What is Love?
By Brandon Brown
In his latest book, Pluriform Love , Tom Oord seeks to define and illuminate a theology of love. Oord mentions one issue facing anyone studying love within a theological framework in chapter one; "The many meanings of love in the Bible should prompt theologians to pursue a second path. They should define love clearly. Because so few scholars define love, confusion reigns." We accept that theologians and others who discuss love typically qualify the love they speak of with terms such as holy, biblical, perfect, and Godly. Oord rejects modifiers for love as redundant. Pluriform Love as the book title is also the nature of love as presented in scripture. Besides love being pluriform, Oord argues that love always seeks the good for others and any description of love which does not seek the good of others is not love. Thus, any descriptive modifier is redundant. It is upon these two core ideas that Oord builds his theology of love.
The beginning chapters deal with the nature of love and Oord's ultimate definition of love. This is the groundwork for the rest of the book. The middle chapters each deal with a concept of love through dialogue with treatments of love, which Oord finds wanting. These include arguments from Anders Nygren on agape and Augustine's love of desire. Oord presents the idea of love for the theologians and then presents his response to that argument. This is a fascinating method of presenting the counter of pluriform love to classic ideas of love. This approach also explains the more academic nature of Pluriform Love versus Oords’ last few published books. However, this is accessible academic writing with copious citations and endnotes.
Once Oord has laid out the ideas of other theologians with his responses, he then contrasts classical theism's expressions of love with that of open and relational theology. Here we encounter Oord's ideas of essential kenosis, relational love, and his coined term amipotence. These and his treatment of the Hebrew hesed, alongside the many Greek works for love, builds upon the writings of Oords’ last several books and synthesizes these into a unified theology of love.
The conclusion of Pluriform Love is Oord's theology of pluriform love. Within the final chapter, Oord brings together his responses to typical theologies and treatments of love, along with an open and relational discussion of pluriform love. This also helps to add more context to the definition of love which is given earlier. The conclusion lays out a theology of love in its pluriform expressions and experiences, thus defining and contextualizing love in a theological understanding. It is this ultimate explanation which brings many of the ideas in Oord's recent books to a comprehensive theology of pluriform love. The explicit definition of love is a helpful and welcome addition which makes the arguments within the book clear, understandable, and more concrete than most theological or scholarly treatments of love.
Both academics and casual readers will find Pluriform Love a welcome addition to their library. While it is unnecessary, those who have read Oord's previous books such as The Uncontrolling love of God, God Can't, and Open and Relational Theology will find many familiar concepts, terms, and will be comfortable reading Pluriform Love.
Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of Pluriform Love for review purposes. However, this review is purely my work, and I have not shared it with the author prior to publication. Besides the copy provided, I will purchase a copy myself for sharing and further study.