November 19, 2017

Crux probat omnia

Crucifix 1

I have begun reading Fleming Rutledge’s outstanding new book, The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ, just in time for Good Friday.

She notes that the contemporary church tends to neglect the crucifixion in favor of emphasizing the resurrection. This cannot be done! Rutledge insists upon “the unique significance of the crucifixion at the heart of the Christian faith.” We can only understand these events in relation to one another. “Understanding the cross and resurrection as a single event, undertaken from within the Trinity itself, is of utmost importance…,” she asserts.

In the words of Luther: Crux probat omnia — The cross is the test of everything.

The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance. The resurrection is not a set piece. It is not an isolated demonstration of divine dazzlement. It is not to be detached from its abhorrent first act. The resurrection is, precisely, the vindication of a man who was crucified. Without the cross at the center of the Christian proclamation, the Jesus story can be treated as just another story about a charismatic spiritual figure. It is the crucifixion that marks out Christianity as something definitively different in the history of religion. It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed. Since the resurrection is God’s mighty transhistorical Yes to the historically crucified Son, we can assert that the crucifixion is the most important historical event that ever happened. The resurrection, being a transhistorical event planted within history, does not cancel out the contradiction and shame of the cross in this present life; rather, the resurrection ratifies the cross as the way “until he comes.”

…The resurrection is not just the reappearance of a dead person. It is the mighty act of God to vindicate the One whose very right to exist was thought to have been negated by the powers that nailed him to a cross. At the same time, however, the One who is gloriously risen is the same One who suffered crucifixion. It is not an insignificant detail that “doubting Thomas” asks to see the marks of the nails and the spear in the Lord’s resurrected body (John 20:25). The book of Revelation is an extended hymn to the risen Christ, but he is nevertheless the “Lamb standing, as though it had been slain,” the One whose wounds still show, the One by whose blood the robes of the redeemed have been cleansed for all eternity (Rev. 5:6-7)

The reason Paul said to the Corinthians, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2), is not that he considered the resurrection to be of lesser importance. The reason Paul insisted on the centrality of the cross in polemical terms was that the Corinthian Christians wanted to pass over it altogether. This tendency persists in the American church today. H. Richard Niebuhr put it unforgettably in The Kingdom of God in America: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” When this happens, we may have spirituality, but we do not have Christianity.

• pp. 44, 64f

Comments

  1. [Insert obligatory observation about American evangelicalism being obsessed with a theology of glory overagainst a theology of the cross here]

  2. Robert F says:

    Yes.

    But everything we know about the cross, about Jesus’ Passion, is known from the perspective of a community that has experienced the shock and disorientation of his resurrection. The entire NT is written from that perspective, and all Christian experience and theological reflection from that time to this flows from it. The NT is an attempt at reorientation and reintegration in the aftermath of that shock, and the succeeding aftershocks that have followed it for 2000 years have formed all authentic Christian worship, living, experiencing and thinking. The experience of Jesus’ resurrection is the place from which the cross is interpreted, and known as a doxological and theological reality; the resurrection reveals the meaning of the cross.

    • Robert F says:

      I should’ve said that his resurrection reveals the meaningfulness of Jesus’ cross. The exact meaning of the Jesus’ cross is something that the church has debated and continues to debate, as the discussion in the last week here at iMonk illustrates. But without the resurrection, we would have no memory of Jesus’ cross; it would be just one more anonymous and forgotten cross, among all the other anonymous and forgotten crosses and torments erected from the beginning of humanity.

  3. turnsalso says:

    Tokah, Dana, Mule, your input?

    • Dana Ames says:

      Are you asking how FR compares with EOrthodoxy?

      So much of what she writes is very good. From reading the excerpts here and on Jesus Creed, I don’t get the sense that she has taken in much, if any, of the eastern Christian view. But, seeing the Cross and Resurrection as one movement is thoroughly eastern. When we speak of The Passion or Pascha, we mean exactly both as one, although, as Robert F expressed, EO sees the meaningfulness of the Crucifixion given by the Resurrection. FR is right to emphasize the historicity of both, and the interpretation by the early Christians of **everything** through that lens.

