Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The cruciality of the cross

The cross of Christ is not and cannot be loved. Yet only the crucified Christ can bring the freedom which changes the world because it is no longer afraid of death. In his time the crucified Christ was regarded as a scandal and foolishness. Today, too, it is considered old-fashioned to put him in the centre of Christian faith and of theology. Yet only when men [sic] are reminded of him, however untimely this may be, can they be set free from the power of the facts of the present time, and from the laws and compulsions of history, and be offered a future which will never grow dark again. Today the church and theology must turn to the crucified Christ in order to show the world the freedom he offers. This is essential if they wish to become what they assert they are: the church of Christ, and Christian theology. […] Whether or not Christianity, in an alienated, divided and oppressive society, itself becomes alienated, divided and an accomplice of oppression, is ultimately decided only by whether the crucified Christ is a stranger to it or the Lord who determines the form of its existence. […] In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian.”

– Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The cross of Christ as the foundation and criticism of Christian Theology, 1, 3, 7.

The cross (or better, as Moltmann says, the Crucified) is rightly the centre and focus of Christian theology. Many theologies, however, are content to discuss this event (indeed, this person) in terms of atonement or salvation. Christ died for our sins - for us - thus defeating evil, atoning for our transgressions, cleansing us from stain, putting us to death that we may live, redeeming us from slavery to nothingness, reconciling us to his Father - and a whole range of other images used in the scriptures. This is indeed the foundation, but not the extent, of any theology of the cross. The crucifixion of Christ is not just atonement, but also revelation and way of life: it doesn't just bring peace between us and the Father, it also reveals the Father's heart of love and humility and summons us to true life in the way of the cross.
Title of post stolen from a P. T. Forsyth book title. I thought I'd better acknowledge this debt before the avatar of Forsyth turns up to enforce it!

6 comments:

Drew said...

Great quote - thanks!

Interestingly, I'm looking at some phil of history stuff that is relevant here. No 'event' or even 'historical fact' exists for us apart from the way that we encode it in metaphors and narratives (themselves extended metaphors), and how others have done so through the ages.

Of course, I'm not denying that it was real and did happen etc. but still continuing in a very real sense, to restrict the ways in which we remember the cross carries a heavy responsibility, because it helps determines what the cross means for us. Brings to mind the warnings of adding to or erasing Scripture...

byron smith said...

Yes, this is very important: not just that it happened, but how we remember it. Alister McGrath has a nice little quote: "That Jesus died is history. That he died for us is gospel." As you say, this "for us" ought to be carefully remembered and joyfully celebrated in all its richness.

Thanks for your call yesterday. It came at just the right time to give me a chance to try to articulate some things I wanted to put into the lecture anyway.

Jason Goroncy said...

Byron,

Make sure that you don't just rip off the title. make sure you read the book, if you haven't already. And if you have, read it again, and again.

Who is this Moltmann fellow that he should be mentioned in the same post as the great Dr Forsyth! :-)

byron smith said...

Ah, I knew that I could run but I could not hide...

Drew said...

Glad to be of service ;)

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