Lawyers or Lovers?

MP900227797The glasses we wear when we read the scriptures will determine what we see from the scriptures.

  • If we read the scriptures like a teacher, we will see principles.
  • If we read the scriptures like a judge, we will see judgment.
  • If we read the scriptures like a philosopher, we will see mystery.
  • If we read the scriptures like a policeman, we will see guilt and innocence.
  • If we read the scriptures like a criminal, we will see punishment.
  • If we read the scriptures like a lawyer, we will see law and justice.
  • If we read the scriptures like a father/mother, we will see family.
  • If we read the scriptures like a lover, we will see love.

It’s not that the different themes are not present in scripture. They are there to be seen. The question is, what is primary and most representative of what we know to be true in Jesus Christ? Whatever themes and speculations we may entertain, they all must be subordinate to what we know is sure, true, and final: the truth is in Him. He is the final Word of God to humanity  (Eph. 4:21, Heb. 1, etc.). He is the measure of all scripture. If there must be adaptation in our understanding of a portion of scripture, it must adapt to Him.

The Apostle John makes a most profound statement in John 1:18, with far-reaching implications:

No one has perceived God, at any time, the only begotten of the Father, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared (revealed) him.

Wow! The man who wrote this verse was a Jew, who understood Torah, the Prophets, the Psalms, and his own heritage. Out of his mouth he says, NO ONE, (ever), has perceived God. That means Abraham, David, Moses, Joseph, Daniel, Jacob, all the patriarchs, regardless of their supernatural experiences, did not have an accurate perception of God!

At the very best, their understanding was incomplete and lacking (For me, that is being gracious about it). Whatever glasses the patriarchs were wearing, what they saw was not accurate and was only finally remediated in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is the final Word of God, and final interpretation of all scripture.

If there is anything representative of our Lord’s life, it is His union with the Father as Son. My premise is, Father-Son glasses are needed when we read the scriptures. All lesser lenses must be rejected in favor of the supreme revelation in the Person of Christ, as the Son, and our selves in union with Him.

Hebrews 1:1 is difficult to translate well into English. When it says God has spoken in these last days through His Son, that doesn’t really capture it. The idea is God has spoken to us in, through, and by the Son. He has spoken to us in a son-ly way. It just won’t translate. The Son is the medium and the message. We must wear “filial” glasses if we are ever going to understand the scriptures, and through them, God, and through God, ourselves.

If we are from a Protestant tradition, we need to understand how deeply imprinted, consciously or otherwise, we have been from a certain interpretive filter. The glasses we have been using for centuries are not sonly. They are law/legal/lawyerly lenses.  It is in our blood stream. It is the unconscious filter we have. The Reformers were lawyers, not lovers, and we have been suffering for it for five hundred years.

The Protestant Reformation was led by individuals who were scholastic humanists and lawyers.  Zinzendorf studied law. Melanchthon studied law at Heidelberg. Thomas More, who opposed Luther, was a lawyer. Of course, Calvin was a lawyer, and Luther was a scholastic rhetorician, trained in the “point-coutner-point” skills of forensics (See Luther’s 95 Theses! That’s a lawyer arguing his case!)  Why even Saul of Tarsus was trained in Torah, and law. How could a man claiming devotion to God, descend to the depths of murder? Well, religion, animated by law/principles/rhetoric/forensics (not legalism) will always do that.

I don’t think that the particular collection of individuals, and the lens they were wearing, in the sixteenth century were necessarily a perfect set-up for a “balanced” and “full spectrum” understanding of the gospel! It may have been improvement over what existed, but hardly the final “word,” so to speak.

Whatever good came from the Reformation (Depending on one’s tradition, that could be argued!) the essence of the movement was thoroughly judicial, thoroughly legal, thoroughly lawerly, not sonly.  In  a lawyer’s mind there can only be winners and losers, the right and the wrong, the good and the evil, essentially, the fruit of the wrong tree in the garden!

You see, law appeals to the carnal nature because it appeals to the win-lose ethic in us all. The courtroom is an arena of combat where lawyers postulate and posture! It is an atmosphere of argumentation, winners and losers. It is not an atmosphere of family and love. In God’s universe alienation is resolved by removing the guilt, not by just indicting the guilty. In God’s universe, justice is done by making rebels into sons, not by making sons “losers” in their sin. God himself, “loses” if you will, for our sake.

A view of the gospel as a  metaphysical courtroom, with God as judge, and ourselves as criminals, rather than a living room with God as our Father, and ourselves as His rebellious and relationally alienated children, is inherently LEGAL and will produce LEGAL thinking and behaviors even while shouting “grace, grace” from our lips. It is inevitable. That is why so many who claim to adhere to “Reformation-based teaching” about “grace” are themselves miserable, and make others miserable around them, all the while proclaiming “grace.” You can proclaim grace, legally!

