of God’s Love” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Gary Yates

The key question in chapter seven of Peckham’s Love of God is whether God’s love for the world is unconditional or conditional, the answer to which is also essential for determining if humans can forfeit divine love or if it is unilaterally consistent. Peckham employs the term “foreconditional” to express his understanding that “God’s love is freely bestowed prior to any conditions but not exclusive of conditions” (p. 192). He further elaborates: “God’s love is both prior to human love and yet responsive to and conditioned on human love, which is itself response to God’s initiative. This is the foreconditionality of divine love” (p. 196).

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Peckham contrasts his understanding of the foreconditionality of God’s love with both the immanent-experientialist and transcendant-voluntarist models, which both in different ways view divine love as unconditional and as something that cannot be forfeited. In the immanent-experientialist model, divine love is ontologically necessary in that God has an essential sympathetic relationship to the world. In pantheism, God is bound to the world and is mutually dependent on others so that God is unable to choose not to love humans. In the transcendant-voluntarist model, God is self-sufficient so that his love depends solely on his sovereign will. Divine love is thus not conditioned on any external factor and is spontaneous and unmotivated in every way. In this system, the object of divine love can do nothing to inhibit, decrease, or forfeit divine love.


The Conditionality of Divine Love

Peckham opts for a model of divine love that recognizes the priority and necessity of divine initiative but that also sees conditionality and reciprocity as essential to the relationship between God and humans. He argues that Scripture depicts divine love as conditioned upon human response. In the OT, God’s “lovingkindness” (hesed) is for those who love him and obey his commands (Exod 20:6’ Deut 7:9-13). What God has promised within this covenant “is presented as explicitly conditional on the ongoing relationship” (p. 194). In the same vein, Jesus declares that the one who loves him is the one that he and the Father would love (John 14:12) and that the Father loves the disciples because they have loved Jesus (John 16:27). Mutuality is evident in these texts, which indicate that believers remain in the love of God and Jesus by obedience.

This conditionality in divine love is complemented by the evaluative aspect of God’s love that Peckham has developed in chapter five of this work. The Lord loves the righteous but hates the way of the wicked (Prov 15:9). Divine mercy is conditioned upon humans showing mercy to each other (Matt 5:7; 18:33-35). Friendship with Christ is also conditioned on obedience to his commands (John 15:14). God loves all persons and bestows his foreconditional love on all (John 3:16), but his “particular, intimate, relational love” is only received by those who respond to his foreconditional love.

The conditionality of divine love means that humans may also forfeit the benefits of divine love. The prophets Hosea and Jeremiah speak of God hating his people, not loving them, and withdrawing his hesed from them (Hos 9:15; Jer 11:15; 12:8; 14:20; 16:5). Jude’s exhortation for believers to “keep themselves” in the love of God (Jude 21) reflects that fellowship with God can be forfeited. The need for believers to “abide” in God’s love (John 15:5-10) also demonstrates that enjoyment of God’s love demands a proper response to it. Peckham argues that this biblical evidence does away with “the sentimental notion that God’s love is monolithic, constant and unconditional,” and he concludes that “God’s love relationship with the world, then, is not dependent on God’s will alone but takes into account human disposition and action” (p. 199).


Three Objections to the Condtionality of God’s Love

Peckham addresses three common objections to the idea of the conditionality of divine love. The first objection is that some would argue that such conditionality might mistakenly attribute primacy to human action in the divine-human relationship. In response to this objection, Peckham asserts the “absolute priority” of God’s love in the divine-human relationship (1 Jn 4:7-8, 16, 19) and argues that God “is the primary source of love and draws humans to himself prior to any human action” (p. 201). God’s love not only precedes human love, but also follows it as well, energizing love for God and obedience as an expression of that love.

The second objection is that the conditionality of divine love might appear to suggest that God’s love is something that could be earned or merited. Peckham explains that his foreconditional-reciprocal model makes a sharp distinction between conditionality and merit. God’s love toward humans is always undeserved, just as was his love for Israel (cf. Deut 4:37; 7:7-8; 10:15), but divine love can be unmerited while at the same time contingent upon human response. The individual who freely receives God’s love has not merited that love, because even the ability to receive divine love is something that comes as a gift from God (cf. 1 Cor 4:7).

The third objection is that the conditionality of divine love might seem to diminish the greatness of God by removing the assurance of divine love or suggesting that God’s love is not faithful. Peckham counters this objection by noting that God never arbitrarily rejects humans or withdraws his love, The removal of divine love always occurs in response to unrelenting human evil. Divine love is conditional but never capricious.

Peckham also assesses if God’s love would be greater by reconciling all to himself in a reciprocal love relationship. Certain forms of universalism are based on the premises that God desires a love relationship with all and also possesses the ability to effect such a relationship with all persons. Deterministic models of divine love would affirm the second premise, but some forms of determinism would deny the first. According to this understanding, God loves all in some respect but he only chooses some to irresistibly receive the benefits of divine love leading to eternal life. Humans do not possess the ability to accept divine love or not.

In contrasts to these perspectives, the foreconditional-reciprocal model accepts that God desires a love relationship with all (cf. Ezek 18:32; 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4-6; 2 Pet 3:9), but that a truly reciprocal loved relationship between God and individuals “cannot be unilaterally determined by God” (p. 207). This conditionality is not due to any defect in divine love or lack in his power but rather to the fact that any truly loving relationship requires “significant freedom.” Peckham argues that “it is impossible for God to determine that all beings freely love him” (p. 208).


