"I'm new to the church and I get uncomfortable when we start singing 'Oh how I love Jesus.' I know I'm supposed to 'love' Jesus and God and all, but I feel strange saying I love another man I'm not related to."
As the church begins to work within the culture, this is going to be more and more a problem. For years men have been socialized that the word "love" is associated with romance. Men who have been raised in the church have learned there's a difference between loving their significant other and loving Jesus. But as the church reaches out to those who weren't raised in the church, particularly the Generation-X/Baby Buster generation (those born from 1961 to 1984), the language we use needs to be examined.
The problem is with the English language. In Greek there are at least three words that get translated into love. The first is eros, which means love of the erotic/romantic kind. This kind of love is related to romance and desire in English, but it ought not be considered an evil word; it's just a part of love that's driven primarily by biology. The second Greek word is phileo, meaning brotherly love. Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, has its roots in this Greek word. Phileo is the kind of love friends have for each other. And finally there is agape love. Agape is the kind of love good parents have for their children; it is unconditional and unmerited.
But the English version of the Bible makes no distinctions between these three words -- they just all show up as "love." Which is too bad, since we miss some of the great nuances in scripture. But it is also a cause of discomfort with some of those visiting our churches. When the Bible says we are to love God and when others express their love for Jesus, it is generally in the form of agape, it is never eros.
So, given the restrictions of the language, just how can the church express itself to those in our culture today? One way is to use language that "guys" can resonate with. For many men the kind of "love" they're able to express for another male includes such emotions such as honor, respect, and admiration. These three sentiments, when applied to an individual such as Jesus, can motivate many men to follow another even to the death. Certainly Jesus is worthy of honor, respect, and admiration and if the church embraced these concepts it might discover the means to share the gospel more effectively with many individuals.
Another concept, introduced in the past decade or so, is male bonding. The father and son who go fishing together, the guys who get together to work on a car, and the men who attend a team-building ropes' course are thrust together in bonding experiences. Indeed, this is one of the attractions of Promise Keepers that has swept across our nation (though its effectiveness has been focused on those men already familiar with the church). By using male-bonding language to show the relationships between Jesus and men there might be a better understanding and appreciation for the relationship required to be a faithful disciple (or apprentice) of Jesus Christ.
The Greek word agape suggests the kind of love required for a commitment to discipleship with Jesus. That kind of commitment, for many men, is given only to those they have the highest measure of honor, respect, and admiration for. Jesus is that kind of person. The question is, is the church able to share this with the men of our culture today?