Posted by: rogermitchell | May 19, 2010

Five crucial comments and questions about the good news of the cross

The following crucial comments and questions have followed from the previous posts about the gospel and the cross. I will develop further thinking from these over the next few days. In the meantime, please feel free to dive in to the conversation without waiting for me!

1. It is important to reassert the gospel as life affirming and not a death cult. This involves decoupling the cross from empire and emphasising the importance of tending the creation. I think that if we affirm what gets called the creation mandate alongside the redemption mandate we won’t go far wrong. God’s amazing creation is an extraordinary gift to every molecule of its existence. That humans have been given the immense privilege of tending it has to be one of God’s greatest gifts. The subsequent fall of the human race and its outworking through empire and God’s further gift of redemption through which the creation can not only be restored but its original potential fulfilled has to be the most glorious complementary gift. If the cross is a part of the gift of redemption it most certainly has to be extricated from its subversion by empire.

2. This means withstanding the use of the cross for devotion that glorifies pain or torture, rather than the very different idea of pushing love to the ends of the earth. The whole tenor of Jesus life presented in the gospels is towards loving ones neighbour, healing the sick, freeing the prisoners and empowering the poor. So for sure, devotion to Jesus cannot be separated from pushing love to ends of the earth as in the core kenosis passages of John ch13 and Philippians ch2. However there is no getting away from what this leads to in both passages or the association of pouring out life “to the end” (Jn13:1)  in terms of “death on a cross” (Phil2:8). Both narratives associate the willingness to die for love directly with glory (Jn13:31; Phil2:11).  The issues raised appear to be the reality and extent of the opposition to love, and that the  only means of dealing with it is a love stronger than death. The focus of devotion is then not the pain or the torture, but the love shown. What stands out from this is that without understanding the power of evil that needs to be overcome by love strong as death, it looks like death itself is attractive to God. Hence a death cult.

3. The practical dilemma of the theology of kenosis is whether it is ever appropriate to resist the exercise of abusive power. With what kinds of acts may we do so? My whole understanding and development of kenosis is that resistance to abusive power is always appropriate. It is not only appropriate but necessary. This is surely why the sermon on the plain tells us to love our enemies (Lk6:27). If not we will be overcome by them. What I mean by kenosis is the opposite spirit to domination. It disempowers and empties out abusive power. This is the whole point. But this brings us back to the question of the evil that befell creation and the necessity of redemption. What is vitally important to emphasise in the light of my recent encounter with women who have been advised to put up with abuse from their husbands or even their fathers or siblings because by laying their lives down they will overcome the evil or win the abuser, is that laying ones life down does not mean always submitting to abuse. Confronting the abuser, reporting the abuser, leaving the abuser, these are all forms of loving resistance that involve love to the end. Putting this on the wider scale, this is where active resistance and deliberate civil disobedience comes in on the sociopolitical level. At the fullest level, as far as I see it, living the way of love implies a relationship with the humanly crucified, resurrected, loving, kenotic God who as Paul puts it   “was in Christ reconciling the world to himself ” (2Co 5:19).

4. There is something dreadful about narrowing down the gospel to scalps gained for the glory of the cross rather than as the means to disciple humans into a new life in right relationship with the earth, each other, and the Creator. I think this scalps idea comes as a consequence of the idea of the cross as propitiating the offended sovereignty of a perceived sovereign God. From this perspective people are sent to hell as punishment for failing to recognise God’s sovereignty.  Accepting the cross as the place where Jesus was punished instead of them then becomes essential either as a once off (for reformed Protestants) or a regular event mediated by a priest (for Catholics). This kind of God legitimates imperial sovereignty and the empires that go with it. It is a dreadful and fallen view of God, not a redemptive view. I don’t find this God, or this remedy in the incarnation. Instead I find Jesus who came to disciple humans into a new life in right relationship with the earth, each other, and the Creator. However the way Jesus did this, and the relationship that he modeled and initiated, does seem to be through the way of the cross. Not by propitiating God, but by overcoming evil with love.

