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Godly Love Impediments Possibilities

Godly Love:      


& Possibilities


Matthew Lee

& Amos Yong

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

The possibility of linking godly love to measurable outcomes intrigued me. As a psychological scientist teaching research methods and psychology of religion, I was eager to examine developments in this emerging field. The titles of two journals in my discipline (Journal of Psychology and Christianity, Journal of Psychology and Theology) focus on  ways that Christian faith and scientific knowledge can be integrated.

In Godly Love: Impediments & Possibilities, Amos Yong’s introduction offers an historical context relevant to both volumes. The interest in godly love has been inspired by social scientists affiliated with the Institute for Research on Unlimited love. These scientists and affiliated colleagues trace at least part of their heritage to work on altruism by former Harvard University sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin. In recent years, sociologists Margaret Poloma and Matthew T. Lee explored how the experience of godly love links to compassionate and altruistic outcomes. 

Yong explains godly love employing a quote from Lee and Poloma’s 2009 definition, “the dynamic interaction between divine and human love that enlivens and expands benevolence (2).” In the ten chapters that follow, thirteen scholars from theological, philosophical, and scientific perspectives analyze factors that mitigate or catalyze the manifestation of godly love.

Philosopher Craig Boyd considers impediments to godly love in the light of traditional human vices. He suggests the value of studying the classic concepts of virtues and vices and ends his essay with a nod to the recent research on positive psychology. Stephen Post assesses the tradition of human love and calls for ways to explore the possibility of God’s unlimited love in contrast to the ways humans limit their expressions of benevolence at tribal boundaries. In the early days of the classic story of American Pentecostal experience, two nascent phenomena were evident. People crossed the color line and gender equality emerged. Kimberly Ervin and James Bowers assess the early flourishing of godly love and its demise linked to the negative influence of the general culture on the Pentecostal experience. 

Ethical Encounter Theology is a worldview offered by Martin Rice to examine scientific and theological perspectives, which when integrated with ethics, promotes insight into factors facilitating or impeding godly love. Michael McClymond employs the case study method to find lessons of godly love in the life of Christian mystic, Madame Guyon. Confronted with imprisonment and the threat of torture, Guyon was sustained by inner peace derived from her relationship with God. After examining the sharp criticisms and alleged implications of her life, McClymond considers the importance of ambiguities when people encounter the divine.

Ralph Hood, Jr. and Paul Williamson offer a psychological perspective based on research among Pentecostal communities that suggests a reframing of experience can remove impediments due to rigid interpretations of sacred texts. Julie Exline examines the psychology of personal struggles, which can interfere with the experience of godly love. She suggests the importance of revised beliefs as a pathway to spiritual maturity, which may increase a person’s capacity to love others. 

Lee takes us in a different direction by examining impediments in society to godly love resulting from American traditions of justice, which employ punitive notions of justice and lack restorative value. He argues that a shift to restorative justice would facilitate the activity of godly love in the context of rehabilitation. 

Drawing on field research and extant literature, Robert Welsh and Michelle Owaka examine the impediments to godly love associated with dominance of one group by another. They examine the specific effects of white privilege and its attendant problems of stereotyping, racism, and diminished morality on the lives of those controlled by unloving power hierarchies. Tapping the spirit of liberation and following Jesus’ example of crossing cultural boundaries, they suggest ways to allow godly love to flow within the lives of those so entrapped. 

The process by which religious movements grow into social institutions and the impact on godly love is analyzed by sociologist, Michael Wilkinson. His study examines the powerful experience of participants in the 1994 Toronto blessing and the subsequent challenges of the leaders to sustain renewal. Soaking prayer is one example of a spiritual and God-focused practice that offers a way for believers to continue the connection between divine love and benevolence.

Matthew T. Lee & Amos Yong, Godly Love: Impediments & Possibilities. (New York: Lexington Books, 2012)

Related Book: Forgiveness Reconciliation and Restoration
 Available on AMAZON and from the publisher Pickwick/ WipfandStock


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