3.27.2007

The Scandal of the Cross - Conclusions and Implications

A death on a cross is a scandalous, horrific, and shameful thing, something detailed all too well by Mel Gibson's film, The Passion of the Christ. That Jesus died on a cross, and for the Christian, that it was necessary is not a matter of debate, in question is why? (See recent previous posts for more on this.)
Not too long ago it was popular to where bracelets with the letters WWJD. (What Would Jesus Do) The faddish nature of this gradually became appalling, but the initial idea was a fine one, if not a terribly distressing one. (What might the actual implications be?)

The answer to the question, What Would Jesus Do, is given to us in four different gospel narratives, making the answer at times all too apparent. In the end, Jesus died! God died! And before this? He was a poor man, with no place to lay his head. A lowly servant who taught his disciples that the first will be last and the last first, that they must pick up their cross and follow him, that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, and our enemies, yah, we have to love them to.

The common narrative (penal substitution) on the death of Jesus describes Christ’s death as balancing a cosmic account book. One in which all the sins of all of humanity are blotted out by the death of Christ. We then have only to receive this free gift to obtain eternal salvation. There is nothing in this narrative that I think needs to change, rather it is what is not in this narrative that is so terribly disconcerting. The last few posts have detailed a matrix of metaphors by which the cross has been and is being communicated. For most Christians in most places, these metaphors have been refined and simplified down to one controlling view point. “Jesus died to… (fill in the blank)”

In contrast, I believe that Christians would do well to first reengage the cross of Christ devotionally, spiritually, and meditatively. And second, reengage it theologically, examining the variety of historical and contemporary ways the cross has and is being understood. The past few posts have given us a starting point for doing that but are hardly sufficient. None of this theological re-examination needs to undermine orthodoxy or even Evangelical orthodoxy. (Though feel free to question even these assumptions if your so inclined. I believe your faith will be stronger for it.) Rather, a fuller understanding, will, I believe, drive us to radically alter the way we behave.

Previous Posts in this Series


13 comments:

David Baxley said...

Dude maybe it is just me but it didn't really appear to be anything new. Not that is was not good stuff but as a great writer once said "There is nothing new under the sun..." It is just a different way of putting the old deep thoughts (or maybe just repeats). Maybe because it is a new way of putting for our church today then it awakens new thoughts and ideas in people’s minds and hearts and for that it is good.
Sadly our pastoral culture and leaders have lost a passion to bring these things to the people for what ever reason... or maybe we are trying to hard... I wonder if the apostle peter knew all the "academic" terms... yet I would sit down with him and his writings before any others any day.
Just thoughts. You know I love to go deeper but I would hate to see us trying so hard to go deep that we drown in our own academics... maybe it is a new pharisaic spirit of an academia religion in a world were many in the church feel we had lost the depth of our faith.

David Baxley said...

Joey... I want your thoughts on this...

David Best said...

David, I'm glad there is nothing new here for you. For me there is.

One of the things that has stood out to me most is that the cross of Christ, not just certain sections of scripture that spell out right and wrong, implores me to change my behavior. He didn't just balance the accounts on the cross, and then give away the free life insurance he bought. His example demands a response from me, day in and day out.

Everything is interrelated. When we were growing up we were taught that we need to be willing to give everything up, I think we actually need to, and I'm not willing to. That's a problem I don't have a solution for.

Another thing here is suffering. The suffering in this world really bothers me. (though obviously not enough) Sometimes I wonder if God cares. But when I think that way, he gently reminds me that he suffered most of all. I have little to offer a friend who suffers... except one thing, a God who suffers with them, and that is very comforting to me.

On this matter of too much acadamia. Yah, if that's all it is, words on a page, thats a waste. Ideas that change us, that's exciting.

David Best said...

Having said all of this, your right there is technically very little that is actually new here. Look at the dates on those theological perspectives, it's all over two hundred years old.

Part of what I'm trying to do is make acadamia accessable. Your kind of wright that its not all its cracked up to be. Anyone can interact with this stuff. However I do think it's important to be aware of the whole scope of options and perspectives.

If anything is new here, it is having all of this stuff in front of you, instead of just what your pastor (or any pastor) thinks is most appropriate.

(actually I'm sure it's not all here, but close enough)

Mx5 said...

(peeking in)
Your last sentence reads: Rather, a fuller understanding, will, I believe, drive us to radically alter the way we behave.

A few side questions:

Can and does fuller understanding of a spiritual issue, such as carrying one's cross or penal substitution or other metaphor for the cross of Christ, truly and consistently alter one's behavior in the positive for any considerable length of time?

Can this understanding be done apart from a work of the Holy Spirit in a person's life and heart?

Aren't things of a spiritual nature spiritually discerned more effective in life change than even intellectual ascent?

