Reviewed by: Ben Snodgrass
Date posted: 10/19/2014
This Is Love: Tracing the Love of God throughout the Biblical Story, by Neil Tolsma. P&R, 2012. Paperback, 208 pages, list price $14.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Ben Snodgrass.
Where was this book? The author drew the idea for his book from the widespread need for it. Now it has arrived, and the book delivers what it promises. It offers healing for wrong ideas of love with its Scripture-laden presentation of the beauty of love. Even the title is drawn from the Bible: "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10 NIV). Each chapter title begins with "God's Love Revealed in …," emphasizing that our love ultimately derives from God's love.
The table of contents shows the logical flow—a classic biblical-theological treatment—just as the subtitle promises, "tracing the love of God throughout the biblical story." What happened to God's love when the fall tarnished creation? God's response was one of love, revealed in his anger at sin. Next, God's love is found in various themes: God's goodness, his condescension, law, faithfulness, mercy and grace, and, most fully, his love in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. An additional linkage of the final four chapters shows the love of God within the church, at the foundation of reconciliation, worship, godliness, and mission.
The effect of the book's well-organized, verse-backed argument is to persuade us that God's love is the central theme of the Bible's message! Yes, love is not merely important, nor near the core. Love is at the center. How is the age-old debate about the main message of the Bible so clearly settled here? With Scripture! The index of Scripture references is ten pages long! So, for example, we are shown Jesus' own summary of the law in Matthew 22:37–40, in the commands to love God and love others. But love is more than a summary of the law. Both testaments pulsate with God's love.
How a first-time author can provide us with profound riches is no mystery when we note his previous ministry in fruitful pastorates. Pastor Tolsma has long been adept at bringing us insights that are both convicting and engaging. Here he shows us how we have absorbed and suffered from our culture's false ideas about love. Our good pastor would never leave us there, for he counters with refreshing biblical corrections. Another sign of our author's experience is his accessibility; the weekly audience of a preaching pastor, consisting of people of all ages, are those who can read this book. We all need and can grasp this pastor's teaching on love, because it comes from the heart of God's own Word.