The Conditionality and Unconditionality of God’s Love

The final question that Peckham addresses in this chapter is how we should view the many passages that speak of God’s love as everlasting (cf. Jer 31:3; Rom 8:35, 39) in light of the conditionality of divine love. Distinguishing between God’s subjective and objective love, Peckham argues that, “Divine love is everlasting in some respects, yet may nevertheless be discontinued in other respects” (p. 212). God’s subjective love refers to his loving disposition toward all humanity, and this love is everlasting because it is grounded only in his character. God’s subjective love is unconditional and everlasting because his character is unchanging. God’s objective love, however, is conditional because it is “foreconditional and requires reciprocal love for its permanent continuance” (p. 212). Humans possess the freedom to either accept or reject divine love, and God only removes his love relationship with humans “in response to the prior rejection of God’s love” (p. 213).

Peckham also argues that God’s love is unconditional and everlasting in a corporate sense. He writes, “That God will love and save some people is unconditional.” The Lord’s saving purposes and covenantal promises will come to fruition for his people, but conditionality is maintained at the individual level in regard to who will belong to the remnant. The remnant will only consist of those who favorably respond to God’s loving initiatives (cf. Isa 65:8-9; Rom 9:6; 11:7, 22-23). The interplay between the unconditionality and conditionality of divine love is specifically reflected in the working out of God’s covenant grants in the OT. These covenant promises are unconditional in terms of ultimate fulfillment, but individuals or even entire generations may forfeit the blessings of the covenant and even their covenant status. In the Davidic covenant, Christ is the “entirely faithful servant” who receives all of the blessings that are part of that covenant and to confer those blessings to all of his spiritual offspring. However, individuals may either choose to enjoy those blessings through adoption into God’s family or reject these intended blessings and the love relationship they might have enjoyed with God.

In concluding this chapter, Peckham summarizes the differences between God’s subjective and objective love in this manner: “While God’s subjective love never diminishes or ceases, God’s objective love will eventually no longer reach the one who finally rejects it. Those who respond positively to God’s love, however, enjoy everlasting reciprocal love relationship” (p. 217).

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Summary of Chapter 6, “The Emotional Aspect of God’s Love” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Gary Yates 

In chapter six of The Love of God, Peckham explores “The Emotional Aspect of God’s Love.” God’s love is more than emotion and includes the qualities of volition and evaluation (as developed in previous chapters), but the emotional aspect of divine love uniquely reflects its passion and intensity. Peckham argues that “God’s love for humans is ardent and profoundly emotional” (p. 187). He further elaborates on the range of divine emotions reflected in the biblical portrayal of God, “Scripture presents God as affectionate and loving, devotedly interested and intimately concerned about humans, affected by the world in feeling joy and delight in goodness, yet sorrow, passion and intense anger at evil, alongside profound compassion and the desire to redeem humans” (p. 189).

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This aspect of divine emotionality raises the question of whether God can be affected by the actions of humans. Because of the intensely emotional nature of divine love as portrayed in Scripture, Peckham rejects a view of God’s immutability that incorporates belief in his impassibility, the idea that God is not emotionally affected by the world or that he cannot be affected by anything outside himself. Peckham instead argues that God’s love is passible in the sense that “God is intensely interested in and affected by humans, and may be pleased or displeased by their response to him such that the quality of his life is affected by the state of affairs in the world” (p. 187). At the same time, Peckham acknowledges the very real differences that exist between divine and human emotions.

The Biblical Portrayal of Divine Emotionality

Peckham’s presentation of the biblical portrayal of divine love is both exegetical and devotional. He begins by exploring the most prominent terms for love in the OT and NT—the word groups for ’ahav and agapao respectively. Both terms denote a type of love that is “affectionate, passionate, warm, compassionately concerned with and interested in its object(s); love in the sense of high regard, value and appreciation for its object(s); and love that includes enjoyment pleasure and fondness” (cf. Col 3:9; 1 Thess 2:7; 1 Pet 1:22; 4:8) (p. 149). Jesus had a deep love for his followers (John 13:1) and even for the rich young man who would make the choice not to follow him (Mk 10:21). God takes genuine joy in his people (Zeph 3:7), and familial images of various types particularly reflect the emotionality of divine love. The Lord loves Israel as his bride (Isa 62:4; Jer 2:2-3; 16, 23; Hos 1-3) and has adopted Israel as his son (Hos 11:1-4). God’s compassion even exceeds that of a nursing mother for her newborn child (Isa 49:15). The Hebrew word for compassion (racham) is etymologically related to the noun for “womb” and thus likely reflects “a womb-like mother love.”

God does not merely will to love volitionally; he loves with “an emotion that is stirred and roused, responsive to the actual state of affairs” (p. 151). One of the primary NT terms for compassion (splagnizomai) belongs to a word group referring to the inward parts of the body as the seat of emotion and thus depicts compassion as a visceral emotion and a “gut response.” Jesus often reflected this type of compassion as he encountered people in need (cf. Mt. 9:36; 14:14; Mk 1:41; 6:34). The “yearning” of God’s heart (Jer 31:20; Is 63:5) in the OT reflects the churning of internal organs as God is touched by the pain and grief of his people. All of this language conveys “profoundly passible and intense emotionality” (p. 153).

