Book Review: Love or Die, by Alexander Strauch
Alexander Strauch, Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-Up Call to the Church. Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2008. 99 pages.
In Ephesians 4:15–16, Paul makes it clear to the local church that their goal is corporate maturity—maturity that comes through speaking truth to one another in a particular way.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:15–16)
For the local church, speaking the truth in love is essential to corporate maturity.
As straightforward as this may be, by the time we get to John’s vision in Revelation 2 of the risen Christ admonishing the church at Ephesus, we find the Ephesians on the brink of disaster, not for giving up the truth, but for failing to love.
Alexander Strauch suggests that this lovelessness still characterizes many local churches. In Love or Die: Christ’s Wake-up Call to the Church he offers practical solutions for churches riddled with lovelessness.
DIAGNOSING THE SICKNESS
Part one of Love or Die focuses on Christ’s rebuke of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2:4: “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.” He writes,
Their love was not what it used to be. While they still had some measure of love because they were, for the most part, true Christians and enduring hardship for his “name’s sake” (Rev. 2:3), they no longer possessed the kind of love they had in their early years as a church. They still loved the Lord, but not like they did at first. They still loved one another, but not like before. (8–9)
In this section, Strauch explores how churches lose their love for God and one another and why this problem often plagues doctrinally sound churches. He also spends a fair amount of time laying out how detrimental a lack of love can be to the individual believer and to the local church.
Throughout this section I was often convicted of personal pride, my own lack of love for my sheep, and my failure to truly meditate on Christ’s love for us, our love for him, the Father’s love for Christ, and Christ’s love for the Father. Strauch’s exploration of Revelation 2:4 exposes just how easy it is to slip into the very lovelessness Christ condemned in the Ephesians.
So we must ask, when people visit your church, do they find a warm, friendly, and welcoming atmosphere that demonstrates love for all people? Do they sense Christlike compassion and the kind of loving family community envisioned by the New Testament writers? Do they see genuine care for one another’s needs, Christian hospitality, and unselfish generosity? Do they observe joy in the Lord, spiritual vitality, and people reaching out to minister to a suffering world?
Or does your church seem more like an impersonal gathering of people than a spiritual family? Do visitors sense unfriendliness and indifference? Do they see a proud, critical spirit, or an angry, contentious group of people?
Remember, there is always one who walks among the churches, unseen but seeing all. How do you imagine Christ might evaluate your local church body? (18)
Some of us need these questions to remind us that love is far more than mere sentimentality. Others of us need these questions to confront the arrogance and lack of charity that sometimes attaches itself to our care for doctrinal precision.
[Lovelessness] is a problem that is often difficult to identify or explain until it is too late. Yet it must be identified and corrected because love for God and neighbor lies at the very heart of genuine spiritual life. (19)
What is the remedy? Strauch offers three solutions, each rooted in Revelation 2: remember, repent, and do the works you did at first. What might this look like in our lives? Strauch spends the second half of the book exploring how to pursue love.
APPLYING THE REMEDY
Under six headings, Strauch lays out how we can pursue reviving love for God and for one another. He calls Christians to: (1) Study Love, (2) Pray For Love, (3) Teach Love, (4) Model Love, (5) Guard Love, and (6) Practice Love. Instead of breaking down how Strauch unpacks each point, let’s briefly consider how several of them relate to the marks of a healthy church.
As I read through the second-half of the book, I couldn’t help but consider how I could personally integrate a theology of love into my pastoral and personal pursuit of Christ. Consider expositional preaching—are we preaching the love of Christ with the beauty and glory that it holds out? How does the passage being preached this Sunday reflect the Father’s love for the Son? Is our preaching itself warm and inviting?
Consider our understanding of membership and church discipline—do we see joining ourselves to a community of Christians as an act of self-sacrificing love? Do we love enough to give ourselves away for one another? Does love permeate our conversations or our hospitality? Does our discipline maintain a gracious, charitable, and caring demeanor throughout?
What of evangelism and discipleship? Are we taking up the work of sharing the love of Christ for all who would repent of their sins and turn to him? Are we making disciples by teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded—even his calls to love him with life-submitting holiness?
Lastly, consider your church’s prayer life. Do we pray because of God’s love for us? Do we pray that God would grow our love?
As Strauch says, “No matter how impressive a church may appear to be on the outside—a magnificent building, huge congregation, large staff, big budget, dynamic teaching, outstanding missions program, and awesome music—it may still be dying within from a lack of love.” (25)
Pastors, get this book and consider how love should permeate each aspect of your church. Pass it out to other leaders. Consider using it for a Sunday School class or as a discipling tool. Lovelessness poses a terrible threat to the health and vitality of our churches. Pastors, we must constantly remind our sheep of its dangers and encourage our church members to cultivate their affection for Christ and for one another.