      There are differences. The major one I’ve seen so far may be the aspect of the Resurrection as vindication. I haven’t picked up anything from the EO liturgical poetry that stresses this; the emphasis far and away is the defeat of death, which is our main problem in turning away from God, the source of life. That’s probably because of the difference in the view of the Cross – in the west, the penal aspect is attached so strongly that vindication/acceptance of the sacrifice by the Father is logical. The sacrificial aspect is definitely there in the east, but it is more with the understanding that Jesus did everything – as a human – that humans are supposed to do as humans vis-a-vis relating to God, most importantly offering God and trusting him with our whole lives, even unto death. That’s a big part of Recapitulation. “The acceptance of the sacrifice” is pretty much treated as a given.

      “It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed.” That is probably the most important similarity – hang on to that with all your might.

      I will be interested to know if/how FR discusses the meaning of the cross not only as an historical even, but also as an ongoing aspect of a Christian’s life in Christ, and what that looks like – not simply as an idea or concept to which we assent mentally and adjust ourselves psychologically, but how that is actually worked out in life.

      Dana

  4. William Martin says:

    Even before the world was set. All of who Christ was and is, is in God always. Praise God and His I will. For me it is impossible but with Christ…….The God of all in His glory made and set these things to His favor for goodness sake.

    Lord have mercy on us and help us into a love as deep as we are able here. Especially myself who struggles so at times it seems. All of everything points to a time in time where You were and still are as You are here. Living Stone rejected come. I ask with all I have, come.

    My name is W……Cindy”s brother

    • Hey, Bill. Are you okay?

      • William Martin says:

        I have been better. Enough said. Seems I really don’t like drinking after all. I am sure that no thing can separate me from the love i have in Christ and the hope I have had since he whispered in my ear I have saved you and I love you. I wonder of this wrath thing though. He sat and fashioned a whip as I would say deep in thought. It seems to be jealous for our affections more so to me. Even Ananias and Sapphira ( probably got that wrong) were witnesses to the awesomeness of our God. The place in the temple occupied was for the Gentile of the land to come and worship, it certainly wasn’t money. After all the cattle on a 1000 hills.

        I have been so filled with the Holy Ghost that I was sure if He didn’t pull back I would be consumed. I asked Him to please pull back or I would be gone. Something I am sorry for to this day. I would never ask that again. Consuming fire. These opposites are or seem to be from our side. Feelings not to be trusted always but still the same they were given us as they are with Him. Pure gift…………all pure gift. How hard at times to accept it. Even death is pure gift. It will be then I will be born again. I so hope to see you all there and I so mean that. Oh an Dana the cats are doing fine so far they so keep me grounded.

        • Yeah, I’ve been better too. But ditto with worse. This one seems like maybe my last chance to get it right and I have high hopes. Last night I got up in the night after a day of constant infuriating critter complaints and demands, and stepped in a puddle of cat puke, let the dog out for the twentieth time, then had to put on boots to go out in the snowstorm and drag him in from the befuddlement of the neighbor’s dog in heat. Absolute last straw, yelled and screamed at the top of my lungs for five minutes, took me two hours to get back to sleep. Feel better today, both critters still alive, both giving me a much needed break, probably understood the yelling was the alternative to their murder. I don’t need any lessons on feeling down in the mouth for Holy Week right now, thank you just the same.

          Back in the early 80’s I had a dream/vision when everything in my life was falling apart. I found myself hanging on to the end of a rope in a dense fog blowing by. Gradually I realized that the other end of the rope wasn’t anchored to some unknown point up in the fog like a sky hook, the other end was being held by Jesus and he was swinging me around and around him in a big circle. Everything else was gone, just me, Jesus, the rope, and the fog. That’s pretty much how it is today, except now I already know what’s happening.