5. Can we talk about the cross as ‘the event’ when everything changed? Surely it’s the 3-fold event of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus with each part contributing equally to the possibility released into the world.

[See post for May 28th]

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Responses

  1. Good post. Especially I think your point five is important, but I am not even sure that the “everything changed”-thing is appropriate even if we include all of Jesus ministry. His work is not completed unless god can continue to express god’s will and rule in and through us. And I definitely think we should avoid talking about “the world being saved on the cross” etc.

    • Good morning! Thanks for the comment. Can you expand on what particularly lies behind you being so definite that ‘we should avoid talking about “the world being saved on the cross” etc?’
      Cheers
      Roger

      • Well, I think it’s not true, and I’m not convinced by for example the lutheran use of some bible verses to promote this as true (2 Kor 5 and some places in Romans). And it often presupposes the modern division between subject and object etc. If the world was saved on the cross, than it’s a kind of salvation I’m not very interested in. I need more…

  2. This could get interesting if we all start responding to 5 different focuses in this one space with different perspectives!

    I’m focusing on point 2 for now. I pretty much agree with your sentiment here but still find this a little murky and I think you might still be overstating the role of death somewhat. In simple terms, I see death as an apparent ‘catch 22’: it only exists because we did not choose the way of kenotic love and we cannot beat it without that love. Our history told us that beating it was impossible and that we could only take mitigating action against our nature through laws, commandments etc. Until, that is, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus which showed us (a) it was possible and desirable to live such a love, (b) such a love was not restrained by death or its fear, and (c) such love which passes through death exposes death’s weakness and makes new life possible. Behold, he made all things new.

    I’m not sure that the John or Philippians passages say that willingness to die for love is directly related to glory. I’d modify that slightly to say that they show that the kenotic loving life such as Jesus demonstrated is worthy of glory because, so consumed with love and grace, he did not attribute any (delimiting) significance to death at all! While his flesh resisted it, his heart was bigger than it and he chose to cross [sic] its threshold. The glory is the fullness of this expression with a fullness of consequences. This is the thing that people from all traditions find amazing and (un)believable about Jesus.

  3. Yep, I like it and I think you have expressed the place of love unto death, or love stronger than death, very well. That’ll do for me I think.
    Rog

  4. Roger: this is really going some place very good. I think last weekend was a great catalyst to thought for you. With all the pain in the world caused by imperial thinking at a multitude of scales – from the household, to the institutional, to the global – it is essential that we really know what we believe and understand to be true about Jesus and his actions on the cross.

    What a challenge to the ‘church’ in these 5 points. Even the churches that understand themselves to be in the Holy Spirit get easily caught up in gaining scalps for Christ (I think of some current evangelistic methods that I call ‘hit and run’) or cannot affirm life in all its manifold manifestations including the whole of creation, or somehow fail to see the need to lovingly resist evil. I think Jesus’s teachings on loving one’s enemies and on walking the extra mile, say it all.

    In the world we live in right now I can think of no other way forward than for more and more of us to adopt Jesus’ way of loving, even unto death if need be. And that leads us to a life lived cheerfully in obedience to Him. No laws, no rules, simply a willingness to be led daily in obedience, even if the place we are led to startles us and goes against some of our religious assumptions. There is so much at stake right now with the planet (and all species) under so much assault by human greed and disdain for life. No more death cults, the earth, all of creation, cannot afford that any longer. C.

  5. Roger. Yeah, I believe what you wrote on my blog as a response to my comment. Theologically speaking, I like what Denny Weaver has called the “narrative christos victor”-modell of atonement. But I also believe that what Jesus did through his life, death, resurrection and exaltation is and needs to be continued through the spirit in the life of the church which is the body of the messiah, and I think it´s important to acknowledge that we are still waiting for every power to be conquered fully by Jesus. There is still work to be done, even after the cross (of course).

  6. Thanks Jonas, I’m with you!


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