God’s emotional love is particularly reflected in those times when he relents from sending judgment because of the entreaties of his people for grace and mercy. The Lord is moved to pity even at the plight of his rebellious people. The revelation that Yahweh is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger” so that he shows mercy and forgives iniquity (Exod 34:6-7) is foundational to the OT portrayal of God. The Lord continues to “bestow compassion beyond all reasonable expectations” throughout Israel’s history when they betray him and turn to other gods (cf. Judg 10:13; 1 Sam 8:8; 1 Kgs 11:33; 2 Kgs 22:17; Neh 9:7-33). The Lord relents from judgment when humans cry out to him for grace and mercy (cf. Exod 32:9-14; 1 Kgs 21:25-29; Amos 7:1-6; Jon 3:6-10). At the same time, God is not obligated or compelled to show mercy and he may not relent from sending judgment, and he may also withdraw his mercy when humans persistently rebel against him (Jer 16;5; Hos 9:15). The Lord’s “lovingkindness” toward Israel was unconditional in terms of his enduring commitment to the relationship, but conditional in that the blessings and benefits of that lovingkindness were for those who reciprocated with love and loyalty toward the Lord (Deut 7:9; Matt 18:27-35; Rom 11:22). God does everything that he can to avoid the outcome of judgment and destruction, but divine mercy may be forfeited by persistent human rebellion. Jesus lamented over those he desired to save but who were unwilling (Matt 23:37).

God’s compassion is complemented by his passion. God’s jealousy (qana’) in the OT conveys a passionate love and concern for his people and name (cf. Deut 4:24, 31; 5:9; 6:15) without the negative connotations associated with human jealousy. God is provoked to jealousy by Israel’s unfaithfulness (Deut 32:3`; Ps 78:58) and is often portrayed as a scorned husband (Isa 62:4; Jer 2:2; 3:1-12), but this aspect of divine emotionality reflects his protectiveness of the exclusive covenantal relationship he has with his people. God is not jealous in a manipulative, controlling, or envious way but in a manner that reflects the depth of his passionate love for Israel and his desire to protect his people from the consequences of their sinful choices.

God’s love manifests itself in both positive and negative emotions, but these negative emotions are never arbitrary or unmotivated. They always come in response to sin and evil, and God’s wrath is so terrifying because it is the divine response to the rejection of his powerful love. Even when humans sin, God is constantly pulled toward forgiveness and mercy. God is also deeply pained by human sin (Gen 6:6), because he can see the terrible consequences that will follow.

The Issue of Passibility Versus Impassibility

In light of the biblical data, Peckham concludes that maintaining divine impassibility and supposing God’s impassible passion and/or feelings fails to do justice to the many biblical passages in which God experiences responsive emotions. There are simply too many passages like Hosea 11:8-9 that “use passionate, gut-wrenching language” to depict God’s intense emotions, and this pervasive canonical witness argues against imposing an ontological presupposition of God’s impassibility onto the text that leads to reinterpretation of the biblical data (pp. 161-62). Impassibility is particularly difficult to maintain in light of texts that place God’s emotionality within the contexts of give-and-take-relationships where God reacts to unfolding events and human responses to his various initiatives. Based on his analogical understanding of language about God, Pekcham concludes that God’s emotions are real but not identical to human emotions. Nevertheless, there must be similarity for this language about God to have any real meaning. Because of his canonical approach, Peckham particularly seeks to establish a view of divine emotionality that prioritizes and is consistent with the canonical depiction of God. This approach recognizes anthropomorphism in the biblical portrayal of God, but also insists that divine emotionality should not be viewed merely as metaphorical language unless there are canonically derived reasons for doing so.

While rejecting the idea of impassibility, Peckham sees validity in the qualified impassibilist attempts to maintain divine transcendence and the ontological invulnerability of God to the effects of his creatures. God’s passibility is voluntary. God’s emotions may genuinely be affected by the free choices of his creatures and he may feel emotions in response to the free actions of his creatures that he does not causally determine, but God is not involuntarily invulnerable to these effects. God experiences emotions differently from humans because his experience of emotions is “entirely flawless” (p. 180). He is never overwhelmed by his emotions or manipulated by others because of some form of emotional codependency. God has freely opened himself to being affected by his creatures. While God maintains the sovereign freedom to remove himself from this arrangement, he also elects to remain constantly committed to it as an expression of his faithfulness (p. 181). In concluding the chapter, Peckham summarizes: “While none can overpower God, he is affected by worldly events because he has willingly opened himself up to reciprocal love relationship with creatures (p. 189). God loves in highly emotive ways but not in ways that are beyond his divine control.

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Summary of Chapter 5, “The Evaluative Aspect of Divine Love,” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Jeff Dickson

As Peckham progresses in his evaluation of the remaining canonically informed aspects of divine love, he continues by delineating its evaluative component. In an attempt to strike a scripturally-based position over and above the transcendent-voluntarist and immanent-experientialist models, Peckham begins by voicing his dissatisfaction with their understanding of God’s love and its evaluative nature. While the former position holds that God is incapable of ever benefitting or taking pleasure from his creation (rendering his love thoroughly gratuitous), the latter holds that God feels everything along with the world as he is intimately connected to everything in it and depends on it for his essence. In contrast, Peckham argues that God’s love is evaluative, not because he is essentially united to creatures, but because he freely chooses to love in this way.

