A Brief Logic of Love

logicheart“Do you love me? Feed my sheep.”

Jesus asks this of Peter and gives him this command three times. Notice the absence of the word “then” in Jesus’ reply: “Feed my sheep.” This is phenomenally different from saying “if you love my, then feed my sheep.” I would argue that this is what we call a biconditional statement. That is  b. Let a be loving Jesus, and let be feeding his sheep (i.e. loving other people).

If you love Jesus, then you love other people. If you love other people, then you love Jesus.

There are several reasons I say this. First of all, the absence of an “if-then” statement in Jesus’ question and command implies some sort of equivalence rather than an implication. Second, when asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus answered with two commandments: to love God and to love your neighbor. Third, Jesus routinely praises the faith of those who do not believe in the Jewish God, such as the Good Samaritan and the Roman Centurion, among others.

All of this makes sense of the inclusivist position that people of all beliefs may go to heaven. That is, it seems very bizarre for God to hold people accountable for whether or not they assent to a specific set of cultural practices and beliefs known as Christianity. When you ask yourself, “What is the highest good?” does “having all the right beliefs” come to mind, or does “loving God and others” take precedence?

It is not as though inclusivists believe that Jesus lied when he said he was the only way to Heaven; rather, it is our belief in a cosmic Christ, who transcends all belief systems and is that through which all goodness takes shape, which tells us that we are loving Christ when we love other people.

It is this logic of love which lets the inclusivist set aside his or her differences with the Hindu, Muslim, or atheist in pursuit of goodness and truth. It allows us to treat them as people instead of as evangelism projects. We don’t get teary-eyed thinking about our non-Christian friends or relatives on their death beds; rather, we know that if God exists that he/she/it is a fair God who will treat all people justly. We encourage our friends to pursue the truth, and we support them in their decisions even if they deviate from our beliefs, even against others of our own faith who might try to shun or exclude.

All this is because we realize that to love others is to love Jesus. This is the “gospel,” the truly good news. Anything else is impotent by comparison.

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About Chris Attaway

Chris Attaway is a Christian philosopher seeking to refine the way we live through reasoning and reflection. Be sure to follow his blog, The Discerning Christian, for challenging articles which offer new perspectives on old problems.
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19 Responses to A Brief Logic of Love

  1. kluttsjd says:

    I think your logic is confused. I do not see in Jesus’ statement here or elsewhere in the Gospel a bi-conditional necessity. Instead, I think it’s a conditional necessity such that “If one loves Jesus, one loves other people” (a -> b) which also necessarily implies “If one does not love other people, one does not love Jesus” (~b -> ~a) [modus tollens]
    However, it DOES NOT imply the necessity that “if one loves other people, one loves Jesus.” (b -> a) [affirming the consequent fallacy] In Matthew 5:44-48 Jesus says ” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
    It seems here that Jesus is setting up a fairly clear distinction that those who do not believe still love, and thus those who do believe must love differently. It’s not as though everyone who loves, loves Jesus. That doesn’t seem quite right. In fact, it seems to be very presumptuous.
    There are many loving atheists who would recoil at the sentiment that because they love others they love Jesus too. One must respect others ability to love without necessarily loving Jesus. By setting up a necessary bi-conditional relationship you rob anyone of the ability to say they love apart from Jesus and thereby also rob them of their due autonomy and knowledge of their actions.

    • So obviously I agree with you that Jesus is setting up distinctions in the passage you mention, but perhaps I was not specific enough in my treatment of what I mean by loving others. If one only loves his or her own tribe, then that is not “loving others” so much as it is “loving the parts of myself I see in others” or “loving according to my preferences.” Thus, I would not suppose that all others love as I mean it here.

      I would then ask what your evidence is that it is a conditional statement rather than biconditional, because I don’t feel like you addressed my own reasoning above. Not only is there a lack of a conditional mentioned in the quoted passage, but there are also the various other passages cited which give support to my view. Of course, this was a brief post I wrote over lunch, so I can be more thorough in a follow-up post if you’re interested.

      I do agree, though, that some people hold active disdain for Jesus and his teachings, and I am not going to try to tell them that they really do love Jesus. That would be the same sort of thing I complained about just a few posts earlier. Rather, I am suggesting that “loving Jesus” is not so much approval of Christian teaching but a much more fundamental action. I also leave it open to others to call it what they will or even to disagree with me, but this is the perspective I take up as an inclusivist.

      For example, if someone says, “I hate Jesus’ teachings but I love all people,” it would be perfectly valid for me to say at that point that this is what it means to me to love Jesus.

