Downtown Street Preachers and Pridefest
I work part time in a coffee shop in a downtown city in middle America. I used to close the shop late at night on the weekends. This is when downtown would come alive. You would have college kids hanging out, friends going out, and street preachers either standing solemnly or yelling loudly.
The street preachers are holding up signs saying, “The Wicked will Burn in Hell” right next to “God is Love.” At first glance, this may seem like a contradiction, but I think it is more complex than that. I think they have a point, but they may be going about it all wrong.
The coffee shop I work at is right off the city’s free speech zone. Over the years I have been able to passively observe a lot of protests, concerts, and festivals. Once a year there is a gay pride festival and with it an abundance of apparel, signs, and conversations from people also saying that, “God is love”.
Evangelicals and Progressives
We have this seemingly agreed upon statement that, “God is love”, but we have two different groups arguing that it has a different meaning.
Can they both be true?
Defining our terms is incredibly important. When I was more in line with progressive Christianity I used this phrase multiple times. It was not until recently that I really understood what God’s love actually is and what it means.
As a progressive I would argue that God is loving, that God loves everyone. But even this came with its reservations. When I said he loved everyone, I was really only talking about one group of people and it wasn’t the men in beards holding up signs on street corners on Friday nights downtown. It was my friends and family who identified as gay. I would never have outright said that I hated conservative Christians, but that is how I felt. After all, they hated the people I love, right?
I said and believed that God is love, but what I really meant was love is God.
Instead of looking at the Bible and God’s character to define love, I was defining love by my own standards. Love was whatever I created it to be which meant that I was my own sovereign. I was my own god. I made the rules.
I wanted to be inclusive, but I found that to include one thing meant to exclude another by necessity.
Classical Christianity showed me reality. That God is the standard that I should orient my life, morals, and ethics around.
God’s love is defined in the Bible, but it doesn’t give us this right to be hateful in our thoughts or actions.
God’s Love Defined
God’s love is well defined in John 3:16. The love of God looks like Jesus coming down, living a blameless life, and dying on a cross. Taking the judgement that we deserved. Anything less than this, does not accurately depict God’s love and is a cheap imitation.
If our love is not selfless and dying to ourselves, then we might not be glorifying God, but ourselves.