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.
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.
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.