Repairing the World through Love: Dr. Timothy Tennent

by: Dr. Timothy Tennent

Our Jewish friends, dating back to the Mishnah, have a wonderful phrase: “tikkun olam.” It means to “repair the world.” The Jews understand that God’s covenant love, known as hesed, is the means through which God “repairs the world” (tikkun olam). We all realize that our world is in a mess. Our society is broken. We need to be repaired. In the mystery of the gospel, God does not repair the world through the exertion of raw power. Rather, he repairs the world through love.

Hesed is God’s covenant commitment to oppose evil in the world, defeat it, and to establish righteousness on the earth. For a Jew to say, “God loves us” or “God loves me” is not an expression of an emotion. Rather, it is an expression of God’s covenantal commitment to stand by his people and, in the end to vindicate them and sets all things right.

As Christians, we recognize that God’s hesed love is actually rooted in a Person: Jesus Christ. God’s covenant, His loving faithfulness, His hesed, becomes embodied in Jesus Christ. He alone “repairs the world.” It does not take the shape of a sledgehammer. Through the veil of God’s bearing the world’s brokenness and suffering, we see that the shape of hesed is cruciform. It is the shape of love. It is the shape of laying your life down for your enemies.

St. Peter, for example, calls us to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect” (I Peter 3:15). This text provides the perfect balance for our calling. On the one hand, we are called to defend the historic gospel of Jesus Christ. We are called to joyfully affirm the biblical teaching, even if the cultural winds are blowing strongly in our face. But, we are to do it with a posture of love—with humility and grace.

Today, it is particularly vital that Christians understand what it means to be loving. It should not be confused with abandoning a theological position which some find difficult to accept. The gospel is always offensive to the world, and even to some in the church. Indeed, there are many Christian “positions” which the world, and even some in the church, find inherently offensive. Let me give a few examples.

To say, Jesus Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) is a position which is offensive to many people. Likewise, positions on God’s final judgment, the emphasis on the blood of Jesus, or the teaching of Scripture that marriage is a lifetime covenant between one man and one woman all fall in the category of difficult positions in today’s cultural climate.

However, it is a categorical error to identify these positions as inherently non-loving. They are positions, not postures. Each of these biblical truths, and dozens like it, can be expressed in ways which are compelling and beautifully integrated into the beautiful tapestry of the biblical vision. However, we must boldly reject the notion that we are not being loving simply because we hold scriptural positions which are at odds with the culture around us. The Jewish notion of hesed was not any kind of modern sentimentality or fear of what others might think. Rather, God’s hesed is rooted in his covenantal love. It is this love which ultimately repairs the world and sets things right.


2 responses to “Repairing the World through Love: Dr. Timothy Tennent”

  1. James Mace says:

    Thanks for your courageous orthodoxy! I also admire that in Luther yet disagree with some of his understandings of Scripture.

    Similarly I’d like to point out that covenantal ḥesed is expressed in the intra-covenantal sphere and cannot be directly extended to those outside the covenant since it is an inherently covenantal term for relations between mutual adherents to the covenant.

    I suggest a more biblical concept and term, e.g., φιλανθρωπία, used in Titus 3:4 referencing God’s love for humanity.

  2. Frank Brown says:

    Thank you, Dr. Tennant, for identifying biblical positions that must be maintained while always being delivered from the posture of God’s covenantal (agape) love.

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