This is not to say we shouldn't be thinking and praying about deep issues, nor am I implying that it's pointless to study and engage intellectually in spiritual matters. I LOVE all the easy access not available to a nearly endless source of information. Obviously God uses our intellect to make Himself known. I think it's good and healthy to examine what we believe and why. But does this reflection and introspection work change in us? I tend to fall into the belief that spiritual things are foolishness unless discerned spiritually, kwim?

With regard to your comment below on suffering, this too may need to be discerned spiritually in order for us to bear the knowledge of the sheer magnitude of suffering around the world. Questions like, is suffering bad apart from the mental and physical aspects of it? Can God really use suffering in one's life, and is there evidence of this biblically and historically? Can our past sufferings be used to help ease those of others?

Hey... how about a swimming in the deeper end series on suffering? That would be cool.

David Baxley said...

Sorry about the "nothing new to me" I meant that more in the big picture. I am at a frustrated point in my life with those that are thinking that they have the "new" thing that the church leaders or church lay people of our day have missed. I must explore that within my self more... just so you know that reaction was not meant toward you... sorry.

David Best said...

Mx5,

Thanks for dropping by. I would love to here what your "best friend" thinks of some of this stuff.: )

On the matter of things being discerned spiritually vs intellectually. I don't think there is a need to bifurcate these things. (though yes they often are)

The best of anything is done with the Holy Spirit in one hand, the intellect in another, history tradition and experience in a third hand, and the Bible in a forth. (these are in no particular order) And on the whole, I think most people do weigh most of these things. Few Christians rely solely on experience, or intellect or whatever, it's just that based on giftings, some tend toward one or the other. And to make matters worse, the intelectual "hands" tend to say to the spiritual "eye's" we don't need you, or there are too many of you and visa-versa. Many gifts, one body, etc, etc...

I guess my only other thought is that people that say they are doing things the "spiritual" way, or as the Spirit led them or whatever, may need to double check just how much unquestioned intellectual presuppositions play into what the spirit led them to. Which isn't to say that the presuppositions are wrong, I'm just saying, most things have an intellectual element we need to be honest about.

David Best said...

David,

You know which "new things" bother me most, rock-n-roll. We both know it's of the Devil. The only thing that's worse is when people turn a worship service into a satanic rock-n-roll concert with flashing lights, video and the like.

We need to go back to those old stand-by hymns that come right out of the King James Bible, the words that Jesus spoke.

lol : )

David Baxley said...

My intellect has taught me that logic and what God is doing don't always align so it is in the spirit that find myself making many big decision that the intellect seems to against and have found the spirit to know more then my mind could figure out.

Mx5 said...

Bax-man, you have a point. When we think about all the things the Spirit has impressed upon people to do that make no sense at all to the intellect, it is mind boggling.

I think about some of the prophets of old and their situations, very lightly paraphrased:

"Go challenge the prophets of Baal. And, by the way, soak the altar."

"Go to pharoah and tell him to let My people go. So what if you stutter."

"Point your staff over that sea, and see My glory."

"Go tell Ninevah to repent."

"Walk around Jericho - yeah, the walls are thick and high. Do it."

To the childless Abraham "You will be the father of a nation"

Huh?

Maybe that's why God says that His wisdom is as foolishness to the world? He does ask His people to do some pretty crazy things at times.

I'm just sayin'...

And David Best, don't forget to put the evil fog machine on your list of bad new things. *smirk*

David Best said...

Mx5 and Bax,

Though i have approached this somewhat cognitively, what your saying about the spirit leading us to do non-sensical stuff is exactly what I'm getting at by focusing on the death of Christ.

What is more non-sensical than that, a god/God dying? And if Christ is our example, what sort of non-nonsensical things is he asking us to engage in, both as an example, and as a means of alleviating the suffering of others?

jb1203 said...

For suffering...

You cannot take the physical or mental part away from it. That's not fair to those who are suffering.

Christian answers cannot and do not fully do justice to this issue.

So what do we tell the suffering who don't know God? That He is love? Merciful?

Mx5 said...

To David B. To me it made less sense when Jesus was resurrected than when He died, since the original series of posts was about He death. Actually, when I really think about it, God becoming flesh to live among those whom He created... that's crazy talk, isn't it.

True, Jesus led an exemplary life of service toward others. He did, at times, alleviate suffering, but not always. I don't think that is the primary reason He was incarnate. Some teach that He came to show us how to live. There is some truth in that, however that is where a lot of teachers stop. They admonish us to live a certain way, without letting us know that it's a work the Holy Spirit does in our hearts to even will to do remotely loving things to others long-term. But is that the only reason Jesus came to earth? Is it why He died and rose again?

To jb above, I do tell people who are suffering that God is loving and merciful when I sense that they are ready to hear such things, whether they are believers or not. I tell them that He hears their cries, but that sometimes He answers in ways we don't understand at the time. There are sufferings about which we may never know why we had to walk through them. But, talk to anyone who has truly suffered longterm, and who happens to love God, and you will hear what faith sounds like. Many people who look like they "have it all together" at church (any church) have suffered much, and tell of amazing growth during their incredible hardships. HTH