Objections Addressed

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_There are three main objections to this theory that Peckham must address if he is to defend his canonical model. First, there are those who emphasize God’s perfection to the extent that they believe he cannot receive value (as he is already completely valuable). Peckham calls this the theo-ontological objection. To these Peckham calls attention to the myriad of passages that suggest God is capable of being pleased with his creatures. John Piper and Anders Nygren have to assume a metaphorical interpretation of these copious passages and in the place of more literal meanings provide more figurative alternatives. To be sure, Piper and Nygren go to these efforts to protect the self-sufficiency and glorious perfection of God; however, Peckham reminds them that his foreconditional-reciprocal model allows God his sovereignty in freely choosing to be affected by his created world as he pleases.

The second objection states that pure love never receives, but only gives. Those who hold this view insist that receiving love and its derivative values is ultimately selfish and that this is unbecoming of a perfect God. However, what of those passages that affirm self-love? This moral objection to Peckham’s model is shown not to be based on canonical data as much as on a false dichotomy that pits altruism against self-interest. Is it not possible that in acting for the good of others, God is serving himself and vice versa? The two cannot be so easily divided. In fact, one cannot even responsibly imagine a world in which pure and pervasive altruism works in any practical way.  Rather, the world that God created was willed by him to include love that is both self-interested and others-centered in that the unselfish self-interest of genuine love includes the best interests of all others.

One final objection Peckham must address is one he calls the anthropological objection. This objection holds that humans are incapable of generating value or eliciting God’s delight. In other words, mankind is so far below the divine that nothing men or women can do can elicit God’s praise. However, this position does not take into consideration the semantic overlap that exists between both Old and New Testament words pertaining to love, delight, pleasure, approval, and acceptance. Not only that, but in many places, God is shown to enjoy his people and care for them more deeply than, for example, the birds. While Peckham agrees that the sinfulness of humans makes it impossible for us to generate value independently of God, he directs attention to the mediation of Christ through which even the most meager offerings of humans can be acceptable and pleasing to God by faith.

Questions Answered

Is divine love essentially self-sacrificial?

Similar to what Peckham addressed earlier about selfishness, many believe that the highest virtue of love involves self-sacrifice. Why, if this is the greatest virtue, does it not make sense then to assume this of God at all times? The answer can be most completely addressed when one considers the nature of the world. Christ’s self-sacrifice, for which he is most famous, is necessary in the world as it presently exists because of an intrusion of evil.

Not only that, but it would not make ontological sense for God to sacrifice everything about himself for the sake of the world as everything that exists is contingent on his existence. Some might argue that any sense of self in God is unbecoming as it would mean he acts in self-interest; however, it is this very [unselfish] self-interest, according to Peckham, that renders any sacrifice God makes possible and even more incredible. If God possessed no interests in and of himself, what could, one might ask, he sacrifice in the first place?

[Editor’s Note: C. S. Lewis argued, in The Problem of Pain, that self-giving touches “a rhythm not only of all creation but of all being. For the Eternal Word also gives Himself in sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary. For when he was crucified He ‘did that in the wild weather of His outlying provinces which He had done at home in glory and gladness’. From before the foundation of the world He surrenders begotten Deity back to begetting Deity in obedience. And as the Son glorifies the Father, so also the Father glorifies the Son…. From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by the abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever.”]

Does God only love the worthy?

How God’s love is especially applied to the righteous reiterates its evaluative nature even more. Surely, while passages like John 3:16 and others teach that God loves everyone, it is equally true that God is also, at the same time, displeased by universal evil, and finally saves only those who accept his love. How can these ideas be true at the same time? Peckham demonstrates that God is able to love unworthy human beings by temporarily suspending judgment. Though humans do not deserve God’s love, the extremely negative judgments they do deserve are, at present, significantly tempered by his patience and grace which responds with delight when people repent and exercise faith (resulting in salvation).

How is God justified in loving human beings?

However, how is a perfect God able to get away with loving humans in spite of their multitudinous imperfections? The answer exists in two parts. First, God wills to bestow his prevenient grace and foreconditional love upon the world, rendering, as described above, the possibility for people to repent. Second, when imperfect people do repent, Christ’s mediation is able to make up for the deficiencies of those who are in Christ by faith (Romans 8:1). In other words, God makes it possible for people to desire God and, when they do, Jesus makes up the difference. This difference will continue to be satisfied until the eschaton in which the temporary and partial suspension of the effects of evaluation will be over and those in Christ will be glorified. This will successfully render them worthy of God’s positive evaluation.

Conclusions Reached

According to Peckham’s canonically-informed foreconditional-reciprocal model, God not only evaluates his creatures, but he both delights in and is displeased by them. This he does, not because he is in any way dependent on his creation, but because he chooses to love in this way. The system God has put in place has suspended deserved wrath for the time being in an effort to give people a chance to accept his prevenient grace and love. When people do so, Christ’s mediation renders them objects of God’s special and saving affection—an affection that will ultimately result in glory forever.

Find the other chapter summaries here.

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Summary of Chapter 4, “The Volitional Aspect of Divine Love,” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model by John Peckham

Summary by Jeff Dickson

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

With the design of the argument established (a canonical model) and the preliminary linguistic work accomplished (successfully removing overly rigid distinctions between different biblical words for “love”), Peckham is well positioned in chapter 4 to begin his analysis of the different scripturally rooted attributes of God’s love for the world. The first of these is the volitional aspect of divine love. While the transcendent-voluntarist concludes that divine love is totally free, sovereign, and unmotivated (as witnessed in election), and the immanent-experientialist supposes that divine love is essential to God’s nature and therefore universal, sympathetic, and indeterministic, Peckham is going to advocate in this chapter for a foreconditional-reciprocal model of divine love that understands God’s love for the world as voluntary and yet not merely volitional.