          Doesn’t make it easy but does make it doable. What’s different now is that I understand that person hanging on to the rope in desperation and despair isn’t the real me, it’s someone difficult and demanding that I have been given to take care of, same as with my old dog and old cat. These days I call it my ego but it has different names and many disguises. For most of my life I thought that was me, and that basic confusion has caused a constant, ongoing, repeating pattern of struggle and defeat and despair.

          No more. The pattern is still there, it had 70 years to solidify and petrify, it is not going gentle into that good night. But it is going, or at least as much as I can accomplish and learn in whatever time I have left. In a nutshell I am slowly learning to move my identity from this star-crossed, self-centered, battered child of the world to that of a child of God. Not some kind of mental manipulation or psychological trick, they are two different people, and as I learn to move my location of living from my head to my heart, sometimes called the mind of Christ, the difference becomes more and more obvious. That’s my ego out in the yard in the middle of the night in a snowstorm sniffing the wind for pheromones, and then yelling and screaming over the frustration of it all.

          Enough! I wish someone had pulled my coat when I was 14. Not a chance. I wish I had finally figured this out by the time I hit 50. Talk about a late bloomer. Well, as they say, better late than never. I am figuring on about 15 years left to get this down as best I can, tho obviously I could leave the planet before I finish this sentence. Nope, not yet. I am finding myself more and more isolated with fewer and fewer people walking this road, and the body gets more decrepit year by year. Sort of like hanging on to the end of a rope in a dense fog. I know who’s on the other end, that’s all that matters. I can do this.

          • William Martin says:

            Pure gift is the hardest to accept for someone who had pride beat into him from a roughneck. My earthly father whom I will always deeply love as much as anyone ever could. Repping out 405 on bench in my forties probably didn’t help my I can do it thing. Well I can just not by myself. I understand the fog thing and loneliness. I do both really well. God had to kill them to clothe us. How sad. I love them so much I haven’t missed the mountain feeding in more years than I can remember now. My friends. I understand not one sparrow. have it painted on my walls by an artist. If it were at all possible we could or maybe should meet. I am not afraid. i will remember you tonight before I set off to try and sleep. Many times through the past year you have been in my thoughts word smith. I think and have always wanted to do a daily devotional but I am so limited in my preparation for such a thing. Old construction worker I am who didn’t pay close attention in English barely passing high school and only because of an old rough neck who said he would kick my ass there everyday till I did. He meant it. Let’s go deeper and find peace this season and love on the one who loves us. Moistening my desk top again…peace….. whm308@comcast.net 308 is not a caliber but a verse in Isaiah.

          • Blessings Bill.

          • Robert F says:

            God be with you both, Bill and Charles.

          • William Martin says:

            God Dr. and Robert. You add to me…thnak you

          • William Martin says:

            Good Dr. typing gremlins attributed to foggy eyes and moistened cheeks on this day.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Bill,

      Glad to see you. You’re in the prayers of many here.

      Lord, grant repose and remission of sins to your servant, Cindy, and grant her rest in a place of verdure and light, and memory eternal.

      Hugs to you, pets to the kitties-

      Dana

  5. David Cornwell says:

    Thanks for guidance to this book. I have not read it, but will place an order very soon. While checking out comments on the book I came across the following by Scott McKnight:

    In this amazingly complex but clear book Fleming Rutledge goes deftly where few seem willing to go — to the variety of imaginations shaping early Christian explorations of the significance of Jesus’ death. She is one of the few theologians who not only preach inclusivism but practice it by inviting all points of view into the discussion.

    I think this is supremely important. To speak as if we understand and know everything about what the cross means is folly. We need to hear from all: what scripture says to us; and what the Church has discussed, discerned, and decided through the ages. Then, in the contemporary Church, to hear and prayerfully contemporise that meaning for today’s generations. And to get beyond the folly of thinking that someone who sees it differently is silly.

