July 02, 2013

Ajith Fernando, Reclaiming Love

In Reclaiming Love, distinguished Christian leader and scholar Ajith Fernando engages one of the most profound and familiar (maybe too familiar) passages in the New Testament, the "love" chapter, 1 Corinthians 13. He moves systematically through the chapter, particularly focusing on verses 1 through 7, in a series of reflections. These focus on the various aspects of love Paul describes, often taking on only one word or idea. There is no doubt that the theology here is deep and rich, and that it is moreover theology that begs to be lived, even if it isn't easy to do so. Fernando often does a good job of teasing out practical implications of what this type of love actually looks like in practice. He often draws on his own experience. This is a book I really wanted to like, but I continuously found it tough going. There is no doubt that Fernando brings great wisdom to bear in many of the discussions, and the book contains many helpful and at-times profound reflections. But I just didn't catch a strong stream or progression tying them together, or tying them to Paul's original situation. It seemed like there were sometimes opportunities lost to either make a profound connection (say to love as integral to the trinitarian being of God) or a challenging application (on exercising love that costs us something) that just didn't get made. One example will suffice. In the final chapter, where he is bringing the arguments home and summarizing the final six verses of the chapter (they don't really get discussed in more than a cursory way, another omission), he talks about how love brings "joyous brightness." The example of this transformative love is a story of when the wife of a well-known pastor who tripped while bringing dinner out from the kitchen. The food splattered everywhere, and the pastor was immediately concerned for his wife, instead of mad about the mess she made. While I agree that such loving concern is admirable, the example seems so shallow as to border on mere courtesy that would be afforded to anyone, wife or stranger. Many other examples are better suited to their tasks, but this one certainly could have been improved. As I've said, there is much wisdom here, but the whole was lacking in a compelling thread that binds it all together. The good easily outweights the less good, but it could have been so much better. Thanks to the publisher, Zondervan, and the BookSneeze program for the review copy of this book.