Crossed Out – have we overdone the crucifixion?

In tomorrow’s TNT I am planning to ask Tripp if he thinks that too much has been made out the the cross. “Have we over-focused on the crucifixion?” [the link to this episode is here]

 I think that we may have overdone it on the cross. It is out of proportion.  I want to I hear more about the empty tomb (resurrection) and the coming of Holy Spirit (pentecost). 

Just this week I have run into multiple conversations on the subject. They are all good on their own – but it is the larger picture that I am concerned about. From Daniel Kirk’s fantastic post about Luke-Acts, to Kurt Willems and Tony Jones or Roger Olson.  It can seem like , for Protestant Evangelicals – it’s ‘all atonement theory – all the time’.

Last week my friend A.J Swaboda said “Discipleship is photo-shopping the cross into every picture and angle of my life.”  I asked him if the empty tomb  wouldn’t be more appropriate. He said (wisely) that you can’t have one without the other.

So is that what we are doing? Is ‘the Cross’ shorthand for the whole story? Is it assumed that when we say ‘Cross’ we mean also Resurrection and Pentecost?

That would make me nervous.

Here is my concern: in the resurrection God spoke a new word over the world. I would like to live into that new word and participate with God’s Spirit who was given as a gift and a seal of the promise.

To obsess on the cross and related atonement theories is to live perpetually in the old word and to camp in the final thing that God said about the old situation.

It manifests in odd ways too. When my school, Claremont, was entering into a new venture of a Multi-Faith University, new logos were drawn up for each participating school. One symbol and one color for each represented religion or tradition. It is actually a cool branding that sends a message I can really get behind.

The problem is that we, as the Christian representative, got a red logo with… the Cross as our symbol. Ugh. Really?   We couldn’t have gone with the Flame or the Dove or the Bible or anything else?  What is the deal with the Cross obsession? Is it really the best representative for what the whole religion is about?

I know that Tripp is going to say something about “How the cross bearers became the cross-builders” which is a consistently good point about the historic shift. It has also takes on weird Colonial connotations that have compromised its essential message.

I’m just a little Crossed-out. It’s too much. It is out of proportion with the other elements of our faith and used disproportionally to the other symbols we have.

I would like to see us move into God’s new word for the world – and move out of our perpetual lingering in God’s last word over the old world.

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11 comments
garreth ashe
garreth ashe

I agree entirely with what you are saying Bo. As someone who is heavily influenced by the work of Rene Girard and particularly the theological articulation of his work by the English theology James Alison, who understands the resurrection as the hermentical key to understanding the cross, because the resurrection reveals what he calls the 'deathlessness of God', and also a reading which would understand that the cross revealed that Christ was made a human victim and by revealing through the resurrection (Christ vindication) that the cross was purely a mechanism of human violence and itself revealed the cross should be understood as the 'sacrifice of sacrifice', and so revealed our deathful nature, so the resurrection reveals both that God is 'deathless' and us as 'deathful', i.e sinners, so for me the resurrection is truely revelatory and so also reveals a deep anthropological truth about our humanity which God is calling us to leave behind and so participate in God's Kingdom.

Da stand das Meer
Da stand das Meer

Reading the thread above, it seems clear that many people are trying hard but finding it quite a challenge to hold two essential things in a proper tension. 1) There is a general understanding that dogmatic interpretations of the Cross have been unhelpful as they transform an event into a static theory. Conceptual idolatry if you like. Once theories take on an autonomous life of their own, that gets scary - take a look at what Roger Olson is currently enduring on the blog to which Bo linked in his post and I think you'll see what I mean...Events are dynamic by their very nature, so the Cross can't be isolated from the bigger picture. As Bo suggests, it is the Incarnation-Cross-Resurrection-Pentecost (to which we could add 'Creation' at the start and 'Parousia' at the end) continuum which we need to keep in mind, i.e. the over-arching narrative of God's love. In most of Western theology, because of its long-standing tendency to subordinate the Spirit to the Son, Pentecost has traditionally been the big loser here, but the signs are that we're gradually moving towards a better balance. 2) Seen within this continuity, all the healthy aspects of a Theology of the Cross (atonement by all means, but also God's solidarity with victims, defeat of the Powers, the call to self-sacrificial discipleship ...) can and should be retained in their historical centrality. Looking forward to the podcast! Peter B.