  6. I never know which anecdote to believe:

    -The church spends way too much time on the death of Christ. You hardly hear about the resurrection.
    -The church spends way too much time on the life of Christ. What really mattered was the crucifixion.
    -The church spends way too much time on the death/resurrection of Christ and the consequences of the afterlife. What really matters was his life.

    • Yeah, I think I’m with ya. And my guess is Jesus is doing a face-palm.

    • >>What really matters was his life.

      Yeah, Sean, I hear ya. I think I would tweak your last statement to “What really matters IS his life.” Anyway, I’ll pick door number three. Truth to tell, they probably all open up into the same room.

    • What Rutledge would say is: It all matters, but the cross is central. The cross was the culmination of a life of laying himself down for others. The resurrection was the vindication of the one who was executed on the cross.

      Therefore, the cross is central. What makes the Christian faith unique is not only that Jesus died and rose again, but that he died the death of a rejected criminal and was exonerated in the resurrection. The cross is central — and intriguing — because of the kind of death Jesus died and from which he was raised.

      Under his reign, we who follow him do so by trusting God and living out this same sacrificial love (with the possibility that the world may likewise reject us), knowing that in the end we too will be “justified.”

      As Paul says, “The life I now live in the flesh, I live within the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The cross-shaped life is the Jesus-shaped life.

      • Good words. I don’t at all disagree with the post, rather just wondering out loud about the “contemporary church” foundation — it seems much to be too much of a vague non-sequitur which writers wheel out at their convenience in order to lay any type of conclusion on top of.

        I’m just picking at nits really. I plan on reading this book, after seeing it engaged here and on Scot McKnight’s blog.

  7. Randy Thompson says:

    I am near the half way point in FR’s book. It is indeed excellent. If you’re thinking about getting it, go for it!
    And, pay attention to the footnotes; some of them are golden.

  8. This is where a plug for the church calendar comes in. It allows the community to celebrate and balance all aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry. I remember the most face-palm moment in church was at a reformed baptist church that tried to be more lectionary-y and had a Good Friday service…that ended with “and he didn’t stay dead!” Epic fail.

  9. >>“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” When this happens, we may have spirituality, but we do not have Christianity.

    I’m not going to dismiss this book on the basis of this quote, but these days if this statement was all I had to go on, I would respond, could you tell me some more about this “spirituality”, please. I’ve been reading about Chalcedon, the so called council(s) in the 400’s that gave us the vile Athanasian Creed, and eventually the Holy Roman Empire and the Inquisition. Huge numbers of Eastern Christians were anathematized and abandoned to perdition and ethnic cleansing over the centuries, probably amounting to millions of sincere believers, and it’s still playing out today.

    Most of the often violent arguments on both sides were over things that I would call adiaphora, indifferent things, things that don’t matter, things you can hold a personal opinion on without breaking fellowship of losing your salvation. Not so the people of that time, and apparently not so today. I am increasingly losing patience with the morass of intellectual Christian theology as argued over from the Church Fathers on down to these pages today.

    I don’t pretend to understand all that took place and depended on the execution of Jesus of Nazareth. It did not seem to make much difference to his disciples at the time other than devastating them. I think it probably made a great deal of difference to Adam and Noah and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and David and a host of others who had been held in captivity. I expect to them words like “salvation” and “redemption” were not just religious platitudes for intellectual assent.

    But that is all a done deal. It is right and proper to remember the sacrifice of our Lord and honor it in this special time, but I fail to see how my belief as to what actually took place behind the scenes can make much difference as to what actually did take place nearly two thousand years ago or now for that matter. What does make a real difference is whether or not I today follow in the footsteps of Jesus in picking up my own cross at the expense of what feels like my very life. I don’t need to intellectualize this, I need to do it. I’m thinking that spending inordinate time trying to fit this turning point of history into one or another systematic theology may be a convenient way of avoiding that picking up of the cross ourselves that Jesus laid out for us, which might be understandable in human terms, but I would hardly call it a matter of indifference.