One of the largest issues I see driving movements such as the Emergent church and liberal Christianity in general is a confusion on what exactly it means to say that “God is love” (1 John 4.8)? These types of people are faced with the dilemma of serving a God who uses horrific images such as crucifixion, hell, sacrifice and war all centered around the punishment of sin while simultaneously engaging a world which largely denies he even exists. It moves them (as it should us) that many people around them who they would consider to be “good” people, maybe even people they love such as a parent or spouse, do not having a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 10.9). However, instead of confronting that person with the offense of the Cross (Galatians 5.11) concerning the coming wrath due for unbelief (John 3.36), they try and wipe away God’s judgment by appealing to his love, desiring for a god which bases his forgiveness on some sort of moralism or universal mercy and not on “grace by faith” (Ephesians 2.8).
Yet what they consider to be love is not the same thing which God expresses to us. To this point I want to turn to the words of CS Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain:
By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, liked to see young people enjoying themselves’, and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all’. . . . I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction. (pp.31-32)