I’m reading “Open and Relational Theology” by Thomas Oord in which he asks the age-old question which is the title for today. But he asks it with regard to faith and love. Which comes first? I began to think that I am no longer attracted to the Evangelical notion about faith. It’s like a formula or a barcode stamped on our hands to secure our entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God.
Oord directs our attention to Paul writing to the Galatians,
“For [if we are] in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith activated and energized and expressed and working through love”. (Amplified Bible)5:6
When I was a young pastor an older teen told me that he had ‘backslidden’ in his faith (a term meaning that he was probably into something bad) but then he said it didn’t matter because he was ‘saved’ and once you are saved you are always saved. Now, there’s a testimony that I will preach. NOT.
The church at Corinth always had problems of pride and greed. Paul wrote to them that without love even a faith that moves mountains is of no use. (See I Cor. 13.) Isn’t that something? Who would guess that such a faith without love is useless? Anybody with an intuitive mind would. Faith is trusting God in Christ. Love is God. Some see faith as simply an assent to doctrines. Love is the expressing of God’s life in ours and in others. And yes, sometimes non-believers live love better than those of us who have the ‘correct’ belief.
In Jesus’ day, people had their lives changed because they were touched by God’s love in Christ, through healing and hearing the Good News that God’s Kingdom had arrived for them. He invites them into God’s love before they can trust him. Think how often Jesus says, ‘Go, your faith has made you well.’ His love and their acceptance gave them new life.
When Jesus met with his disciples to wash their feet he said he was giving them a new commandment: “Love one another.” (John 13:34) He said it was the same kind of love with which he loved them.
So, the chicken or the egg? In my mind they are an organic whole. They are a unity in Christ. They are like the two wings on an airplane. We can’t trust or live without both of them together. But I will say this: The virtue of love expresses a whole lot more in this creation than believing. Sometimes I have to believe and trust in order to have love. But love is the thing.
When I go to a doctor my first concern is not if they are a Christian. Rather I want to know that this person is skilled in the art of medicine and care. All their hard work finds it’s greatest expression in love (deeds of love). Thankfully I have a doctor who has connected both. Or consider marriage. I believe in the covenant. I believe in my wife. But if I don’t love her with more than words, then I’m ‘toast’.
Finally, it’s rather easy to declare faith or belief. Love is the thing. We can’t counterfeit it. It’s relational and it changes the world.
If anyone is interested in reading the book I mentioned, it’s “Open and Relational Theology” subtitled ‘an introduction to life-changing ideas’ by Dr. Thomas Jay Oord published in 2021