Student Profile: Alex Early, Part 2
Today, Transformed continues our conversation with Alex Early, a current student in Western Seminary’s Doctor of Intercultural Studies (D.I.S.) program, and author of the new book The Reckless Love of God: Experiencing the Personal Passionate Heart of the Gospel (Bethany House Publishers).
Transformed: Your book is built on the premise that we need a renewed emphasis on God’s love. How can a right understanding of God’s love bring about change in a person?
Alex: Knowing about the nature of the love of God and just how powerful it is radically changes us from being selfish, navel-gazing, hateful, and harmful people from the inside out. God's love not only transforms us so that we can live as those who repent from sin and walk in the light, but it also changes the way we see ourselves. This fills us with incredible joy, grace, and gratitude. As we understand God's love more and more, we end up becoming like children, in the way Jesus described. That's a very good thing.
Transformed: Are there any potential dangers to an over-emphasis on God’s love? If so, what might these be?
Alex: I've been asked about whether or not talking so much about the scandalous love of God will create antinomians of us all. And so yes, as with any point in theology, things can be taken too far in one direction and can lead to living lives that are contradictory to what Scripture has called us to. Those who use the love and grace of God as a license to sin against God do not have a right understanding His love and grace. The grace of God empowers us to walk away from sin, and the love of God assures us that even when we fail we are never separated from him.
Transformed: So then, how do we avoid the equal and opposite errors of legalism and licentiousness?
Alex: Both legalism and licentiousness stem from a lack of a right relationship with God. Legalism presumes that the relationship is built solely on contractual, economic, employer-employee terms. But that completely misses the entire concept of covenant as shown throughout the Bible. Licentiousness, on the other hand, presumes too much and dismisses the holy character of God altogether. The way to go about avoiding both of these is to enter into an authentic, humble, childlike, dependent, loving relationship with God. In this type of relationship, one is not trying to earn God’s attention or affection, nor treating the relationship without care.
Transformed: All right – so tell us more about the interplay between love and obedience. Is there a necessary correlation between these for a Christian?
Alex: There is absolutely a necessary correlation between love and obedience. Jesus said, "if you love me you will obey my commands” (John 14:15). Professing love is one thing, but to go forward with living it out in actual physical demonstration is quite another. Christians are the people in the world who know they are loved deeply by Jesus, have been transformed by him, and live lives that reflect that reality, though imperfectly.
Transformed: Does God love Christians and non-Christians the same, or differently? Can I tell non-Christians that God loves them, and, if so, in what sense?
Alex: Christians have divided and debated over such questions for centuries. Though this isn't a place for a lengthy discussion on the nature of particular redemption, I certainly have no problem with telling people, whether or not they are Christians, that God loves them. It seems to me that God loves the world, as it is stated so clearly in John 3. I have been given a free message of grace to proclaim to anyone and everyone under the sun. Because of this, I find it only right and biblical as a Christian who wants to see the lost found, to look people in the eyes and tell them that God loves them.
Transformed: Your new book talks a bit about God having emotions. In light of this, would you push back on the notion that God is impassible?
Alex: I know that this is controversial for many, but I think I would push back a little here. The Bible is absolutely riddled with anthropomorphic and anthropopathic language speaking about God's feelings of wrath, or joy, or compassion, and so on. I don't personally picture God as a cold, distant, computer in the sky that doesn't feel things. I also don't think that this necessarily introduces the idea that God changes. I believe that God is capable of feeling any and every emotion simultaneously without changing precisely because he is God. I actually spend a little time addressing this in the book.
Transformed: Let’s finish up with this question: what’s the biggest misunderstanding about God’s love?
Alex: While there are many misunderstandings about God’s love, I think that Paul addresses the core of the issue in Romans 8, where he lists rhetorical questions about things that could potentially separate us from God’s love. Every Christian wonders if they’re really safe in the arms of God, or if He truly won’t stop loving them. Christians wonder whether there is a person or circumstance that can separate us from God love. And so Paul pounds the table, shouting at top of his voice, that absolutely nothing is bigger than, stronger than, or more enduring than the love of God.
Transformed: Alex, thank you for your time. You have brought some critical theological issues to the surface in this book, and have brought them to bear on the day-to-day life of the believer.