God’s Volitional Love

51WwYweH7VL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_As mentioned above, the transcendent-voluntarist model has happily endorsed the voluntary nature of God’s love; however, it is prone to delimit God’s love to mere volition. This comes as a result of an un-nuanced adherence to God’s impassibility, absolute sovereignty, and aseity. Inevitably, many (from Vanhoozer to Barth) conclude that God’s relationship with the world is not necessary. However, Kevin Hector’s interpretation of Barth affords an alternative position which states that humanity is contingently necessary to God inasmuch as God determined from eternity past to be God-with-us.

These and other  interpretations of divine love are accused by Peckham of making claims based on what God might have done rather than what Scripture clearly presents. This is why Peckham lays out, as promised, his canonical answer to the following question, “Does God love freely and, if so, what does that mean?” From the Scriptures, Peckham is able to demonstrate (with T. F. Torrance) that God did not have to create anything and, as a result (and in agreement with Richard Rice), the world owes its existence, both past and present, to God’s free choice. Applied to God’s love for humanity, it must be said that this too is freely bestowed by God in election.

To illustrate this phenomenon, the Bible uses images like marriage and adoption to reiterate that divine love is always instigated by God. Not only that, but the fact that love is shown in Scripture to be taken away (in some sense) demonstrates that divine love (in that specific sense) is inessential to God. These and other proofs both affirm the transcendent-voluntarist position and undermine the immanent-experientialist belief that God is somehow compelled to love because he is in some way dependent on the world.

However, Peckham departs from strict voluntarists when he suggests that God’s love is not merely volitional. Instead, he believes divine love is also evaluative, emotional, foreconditional, and ideally reciprocal. One example of this took place when God’s people rebelled by erecting a golden calf in the wilderness and, in response, God offered them a choice to either repent and enter back into his love or forfeit God’s mercy. In this episode, though God’s love is shown to be freely given to a people who do not deserve it, Peckham believes that it is not merely a product of his choice, but, in some ways, contingent on how his people respond and reciprocate. If they repent, they will experience God’s love in special ways; if they do not, they forfeit God’s free and sovereign offering.

Love and Election

A discussion very closely related to the volitional aspect of God’s love is the relationship between love and election. For those adhering to a strict transcendent-voluntarist model, election and love go hand-in-hand (see Leon Morris and Anders Nygren). In fact, some, as revealed in chapter 3, even equate Old Testament words for “love” with choice. This is not so with Peckham’s foreconditional-reciprocal model. Instead, Peckham suggests that while election is a manifestation of love, it is not equal to divine love. In fact, divine love is shown in the Canon to be so much more than mere election.

Man_Made_in_the_Image_of_GodScripture teaches that divine love is not only the basis for divine election (Deut. 4:37; 7:7-8; 10:15), it is unmerited, evaluative, conditional, and must be maintained by appropriate human response. In addition to passages that describe God’s sovereign freedom to bestow love as he pleases, a host of passages reveal God’s hatred toward humans that is prompted by their evil actions, thereby proving his love to have an evaluative component. Also, the pervasive covenant language in the Scriptures implicitly suggests certain underlining conditions associated with the benefits thereof and the love bestowed therein. Not only that, the elect are described throughout the Canon as those who, upon receiving a divine call, answer it appropriately by reciprocating the love bestowed in the context of a growing relationship.

Love and Bilateral Significant Freedom
One final consideration Peckham includes in this presentation involves what he calls bilateral significant freedom, or the ability of both God and man to will to act otherwise than they do. According to Peckham, if this was not affirmed, especially when it pertains to God’s love relationship with the world, so many passages through the Canon would not make sense. The pervasive offerings of love from God and the many commands to love God both suggest that divine love, though freely bestowed, cannot be forced upon someone by sheer will. In other words, mankind is not casually determined to love God according to the Scriptures. Therefore, the love between God and man is, in some ways, a phenomenon that occurs when both God chooses to offer it and humans choose to respond appropriately. As Peckham concludes, the love relationship between God and man is neither unilaterally deterministic nor an ontological necessity. Instead, it is mutually (though not equally) volitional and contingent.

Ultimately, [similar to] the transcendent-voluntarists [in this respect], Peckham believes that the love of God [for the world] is volitional and free. Not only that, but he affirms that love [in relationship to the world] is neither essential to God’s being nor necessary to his existence. However, Peckham believes that reducing divine love to pure volition is too limited given how the God—man relationship is portrayed in the Scriptures. God’s love seems to be experienced most completely by those who respond to his offer appropriately in the context of a bilaterally free, volitional relationship—not as a result of a reductionist interpretation of God’s election alone.

Find the other chapter summaries here.

