Christianity, Rev Dr Bill Loader says, has all too often been a source of “death and harm”. His new book, What Can Love Hope For? explores what he says are often misunderstood parts of scripture. Insights magazine Jonathan Foye writes.
Rev Dr Loader is Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Murdoch University and the author of several books, including Jesus in John’s Gospel and The New Testament on Sexuality. In 2019, he moved to Orange NSW to be closer to family. His first book since the move, What Can Love Hope For? aims to address a number of very controversial subjects within theology.
Rev Dr Loader says he originally contemplated calling his new book Grit in my Shoe “because these are matters about my Christian tradition which are disturbing”.
“As I see it, the Christian tradition has been a source of health and unhealth, a source of life but also of death and harm and it is important to think about this and discern the difference,” he says.
“Especially those commissioned to bear and interpret the tradition need to be alert to the issues I raise. While behind this book is thinking which arose in the course of a lifetime of being a New Testament scholar, its focus is not academic but practical. I am very keen to have people engage it and hopefully find it will enrich their thinking and their faith, not to speak of their ministries.”
As part of its exploration into scripture, What Can Love Hope For? delves into the subject of forgiveness, but according to Rev Dr Loader, this is only one element.
“One can often hear that forgiveness is the gospel and that Jesus made it possible by dying on the cross as a sacrifice for sin,” he says.
“That was certainly one of the ways that people saw meaning in his death. When it is treated as though before Jesus died there was no forgiveness—which often happens—then we have a nonsensical situation.”
“Already, before his death during his ministry, Jesus declared God’s forgiveness and John the Baptist’s ministry was based on the notion that God called all to repent and so offered forgiveness to all. It has been a popular piece of unwitting antisemitism to say that only in Jesus was forgiveness possible. It disenfranchises the tradition of Israel, such as the Psalms where God’s forgiveness is praised, John the Baptist, and ultimately Jesus himself. The gospel, the message of Jesus, was obviously about far more than forgiveness. Too often it has been reduced to forgiveness and that misses so much.
“Each chapter deals with such issues. Will God stop loving in the end and engage in violent punishment? Does that then justify violence (indeed, it has in history)? Was love in Jesus just a temporary thing? The chapters raise serious issues and some of them are already present as a problem in the New Testament itself.”
Discerning what is healthy and unhealthy
What Can Love Hope For? is an accessible book, aimed at a wider audience. Despite this, Rev Dr Loader has a disclaimer for those who aim to read it.
“This is a book for people prepared to think critically about their faith and to try to discern what is healthy in it and what in unhealthy,” Rev Dr Loader says. “It is not a book for faint-hearted and many will find its questions disturbing.
“In substance the chapters speak for themselves. Perhaps a good way into the what the book is trying to do is to read the preface and then the autobiographical final chapter. I wrote this book for preachers and those who want (and need) to think carefully about their faith. It addresses a number of issues which have concerned me over my years of ministry and research.”
While Rev. Dr Loader briefly addresses the COVID-19 pandemic in the book’s introduction, he says that it, “is not seeking to address COVID issues nor to offer comfort nor to explore the afterlife as a source of comfort”.
“It is a book which will be very useful for adult study groups. Its target readership is all who want (and need) to think seriously about their faith with a view to helping unleash what is life-giving in it,” he says.
What Can Love Hope For? is available now via Wipf and Stock.
This article originally appeared in Insights magazine from the NSW/ACT Synod. Special thanks to Jonathan Foye for permission to republish.