by Phil Andrews
It’s an unusual habit of mine to spend time at my laptop screen listening to polemics issued by people with whom I find myself in profound disagreement. Unusual, because it would surely make more sense to be ingesting material that is sympathetic, but then one learns very little from existing in an echo chamber. I find that hearing “the other side” serves to challenge my opinions and prejudices, compelling me to shore up my arguments, and as such is generally more useful.
Most often the things I listen to have much to do with the state of the world. Like most people I have opinions about current events, the war in Ukraine, lockdowns and vaccines, Brexit, the cost of living crisis. Not that my opinions fit neatly into any convenient or conventional “pigeon hole”, rather they are something of an ideological pot pourri. But if it’s happening, somewhere, anywhere, then it is a fair bet that I will have a view on it of some kind.
Much the same can be said about matters of theology. Lacking as I do an academic grounding in the subject, I seek refuge in the great simplicities of instinct. But instinct is not the same thing as guesswork. On the contrary, it is rooted in the knowledge of the kind of teacher that our saviour was and is, drawing what I like to believe are logical conclusions where the dots remain to be joined up.
Transatlantic YouTube preachers
Which is why, instinctively, I recoil from some of the teachings of (usually) transatlantic YouTube preachers. Men (usually) of letters, experts all, who seem to feel a calling to mitigate the message of love which was articulated, famously, by the Apostle Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 13).
Probably more conservative by nature than Jesus Himself, Paul nevertheless articulates the primacy of love over every other gift with which we are endowed. And there is a good reason for this, for love is at the root of everything else that we do – and don’t do. Every sin that we are instructed not to commit results from an absence of love. We cannot steal from somebody we love. We cannot hurt or kill a person we love. We cannot cheat or deceive a person whom we love. Love is, quite literally, the foundation stone upon which all else is built. The foundation stone of our relationship with God. And the foundation stone of the relationship we have with others, through which we demonstrate our love for God. Jesus actually told us as much (Matthew 25:40).
Honouring the will of our Lord
Good news, one might have thought. Not only is it gratifyingly nicer to demonstrate love in our dealings with our fellow human beings, but in so doing we are honouring the will of our Lord – effectively, we are in Christ. What’s not to like?
It would seem, quite a lot – at least according to certain of the aforesaid YouTube preachers, who would appear most put out that many Christians would prefer to embrace the “hippy” notion of universal love than their blood-and-thunder remonstrances promising eternal damnation to all and sundry. Love does not mean the freedom to do as we please, they counsel, but strict adherence to (their interpretation of) a doctrine and to the ways that they alone know are right and holy (didn’t Paul also have something to say about humility?).
For the thunderers the unspecified object of their ire is, of course, a straw man as no thinking Christian would interpret Jesus’ (or Paul’s) command to love others as a green light to live our lives entirely as we please. If only because in doing so we would likely hurt others, which runs contrary to love. Instead we make a conscious effort to treat others with love and respect, not because we are irresolute flower people or effete liberals but because it makes for a better world and so pleases our Lord.
That is just my opinion, needless to say. Formed solely on the basis of instinct. For those who don’t share it, there are others. If you’d like to hear them, send your donation to…