  2. Pingback: Loving Others by letting them not Love Jesus | This Lonely Bottle

  3. kluttsjd says:

    I’d also challenge you to look at various translations and maybe commentaries or root language concordances. I’m not sure myself, but I’d be willing to bet the Greek is actually more conditional than the English lets on.

    When making cases from the syntactical structure of Biblical literature it is always best to consult the original language. Mainly because translations are made for ease of reading and not necessarily rigorous semantic arguments.

    • Good point here, and I would have to investigate it. Honestly, this was kind of sitting in the back of my mind, but laziness + trying to publish before the end of lunch resulted in what I churned out.

      Granted, my other evidence remains.

  4. NKJ John 21:15 … Feed My lambs / John 21:16 … Tend My sheep / John21:17 … Feed my sheep.
    “Feed My sheep” is the last of the triad of commands that Jesus gives to Peter after asking if Peter loves Him. I find that any comments on one of these verses necessitates use of the other two. These are very different directives which can not be truly grasped alone. I would like to see your take on the three together instead of cherry picking just one.

    • I’ll look into it. I see that there may actually be some sort of subtle differences, though I think even then the general notion which I am using is sufficient to suit the passage. Before I write a follow-up, though, I’ll be on the lookout for a credible academic interpretation of the Greek.

      • Try “New Wine, New Testament” by Mark Phillips

      • So I ran it by a number of academics, and the general consensus is that this is probably just stylistic variation, which was my thought as well. It’s easy to see meaning if you want to see it, especially as it’s hard to prove it doesn’t mean anything.

  5. Ken Nichols says:

    Sorry, but I’ll have to disagree with you on this one. Loving Jesus does not EQUATE to loving others or vis versa.

    You can love Jesus, but stifle the Spirit and therefore not love others as you should.

    You can love others, as many in other religions (and even NO religion do), and certainly NOT love Christ (“cosmic” or otherwise).

    Not only that, but part of loving Christ is believing in who He is and what He did for us. That’s part of the reason WHY we love Him.

    I think you’re oversimplifying things this time.

    • Well as Jeremy put it (either here or in his own post), it is at least the case that if you are not loving others, you are not loving Jesus, as it is much less contentious that loving Jesus –> loving others. The main point of contention here is the reverse, that loving others properly –> loving Jesus. I intend to address this further in a follow-up soon.

      • Ken Nichols says:

        Well, I would agree that if you are NOT loving others, but claim to be loving Jesus, something’s wrong. You’re not loving Jesus “completely” or “with all your heart”. Jesus said if we claim we love Him, we should be following His commands (which is to love God and each other). So you really can’t claim to be loving Jesus while you despise your brother. It just don’t work.

        However, that doesn’t make the opposite true. You CAN love people without loving Jesus. Love is an emotion, but also an act of will. Human will can “love” others without the help of God. I wouldn’t say it’s a “pure” love, but it can be done. However, loving others in our own strength is just one of that long list of things that people will claim to have done, expecting entrance to heaven, when Jesus will say, “But I never KNEW you.” There’s more to it than just loving people. It should be Jesus loving THOUGH us (as we claim dependence on our relationship with Him for EVERYTHING), not us loving of our own strength of will.

      • So here, we would need to answer two questions: who is Jesus? And what is love? (Baby don’t hurt me…)

        Like I said, I promise to give you a more thorough follow-up in the future to try to defend the premises.

      • Ken Nichols says:

        I look forward to it.

  6. boldbrad says:

    Yes! This is good stuff! I love it!

  7. Michael Ford says:

    Unfortunately, your notion of a cosmic Christ, universal salvation (or at least salvation outside Christianity) and the unnecessary nature of the “right beliefs is flawed. Love of all, including ones enemies, is essential for salvation. However, Christ also did command we Baptize all for their salvation, did say the way to heaven was a narrow path, and that He is the Way, Truth and Life and that all only come to the Father through Him. And, for that purpose, He founded the Church, and gave the keys of Heaven to St. Peter. He also gave the Church founded on Peter the power of binding and losing, and Peter and all of his successors, the bishops of Rome have affirmed that the only ordinary way to be saved is to follow the precepts of the Catholic Church. Now, it may seem that I am treating you like an “evangilization project.” However, if, A, the the only way to be saved is through the Church founded by Christ, then B, it is an act of love to bring others to this Truth. And, if Christ gave a command to come and follow Him, isn’t the only way you can love Him following His commands? I hope you will consider what I have said, and I wish you the best.

  8. Reblogged this on james clayton brown and commented:
    test 3

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