Bo Sanders
Bo Sanders

Deacon Hall sent me the following note: The problem with asking this question and answering it as such is that there are very differing understandings of the cross. Are you talking Hebrews and the eventual development of the cross in "theory of atonement"? If so, I'm apt to agree. But the cross may be irreducible to such interpretations. After all, the purportedly original Mark leaves open the question of what the cross could mean--especially in light of Jesus' own felt rejection. So, I'd want to clarify: if you mean that "atonement theories" have too much say, you're right. If the cross is somehow an expression of God's love in non-atonement manners (matters not often explored today), I gotta completely disagree. It is the definitive Christian event that makes the faith both foolish and a stumbling block. We can't throw that out too easily.

Carl Gregg
Carl Gregg

Amen. In how I am coming to understand Christianity, two books by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker couldn't be more important: (1) "Proverbs of Ashes: Violence, Redemptive Suffering, and the Search for What Saves Us" (http://amzn.to/sUKljQ) and (2) "Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire" (http://amzn.to/tm3ScF). To use John Dominic Crossan's nomenclature, we have abandoned the "Life Tradition" (focused on Jesus' life and teachings -- see the Q Gospel and Thomas) for the "Death Tradition," which fetischizes the crucifixion. See relatedly, McLaren on "Two Kinds of Religion" (http://bit.ly/tuBu4j). To quote John Mabry, "Rosa Parks is an imitator of Christ, not because she suffered for taking her stand (or keeping her seat, in her case), but because she had the courage to believe in her own dignity and fought for it in spite of the conflict that resulted. Nelson Mandela is an imitator of Christ, not because he suffered in prison, but because he held out for peace and justice, and led a nation to resurrection. In each case it is not the suffering that is redemptive, but the courage to pursue justice in the face of pain and evil” (129 -- http://amzn.to/tU3QL6). Nakashima Brock writes that she learned from womanist theologian Delores Williams to avoid asking “‘What we [would] die for...?’ [I]f we ask that question, somebody will be quite willing to oblige us and kill us, especially if we belong to a marginalized or oppressed group.... Our question should be ‘What are we willing to live for?’” (1995:263). From a related angle, Sharon Welch makes an important qualification to this "theology of risk" (see her book "A Feminist Ethic of Risk"): “The measure of an action’s worth is not, however, the willingness of someone to risk their life but the contribution such an action will make to the imagination and courage of the resisting community” (47). Looking forward to the podcast, Carl

Cam Sobalvarro
Cam Sobalvarro

I see you're point. However, I think different elements of the gospel resonate differently for different people at different times. So I actually think it's only natural that, for some, the cross looms larger in importance than to others, and I think there needs to be room for that. If fact, I think the fact we don't leave room for these kinds of differences is often responsible for some of the "flame-fests" that erupt in online discourse. Rather than the primacy of that one element, I believe it's most important that we maintain awareness of the distinctives that separate the work of Jesus from that of any other person in history. The cross and all it stands for is incredibly important. But so is resurrection. And ascension. And all the other unique aspects of who Jesus is.

Zachary W
Zachary W

Bo, I don't know if you and Tripp have already recorded the episode yet, but it might be interesting to detour into other ways in which the Cross has or is being used. Aric already mentioned Peter Rollins, and I think it would helpful to try to situate someone like him in the greater discussion. I mean, atonement theory is not what he's focusing on, and the idea of being 'Christ-like' to the point of the crucifixion and feeling abandoned by God is not a light one.

