Ministry Theology

Our Abusive Leaders: Do We Love God?

And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37–40, ESV)

The recent and growing number of stories—sadly all too believable—of repeated and grotesque abuses of power by evangelical leaders are wearying and burdensome to read. But it is important not to shut our ears and close our eyes to them, nor to close ranks and shut down those who cry for justice.

There are many reasons for (evangelical) Christians to vigorously oppose and deal with these recent abuses within our midst. Many of these reasons will, rightly, focus on the harm that preening bullies have caused their victims, and the ongoing harms that these victims experience. That is to say, it is right—absolutely right—to be motivated by love of neighbour.

But beyond and above that, a Christian’s greatest motivation is love for God. This is the first and greatest commandment. Love for neighbour is like it, but comes second.

John Webster Theology

Theology in the Order of Love (2)

For even as it is better to enlighten than merely to shine, so it is better to give to others the fruit of one’s contemplation than merely to contemplate.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II.188.6

Last time, with the help of John Webster’s essay “Theology in the Order of Love”,[1] we considered the shape of the God-given order within which we do our theological work in relation to God, and in relation to the communion of saints. And we thought about the necessity of gratitude to God for making us his friends, and giving us a share in his knowledge.

This time we will explore what Webster says about the need for gratitude in the communion of saints, and generosity in sharing what God has given us to know.

John Webster Theology

Theology in the Order of Love (1)

In that same hour, Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Luke 10:21

John Webster (1955-2016) was a theologian’s theologian,[1]writing theology of the highest order, always in a desire to serve the communion of saints. Few if any contemporary theologians can match the breadth and depth of his thought. And few have thought as deeply or as theologically about what theology is, its relationship to other disciplines, and the virtues required of true theologians.

One of the hidden gems in Webster’s output is the last theological essay he wrote before his untimely death, “Theology in the Order of Love”.[2]It is an exquisite exploration of what is required of us if we are to be faithful (pastor-)theologians within the economy of the Triune God’s creating and saving works.

John Webster Theology

John Webster: A Chronological Bibliography


Rudolph Bultmann: An Introductory Interpretation. Leicester: RTSF.


‘Distinguishing between God and Man: Aspects of the Theology of Eberhard Jüngel’. Cambridge: University of Cambridge.

‘Recent Work on Barth: A Survey of Literature since 1975’. Themelios 7 (3): 31–35.