Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

The Assessment of Love …

… is much more demanding and difficult than you might expect.

In this the last in a series of blogs on Legalism, beginning here, I suggested we follow the lights of Tom Holmen’s book, Jesus and Jewish Covenant Thinking, and think our way through the various “theories” of the Christian life. To do that, we looked through the six traditions sketched in Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water.


Now I’d like to conclude by suggesting that Jesus taught us (Mark 12:29-31) that the goal of our life was to love God and to love others, and the Apostle Paul taught us that the essence of the Christian life is to “live in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16-26). If this be so, then the entirety of the Christian life, and what we teach about it, and how we evaluate our own life and the life of others, should be around these two nodes: am I loving? am I living in the Spirit?

The reason we don’t focus enough on what this teaches is that these two ways of life are “unmarkable.” They are too ambiguous, too penetrating, and too qualitative. That, I suggest, is precisely why both Jesus and Paul teach what they teach: these can’t be turned into a legalism. The reason we focus on the other traditions is that they are easily marked, and we can figure out where we and others stand. (Not good.)


As a professor we are always thinking about assessment. (Well, to be honest, we aren’t but our Administrators would like us to and they would like us to because the Assessmocrats come to campus every now and again and ask for quantitative information to prove we are with it and measuring the latest trends in education.) And the question we have learned to ask in education, and this in spite of the assessmocrats, is this one: “When a student is done with this course, this program, this degree, what will he or she be able to do?”

I am suggesting that this is precisely the question we need to be asking more about love and about life in the Spirit — two largely unmarkable qualities but which Jesus and Paul call us to be able to “do.” So, we ask, as a result of this year’s sermons, or this year’s Sunday School classes, or this year’s Bible studies, or this year’s fellowship, or this year’s interactions with friends — the list is endless — “what will I be able to do?” and “what will those under my care be able to do?”


It doesn’t take long to realize that churches are not (by and large) equipped to think like this nor is every Christian ready to be challenged like this (“Are you more loving this year?” “How so?”). So, we need to move steadily and sensitively toward that goal, but may I suggest that more of us begin to assess what Jesus and Paul thought most important?

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John Frye

posted June 17, 2005 at 8:22 am

Is “assessment” the word we trip over? Is it not a product of Enlightenment (modern) thinking? I don’t know. If the Jesus Creed and “life in the Spirit” are unassessable, not able to be turned into legalism, is there something self-authenticating about them? They don’t need to be assessed when they’re authentically expressed. Love is its own defense. How do “assess” light shining in the darkness? What are the light’s “path markers”?

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posted June 17, 2005 at 9:20 am

I appreciate your attention to life in the Spirit in conjunction with loving God and others.In my experience, it seems that I’ve heard great encouragement and preaching on the two separate subjects; however, I’ve never been challenged to think of the two issues as combined to form our ultimate aim in life.

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posted June 17, 2005 at 12:38 pm

You got to wonder why people like the Galatians fell for the trap of the legalists. I think you nailed it. It’s concrete. It’s measurable. Paul’s “Walk in the Spirit,” and Jesus’ “Love God and Love others,” are a shade abstract. It’s interesting how we become exactly NOT what the two major figures in our faith called us to be.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 17, 2005 at 2:10 pm

Actually, John I’d say assessment is more the postmodern form of “evaluation” and “testing” that belong to the scientific era of educational theory.I would say that there are indications, if enough questions are asked and a general temperature is taken, that indicate that “love” or “life in the Spirit” are present. That is why I have 25 questions (not one).But, this notion of Love being its own defense is significant — and reminds me of Buber or Kierkegaard.

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