God is love.

Whenever any kind of apologetic or doctrinal debate turns toward love, don't many of us (the theologically "in" crowd) roll our eyes? For us older guard, what leaps to mind is the L word (liberal), or from the more recent decade the P word (postmodern), or the latest (and already fading) scapegoat, the E word (emergent). When love is appealed to, we often nod our heads impatiently and respond, "Yes, but . . ."

We are suspicious because love can be an excuse for mushy thinking and diluted theology—a ploy to minimize sin along with God's wrath and justice.

I know whereof I speak, because in this regard I've been among the greatest of sinners. My atheist friends would protest, "You Christians say God is love, but we sinners are not feeling it from the likes of you." At least these days I avoid tossing out the exhausted cliché, "Yes, God loves sinners, but he hates sin."

But how else are we to respond, for instance, to a persistent mother of a prodigal daughter who once again corners the first church leader she can find after the worship service and, with pleading whispers, begs for a simple welcoming gesture: "Couldn't someone seek her out—just invite her to be a part of us? She won't listen to me."

We have all seen the awkward hesitancy in the eyes of everyone standing nearby. We're all thinking the same thing: "Yes, God loves her daughter, but she wouldn't be a good example for the children; she might lead some of our own into sin."

God loves her, but . . .

The qualification is just as evident in our theological discourse. For instance, many found it a hard and bitter irony that something titled ...

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