Article by:Roger E. Olsen
For God so loved the world…that He couldn’t stay away. Yes, to academics and scholars it sounds simplistic and even smacks of folk religion. But if you strip from it any connotation of God being “lonely” or absent it’s an apt statement of the gospel itself. And it nicely expresses the essence of Arminian theology: that God’s love for the whole world demonstrated in the incarnation and cross stands at the center of theology as its critical principle.
We are now in the midst of the annual Advent season of the church year. Many of us are too busy rushing around trying to find that “just right” gift for someone to stop and think about the “reason for the season” which is the incarnation which is because of God’s love.
What Advent is all about is God’s love–for the whole world–shown in the event in which the Creator God of the universe humbled himself and became vulnerable and even our servant. Some theologies like to dwell endlessly on God’s power and sovereign control and find God’s glory in those attributes. Arminianism sees God’s glory in his self-sacrificing love that drove him to enter into our human condition and suffer along with us and die for us.
What love is this? Well, if it’s possible to describe it must have some analogy with the very best of what we know as love. And the incarnation and cross demonstrate it best. God’s love is higher and better than ours but not absolutely and completely different. The Apostle Paul connects God’s love and ours in Philippians 2. We are to imitate that love by emptying ourselves for others.
Arminianism is first and foremost (above all other distinctions) a theology of God’s unbounded love for his creatures–especially those made in his image and likeness. It is the overflow of God’s own inner trinitarian love–unconditional and limitless.
John 3 tells us that God’s purpose in the incarnation and cross had nothing to do with condemning anyone. Rather they had to do with saving everyone (insofar as possible). Other theologies quibble about the precise meaning of “world” and some try to limit it to “people of every tribe and nation” in order to escape its universality. Others say God does love everyone but not in the same way. All of this is alien to the text and contrary to the simple and straightforward biblical message that “God is love” (1 John).
Arminian theology begins and ends and remains constantly centered on the good news that God is a God of universal, unconditional, self-sacrificing love shown in the incarnation and cross. Everything else in Scripture must be seen in that light and never elevated above it or pitted against it. To be sure God also has wrath, but that cannot be contrary to his love. It is God’s love spurned and rejected.
My favorite hymn was written in 1917 by a fellow Arminian Fred Lehman who founded the Nazaren Publishing House. It’s called simply “The Love of God”:
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
When years of time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men, who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.