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John Peckham, summary of Chapter 3, “Agape Verses Eros?: The Biblical Semantics of Divine Love,” from The Love of God: A Canonical Model

 Summary by Jeff Dickson

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Before setting out to delineate the love of God by means of its consistent and wide-ranging attributes as supported in the Canon, Peckham decides first to address the issues surrounding the polysemy and multivalency of the word “love” as it appears in the Scriptures. In so doing, Peckham confronts an exegetical fallacy that unfortunately pervades both popular and, in some cases, academic scholarship concerning theologically charged verbiage in general and “love” in particular. This fallacy is known by Grant Osborne as the lexical fallacy and/or the illegitimate totality transfer and identified by D. A. Carson in his discussion on problems surrounding synonyms and componential analysis. In both of these presentations and in that of Peckham’s, it is concluded that the entire semantic range of any word should not be read into every occurrence of the aforementioned term nor should a particular meaning/nuance in one context be thrust on all other contexts containing the same locution.

Proving this to be true of the word “love” in its many forms (agape, eros, phileo, etc.) is fruitful for Peckham’s broader argument for two reasons. First, if Peckham cannot demonstrate that there is at least some semantic overlap between different canonical terms for love, then he might be required to treat each individual term to its own robust study. Second, proving that there is at least some lexical and semantic parallelism between different terms for love from the beginning will allow Peckham to move more freely within the Canon toward an understanding of divine love without becoming too preoccupied with unnecessary and overly particular lexical exercises which, as mentioned above, have the potential of yielding fallacious conclusions.

The Theological Inflation of Agape over Eros

Perhaps the most popular distinction drawn in this discussion is between agape and eros in which those like Anders Nygren argue that agape pertains to a unilateral beneficence limited to the realm of God’s own volition while eros describes an emotional, acquisitive, and desirous love witnessed within the human race. However as Peckham reveals, agape is used in the Scriptures both positively and negatively to convey a host of meanings ranging from the holy love of God (connotations more in keeping with popular ideas about agape) to fleeting lusts (which is more in keeping with common considerations of eros). Therefore, what Peckham is able to demonstrate seems to undermine the conclusions of Nygren and others of his ilk.

That said, Peckham does concede that with divine agency, the agapao word group only refers to perfect, virtuous love, but not in a lexically limited way. Instead God’s agape love in many contexts involves conditions, evaluations, emotion, and reciprocity. Therefore, to delimit agape to the perfect and yet cold volition of God is to rob it of its nuance, biblically rooted connotations, and the subsequent implications thereof.

The Theological Inflation of Agape over Phileo

A similar phenomenon is witnessed in considerations of agape alongside phileo. Those wearing lexical blinders often conclude that while agape speaks of Christian love witnessed between God and man, phileo connotes a friendly and therefore inferior kind of love that is given and reciprocated between two equals in a relationship. Many in favor of this distinction point to the conversation recorded in John 21 between Jesus and Peter for support.

However, as Peckham points out, the meanings associated with these two terms in the New Testament overlap in nearly every respect as both describe the Father’s love for the Son, God’s love for his disciples, Jesus’ love for sinners, mankind’s love for Christ, human love for other humans, and love of one’s own life. Additionally, similar conditions are often involved in contexts containing both agape and phileo, as are emotions and reciprocity.

For the reasons described above, Peckham concurs with Carson in concluding that there is no biblically supported rule that ultimately or completely isolates agape love to the realm of God and limits his affection to volitional and emotionless beneficence. The best proof of this is witnessed in the obvious semantic overlap between agape, eros, and phileo.

The Wider Semantics of Love in the Scripture

The same can be said of words used for “love” in the Old Testament. For instance אָהֵב (the forerunner of agape) with divine agency always connotes perfect love. With this in mind, Eugene Merrill (as Nygren has done with agape) delimits אָהֵב to a unilaterally willed and unconditional kind of love—the kind demonstrated most succinctly in arbitrary election. However, Peckham argues that while love might serve as a basis for election, the two are not pure synonyms. In fact, according to Old Testament usage, אָהֵב is evaluative rather than the result of arbitrary choice. Elsewhere, God expects אָהֵב from human beings (albeit not symmetrically) for having bestowed אָהֵב on them.  Not only that, but Peckham shows that אָהֵב is decidedly emotional in certain contexts as well.

חסד ( “steadfast love and mercy”) is also understood by many to be relatively singular in meaning—denoting the relational love of God that allows for his loyalty and mercy. However, even this term is multifaceted. Occurring primarily in contexts dealing with God’s covenant with His people, חסד includes a voluntary (volitional) act toward another that is unmerited and yet not altogether unconditional (as it may be forfeited and withdrawn). חסד also naturally assumes responsiveness from those to whom it is bestowed (reciprocity).

Finally, רחמ (and New Testament counterparts pertaining to compassionate love) is also teaming with potential meanings and nuances. Though primarily רחמ is used in referring to intense emotional love, its reception is often described in the Old Testament as contingent on the maintenance of an ongoing divine-human relationship (foreconditional).


Peckham has thus been able to demonstrate that biblical words for love are not nearly as distinct as they are often presumed to be and that they share many of the same attributes (volition, evaluation, emotion, forecondition, and reciprocation)—especially in contexts dealing with God’s love for the world. This study is well positioned to develop its understanding of divine love on a canonical level without having to delimit itself to or preoccupy itself with overly reductionist lexical studies.

Find the other chapter summaries here.

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John Peckham, summary of Chapter 2, “Toward Addressing the Conflict: A Canonical Approach,” of The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Jeff Dickson

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Having delineated the disjunction and subsequent impasse between the transcendent-voluntarist and immanent-experientialist models of divine love in chapter one, Peckham continues his work by describing the means by which he has arrived at his canonical alternative. Instead of presupposing a robust ontology and moving toward an understanding of love, the author instead presupposes a sophisticated view of Scripture and then considers what it elucidates about divine love in light of Scripture’s principal character—Christ.

