God as Sacrificial Love

A Systematic Exploration of a Controversial Notion

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Asle Eikrem
T&T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury T&T Clark
    , January
     2018.
     336 pages.
     $85.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780567678645.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Asle Eikrem’s God as Sacrificial Love: A Systematic Exploration of a Controversial Notion looks at sacrificial love and attempts to propose a conceptual scheme that allows certain nuances that eventually can embrace key questions regarding sacrificial love. First, Can God’s action in Jesus be coherent as sacrificial love? Second, must human response to God be in terms of sacrificial love? Third, should we recommend sacrificial love as an ethical idea? Eikrem puts the conversation in the context of two theoretical perspectives: bloodshed and group formation.

Starting with a historical overview of sacrificial love, Eikrem goes through early Christianity with a certain focus on Augustine of Hippo, middle ages (with special attention paid to Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury, and Martin Luther), and the modern era. It’s worth pointing out here that Eikrem interacts with Frederich Schleiermaher’s concept of the death of Jesus not as a penalty of sins, and Albret Ritschl’s idea that there is no passive suffering.

The third chapter examines the modern critiques of sacrificial love. First, there is a historical critique. Here, there is a basic evolutionary sociological driving force. Because society evolves, concepts such as sacrifice need to die. The second critique is one of modern concerns: sacrificial practices misconstrue humanity’s relation of God. Third, there are social historical critiques in which they think that the death of Jesus legitimizes violence. Finally, there are theological critiques that describe the trinitarian rupture between father and son in certain theologies of sacrifice.

Chapter 4 outlines some of the problems with a theology of sacrifice and start some of Eikrem’s constructive readings of sacrifice. Death must not be seen as penalty, but as a consequence of finite humanity. Chapter 5 is already answering some of the nuances raised in the introduction of the book: what does blood shedding accomplishes? Is Jesus’s sacrifice of blood a self-giving or a self-sacrifice? Is Jesus a victim? The sixth chapter gets into the inner trinitarian logic of sacrifice of love. The basic character of the sacrifice is that is one of mutual self-giving and not one way only. This language brings us to the important chapter 10. Here, the author describes love as an expression of true mutuality—not  one in which one loses oneself; for as pious as it may sound, giving oneself completely to another ends the relationship.

Eikrem’s book is a serious study that demands engagement. For one dealing with Christian notion of sacrifices it is noteworthy the lack of engagement with the Levitical system and the inner categories given by the Christian scriptures. Even though it does make an appearance it doesn’t set the tone for how it can even explicate the notion of the sacrifice of Jesus. Moreover, there is a certain unwillingness to depend on conciliar judgements. The entire work depends on Eikrem’s own evaluative criterion on coherence. Nonetheless, this study is a heavy work that deserves lauding.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Rafael Bello is Professor of Theology at Martin Bucer Seminary.

Date of Review: 
October 24, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Asle Eikrem is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at MF Norwegian School of Theology, Norway.

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