Dan G
Dan G

So I'm new here. I'm new to HBC, but I'm also pretty new in my journey out of a fundie/evangelical tradition. Based on my upbringing and tradition I figured Atheism was about my only choice once I'd found it impossible to keep up the fundie-facade. But then I started poking around and found Pete Rollins, you progressive/process guys, and a whole Emerging thing that appears to have emerged enough to no longer warrant the label. So, given that I'm new to this please bear with me as I ask what must be a really stupid question related to this posting: Out here in Progressive/POMO/Process/Post-Structural land (or whatever we're calling it) do we still believe that Jesus was the "Son of God" in some form or fashion and that Jesus actually "rose from the dead"? Or are we just paying lip service with a knowing wink and nod? I use the word "we" because I can't live with the cognitive dissonance of being a fundie anymore, and I guess I'm not an Atheist yet, so that has to make me land somewhere. I use the word "believe" even though that word has become anathema to me, but I'm not sure what word to use in its place. I hope this makes some sense. I am being very sincere in spite of the sarcasm. This whole journey is taking quite an emotional toll and I suppose the sarcasm is coming mostly from my fear and self-loathing. Maybe you should drive...

Aric Clark
Aric Clark

If you'd gotten to me before Peter Rollins I would have been your Amen Corner. Pete makes a good point though, which is that the Resurrection frequently serves as a reward for discipleship, a promise of an afterlife. As such it can be seen to diminish the value of discipleship which seeks to follow Christ knowing that the end is the cross. The best illustration he gives of this is a parable in The Orthodox Heretic where you awake after your death to find yourself in a splendid throne room. The radiant being on the throne introduces himself as the lightbringer, Lucifer, says he has destroyed Christ and all you have to do to get into heaven is to deny Christ. Would you choose to follow Jesus into eternal damnation or annihilation? Maybe this is a good reason for us to put more emphasis on the empty tomb and the strangeness of the resurrection appearances. The resurrection has been too domesticated. We need to revive the weirdness, uncertainty, and frightening appearance of it all. We need a resurrection so strange that it can't be reduced to the level of a reward for faithfulness. Maybe if we saw the resurrection as the threat it is - the Jesus can't be killed, his kingdom can't be prevented, the death blow to the powers and principalities has already been dealt and all our wealth and security is an illusion - then we wouldn't need to lean on the cross so heavy as our principal means of challenging the status quo.

Nate
Nate

Interesting set of questions, Bo. As your resident wannabe Hauerwasian, I'll say that I still want the cross to be central not mainly for the atonement-theory side of things (though I suspect those questions remain important for my own teaching in ways that they've become less important in yours) but because the cross has some post-resurrection resonance that I don't want to turn loose of: 1) As Paul's song in Philippians notes, the kenosis of Christ is integrally tied to being at the mercy of the powers of the world, and the most enduring symbol of that powerlessness is the cross. 2) To paraphrase and probably misappropriate Martin Luther, the Theology of the Cross reminds us to temper (and critique) our Theologies of Glory when they become too focused on grand, macrocosmic metaphysics and lose sight of the "least of these." 3) Our resistance to/engagement with the powers, for someone with my vices, threatens to be a power-grab if we don't have the cross to remind us that it's always about self-sacrifice rather than self-aggrandizement. I've got to teach class in eight minutes, so I'll cut it off there, but what do you make of that?

Christian
Christian

Honestly, yes, I do agree with you Bo, particularly when differences in atonement theories become points of divisiveness. Is the cross important? Yes. It is the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of love. Is the resurrection important? Yes. It is, in the end, hope and faith in knowing the end of the story. Is Pentecost important? Yes. It allows us to bridge cultural, social, economic, and racial divides by understanding each other in each other's language. Personally, I don't really care about the "how" in atonement as the simple fact that it happened is enough for me. What I have found, though, is that the "how" that someone holds to typically defines most of the rest of their theology. Understanding how others' viewpoints on atonement can help us, as Christians, to bridge theological divides..... ......hmmm.....sounds like that Pentecost thing again.

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