As in any argument, the canonical approach employed for understanding divine love (as endorsed by Peckham) is well within its epistemic rights to select its starting point a priori. Taking advantage of what is allowed on epistemic grounds, the canonical approach in this work endorses the following foundation: (1) a robust view of revelation, (2) a dual-authorship understanding of the produced text, and (3) a primarily grammatical-historical hermeneutic (although Peckham’s iteration of this concept is sympathetic to how any one text fits into the entire Canon). These endorsements reveal that the canonical approach promulgated in this work desires to uncover what about divine love is depicted in the text. Additionally, what is sought is not what any one passage has to offer on the matter, but what the Canon reveals as a whole.

This decision is in keeping with what is encouraged by many hermeneutical scholars who believe that much of what is reached on an interpretive level depends on context. Reaching a responsible understanding of a passage/topic requires an investigation of the immediate context (i.e. the passages that surround the verse/idea in question) for anything that might offer aid in interpretation. Better, continue the analysis by observing how the verse/topic fits into the argument of the book in which it is placed. What is even better is exploring how a verse or passage comports with other passages in the Canon that deal with the same concept or contain similar language. Investigating a topic as broad as the love of God merits (and even demands) an approach that extends this kind of contextual analysis Canon-wide because it is only in the purview of the entire Scriptural account that something as pervasive and significant as God’s affections can be properly informed and elucidated.

Peckham’s canonical approach assumes that in spite of its plurality of authors and contexts, Scripture was written in a single vein that informed, guided, and even corrected the human participants in the writing process.  In other words, the Canon itself has a direction and objectivity to it that is greater than the sum of all of its parts.

Additionally, Peckham’s program is sympathetic to hermeneutical critical realism (i.e. that meaning exists before interpretation). However, his hermeneutic pushes exegesis beyond any specific text and toward an interpretation of the entire Canon. Such an approach is able to appreciate both the rich nuance of any text along with its meaningful relationship to the rest of Scripture and its history. Put another way, the canonical approach described above is characteristic of both phenomenological exegesis (considering interpretations which mean something on both a specific and canonical level) and hermeneutical exegesis (considering the philological and historical dimensions of the exegetical method).

These commitments keep Peckham from missing the forest for the trees and losing the trees among the forest. As much as possible, Peckham is trying to understand love by means of applicable texts (bottom up), while simultaneously analyzing these texts alongside each other given their relationship to canonical and historical considerations (top-down).

Although while interpreting data exegetes and theologians are encouraged to cancel out all previously inherited theories and/or presuppositions that could in some way color the text, the canonical approach delineated here is honest about its commitment to an orthodox view of revelation, authorship, and a singularly focused canonical framework that is only fully appreciated when both phenomenological and hermeneutical investigations are allowed to transpire. Peckham chooses to presuppose this over and above a sophisticated ontology. Instead of beginning in the realm of systematic theology and understanding Scripture in light of well-organized systems, he chooses to begin with the raw data, correctly interpreted, and then proceeds to build a canonically sound view of divine love.

One of the concessions that Peckham makes before proceeding is that this work is not prepared to report an exhaustive analysis of every passage on divine love along with its meaning and relationship to the entire Canon. Therefore, the analysis will be in large part feature a report of the trends discovered following a more exhaustive exercise conducted before this work was produced. One of the means by which the raw data was limited for the purposes of this project involved delimiting God’s love to his concern for the world. This naturally establishes Jesus Christ as a special subject worth careful consideration as he is the very incarnation of God in general and God’s love in particular.

For Peckham, it is not just the Canon, but the Christ of the Canon that reveals God primarily and his love especially. Therefore, with the Canon as the body of data and Christ as the example par excellence discovered therein, this canonical approach is able to yield an understanding of the love of God that is more sophisticated than both the transcendental-voluntarist model and the immanent-experientialist model.

In a preview of coming attractions, Peckham concludes this chapter by outlining several specific attributes of God’s love resulting from the canonical approach described in this chapter: (1) volition, (2) evaluation, (3) emotion, (4) forecondition, and (5) reciprocity. These will be delineated in future summaries.

Find the other chapter summaries here.


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Summary of Chapter 1, “Conflicting Models of Divine Love,” of John Peckham’s The Love of God: A Canonical Model

The Love of God: A Canonical Model

Summary by Jeff Dickson

While the concept of a loving God has been firmly established within the theistic community for centuries, delineating how God’s love is applied to mankind in general and the lost and saved in particular continues to generate discussion. Most recently, those joining this conversation on divine love have found themselves endorsing one of two general positions: a transcendent-voluntarist position (held by classical theism) and an immanent-experientialist model (representative of panentheism). In chapter 1 of The Love of God, Peckham provides a brief analysis of each position and a description of how they answer several significant questions. Ultimately, this first discussion will lay the groundwork for the discussions that will take place later in the work as it reveals an unfortunate dichotomy in need of a canonical rejoinder.

The strident differences between transcendent-voluntarism and immanent experientialism can be traced historically and understood as the result of an ever-evolving theology on the love of God. Peckham begins by tracing the evolution of transcendent-voluntarism.