The lens we choose to read scripture with will “flavor” everything: our perspective from the scripture, our relationship to God, and our relationship to others. We will reflect our understanding.

By approaching the scriptures with a lawyerly mind, it sets up inherently combative and adversarial dynamics. This has produced nothing but centuries of endless Protestant fragmentation, separation, and sectarian division.  Even in their own time, the fruit of this lawyerly approach bathed Europe in bloodshed for centuries. Heresy and counter-charges of heresy ended in a blood bath. We are more sophisticated now. We just slander each other on Facebook while thoroughly, utterly, deeply convinced we are “just contending for God’s truth.”

Rather than loving greatly (even the unlovable, and those we disagree with) and presenting the life and love that is in Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world, we try to argue and persuade people into “believing in Jesus,”  (or, God forbid, “Believe in the Bible . . . the way I SEE IT.”) and then condemn them to hell (if unbelievers) or separate from them  (if believers) if they don’t yield to our superior presentation of “truth.”  It is winners and losers, not lovers and the loved.

Instead of engaging in a relational dance with others, inviting others to hear the music of redemption that we hear, and leading them step by step to their Father, through Christ, we assume the courtroom motif of conquering an adversary with superior argumentation. We are crusaders instead of lovers. The world sees it, recognizes it, and is rightly rejecting it.

If there is a new reformation to be had, I believe it involves (for Protestants) putting on a new set of glasses. Merely cleaning the old ones won’t do. We have to go down to basics, bedrock issues, and start over.


Copyright 2013,  Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references.  For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

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22 comments on “Lawyers or Lovers?

  1. Steve, thanks again for posting what I am feeling … B| SONglasses are the prescription we need to see that God is LOVE!!!

  2. Son shining. Ordering, my pair of songlasses ASAP. Need them as the glare of self, as in da da da da da da…seems to get in the way.
    Great that the Son is always shining as we near the unclouded day.

  3. Great word Steve! I remember being in a room with fellow pastors where we talked about how we address finances in the church. One of the pastors waited until everyone had spoken, then he kind of rebuked everyone for being too legalistic. He basically told everyone that he had a better understanding of giving as a grace expression. Ironically, the man with the “grace theology” presented his “grace” in one of the most legalistic ways. Relationship can be a difficult thing to communicate, but it is essential. Thanks.

  4. Steve,

    Great article. It sounds like some of our conversations. Just for your info, the verse you quoted in John is verse 18 and not verse 17. You may want to correct it. Talk to you soon!!

    S. J.

  5. Stephen, it was only in the evening that I have had time to read this. You are right on. We even discussed elements of the article today, but you have gone beyond our discussions. Thanks for your obedience.

  6. SONglasses! I like that. We were discussing just today that we filter things through our own mindsets. Thank God for furnishing us SONglasses. Amen!

  7. What is interesting Steve is that the patristic writers almost unanimously agree about “seeing” Christ as the key and love as the message of the Bible. Without this nothing else makes sense. And it is, as you’ve said before, rooted in the love of triunity since God was love, and loving, before there was anything else made that was made.

  8. Steve – Great word! Right along the lines of what we were discussing via email the other day regarding the issue of Penal Substitution atonement vs Christus Victor. The framers of the Penal Substitution theory were Lawyers – seeing God as Judge and we as the condemned. I am seeing more clearly that the Penal Subsitution view of an Angry Father who desires to punish and pour out his wrath on us is wrong. Then you have this gentle, kind Jesus who gets in between us and the angry Father. This is a distortion of Father’s love and true nature. Even when God does things in the OT that are confusing – we must interpret his actions through the revelation of God through Jesus. We know God is a loving Father who would never do anything evil, wrong, or unloving. Even when he must judge – he never ceases to be Father. In our flesh, we tend to judge wrongly and selfishly – not so with God. We end up putting on God our wrong judgments and pre-conceived ideas about what he must be like.

    I like what Bill Johnson says: “Jesus Christ is perfect Theology”. Basically, we must interpret the scriptures through the revelation of Jesus Christ – not the other way around. When we try to interpret the actions of Jesus Christ through the Old Testament Scriptures with a certain set of glasses, we end up where the Jewish Leaders did.

  9. Steve for me this was the most significant post I have read in a longtime. Not that others haven’t been good. Humanity cannot grasp the idea of the son doing what he did. Love that is unexplainable healed humanity. It was a pure sonly love with no distortion. Justice was not Jesus’ motivation. Love was!

  10. Why “Sword” of the Kingdom? My glasses must be dirty. Sword represents punishment and judgement. Try Love of the Kingdom..
    Respectfully submitted.

    • Tom, It has to do with the verse the Lord called me with 40 years ago. It doesn’t speak of judgment and punishment. It speaks of cutting away those things that hinder the accurate revelation of Jesus. Think surgeon with scalpel: Biblical metaphor – sword. Since God called me with the metaphor, that’s good enough for me.

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