Ecological theologian Norman Wirzba, who has written widely on food and faith, here offers a rich encomium to Christian love. Wirzba, who teaches at Duke, labors to reclaim as central to Christianity the bold statement found in John’s first epistle: “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8). This keystone assertion is both fresh and traditional, like a river of life ready to renew the parched plains of postmodernism.
That the teaching and practice of Christian love has been displaced by dogmatic and exclusionary condemnation is not a new critique. Wirzba offers it because he argues that it is relevant to what he calls “the crisis in the church today,” a judgment he does not belabor. The rejection of Christianity because it is seen as a source of pain and exclusion is best answered by the practice of love: “Christianity is best understood as a training ground in the ways of love,” he writes. Christianity’s most persuasive apologetic is presented by acts of love, modeled first in the words and acts of Jesus but also in the lives of others. Wirzba narrates some contemporary examples drawn from the actions of those whose practices of compassion and reconciliation have been exemplary, such as Marguerite Barankitse, a Tutsi from Burundi who came to care for thousands of children after the genocidal massacres of Hutu and Tutsi peoples in 1993.
A skilled theologian, Wirzba deploys love as a lens through which readers can review the central Christian stories of creation, fall, redemption, and heaven. Creation is God’s free gift, and all that exists has come into being because “God loves it to be,” Wirzba writes memorably. Creation is love made material, a view that harmonizes with Wirzba’s ecological theology in which God’s abundant hospitality comprises the earth’s meaning and value.