Augustine, perhaps the forefather of the classical theistic model of divine love, was the first to endorse something akin to the modern transcendent-voluntarist position. For Augustine (a pseudo-neoplatonist), God loves men as objects of use in a top-down program of unilateral beneficence. When man loves God in return, this is determined voluntarily by God who requires nothing (as he is already perfect) but wills everything (as he is totally sovereign). With Augustine, Thomas Aquinas conceded that God is, in fact, an immutable and passionless deity. However, Aquinas warmed the free will of God into a kind of divine friendship (again top down and requiring no reciprocity), believing that God chooses to befriend mankind in different ways for his own purposes. Martin Luther applied these foregoing concepts to his revitalization of the doctrine of grace and framed God’s love as actively and freely bestowed on men who are unable to truly love except as passive agents of divine love in them. It wasn’t until Anders Nygren that attention was given to different words for love (agape and eros especially). Though later his conclusions were largely refuted, Nygren believed that a strict dichotomy existed between eros and agape and only God was capable of agape love (sacrificial, sovereign, and gracious) while the love of men was predominately understood as eros (acquisitive, upward, contingent, and effort-based).

This brief survey highlights the major classical theistic players that eventually coalesced in the work of one recent figure—Carl Henry. Henry amalgamated many of these considerations and further nuanced them into what is understood as one the most robust delineations of the transcendental-voluntarist position. With Augustine, Henry believed that God lacks nothing and therefore requires nothing from his creation. With Aquinas, Henry asserted that God is totally free to show love in different ways to different people. With Luther, Henry recognized the gracious nature of divine love that exists solely for the benefit of the recipient. However, though like Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, Henry confirmed God’s divine impassibility, and also affirmed God’s ability to feel—arguing that these feelings were, as all of God’s attributes, purely self-determined. Similarly, though Henry adopted his forefather’s confession of God’s transcendence above creation, he did not deny God’s pervasive immanence in creation as witnessed in his preserving it and working out his purposes in it.


On the other side of the aisle, immanent-experientialism affirms that God, while dissimilar from the world, is essentially related to the world and thereby dependent on the world for his existence (see panentheism). This concept is largely constructed on the premise that the continual and temporal process of change is the basic form of reality. Therefore, all reality is indeterministic and interdependent—including the reality of God. Inasmuch as the world changes, as it is part of God, God changes with it. Hartshorne applies these concepts to love in the following ways. First, since God includes the world, he feels what the world feels and is therefore acutely sensitive to the world’s concerns. His subsequent love for the world and concern for it is therefore superior to the love of all others because he knows all that there is to know and feels all that there is to feel. However, though his love for the world is as perfect as it can be, it is incomplete as the world is in a constant state of flux.

Both of these positions hit an impasse when they confront several important questions in need of cogent answers.

Does God choose to fully love only some, or does he choose to love all, or is he essentially related to all such that he necessarily loves all?

For the classical transcendent-voluntary theist, God’s love originates in his divine decision to love all generally but only some unto salvation. However, Hartshorne and others believe that the determinism of the transcendent-voluntarist model is unacceptable because it denies meaningful creaturely freedom, thereby excluding true love. As an alternative, Hartshorne and others posit that God’s love is universal, sympathetic, and indetermininistic. However, Henry and other classical theists believe that this makes God’s love contingent, thereby diluting God’s magnificence.

Does God only bestow and/or create value, or might he also appraise, appreciate, and receive value?

Classical theists subscribing to transcendent-voluntarism believe that inasmuch as God is perfect and self-sufficient, he is only the benefactor and never the beneficiary in the exchange of love (he is unchanged by the world). Conversely, immanent-experientialism says that God feels everything and, as a result, benefits and suffers along with the world. Ultimately, while the former affirms God’s self-giving agape love (altruism), the latter believes that God loves in an effort to bring about his own fulfillment (egoism).

Does God’s love include affection and/or emotionality such that God is concerned for the world?

Henry and others who affirm the impassibility of God believe that while God has feelings, these feelings are self-determined (as is every one of God’s attributes). Hartshorne and others who affirm the passibility of God believe that God’s emotions are thrust upon him in a passive way as he sympathizes with what he observes in the world. While the former view is criticized for cheapening real emotions (as many argue that impassibility rules our genuine love in God), the latter avails itself of the idea of a needy and therefore deficient deity.

In what sense is divine love unconditional or conditional, ungrounded or grounded?

Both positions concede that divine love is unconditional; however, they affirm this in different ways. Henry argues that God does not need to love. Instead, he has determined himself to be a God of love and chooses to love as a result. Hartshorne, in contrast, believes that God’s love is unconditional because of his dependency on a world that manifests itself in sympathy for that world—sympathy that manifests in love that he cannot help but demonstrate. However, neither position seems to be able to explain instances in which conditions are assigned to love in things like covenant promises.

Can God and humans be involved in a reciprocal (and unequal) love relationship?

For the transcendental-voluntarist, only God can give love and does so in both general (common grace) and particular (salvific) ways. For the immanent-experientialist, God’s love is universal—i.e. given to all, not just a few, and at all times—and reciprocal. Henry and others wonder if this does not lead inexorably to a mutable being unworthy of worship. Still others along with Hartshorne decry Henry’s transcendent God, believing him to be cold and ultimately unrelated to humanity in any compelling way.

In lieu of these questions and others like them, many have begun to wonder if there is not an alternative to these mutually exclusive conceptions of divine love. Peckham believes that there is, and in the following chapters he will work toward a canonical rejoinder to these positions.

Find the other chapter summaries here as they come available.’

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