What's up with this?

Another older book that I find myself going over time and again is Douglas John Hall's classic, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. It stands on its own while also serving as an excellent synthesis of his three volume life' work: Thinking the Faith, Professing the Faith and Confessing the Faith. As Hall does so well, this book explores what a "theology of the cross" might mean for North Americans in the 21st century?

After reviewing the origins of this theology in the work of Luther - and sharing a critique of how it has always been a minority report within the Protestant church at best - he then posses a series of questions about what it might mean for people of Christian faith to embrace the radical servanthood of the Cross. Specifically, he writes:

For centuries theology has maintained that the true marks of the church are the four that are named in the Nicene Creed: "one, holy, chatholic and apostolic church" (unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity.) Each of these notae ecclesia can find some biblical basis, but not of them can claim a fraction of the attention paid to the theme of the church's suffering in these sacred writings. They are all latecomers on the scene of Christian ecclesiology. The earliest and most prominent manner of discerning the rue true and distinguishing it from false claims to christian identity was to observe the nature and extent of the suffering experienced by the community of faith.

Why? Because, of course, as Paul makes clear... if you claim to be a disciple of the crucified one you must expect to participate in his sufferings; if you preach a theology of the cross, you will have to become a community of the cross. Anything else would represent a kind of hypocrisy.... It is only within the last sixty or seventy years - and only among a minority - that there has been any serious attempt to come to terms with this persistent theme of the Scriptures
(pp. 140-141)

What I have found - as a straight, white man of the American middle class - is a way to wrestle with the insights that the various theologies of liberation have exposed and participate in the with solidarity and integrity. In a word, Hall makes clear that the calling of all of God's people is to "represent God's way and will among the inhabitants of the earth (knowing) that they will suffer in their pursuit of this vocation." Challenging the theology of glory long celebrated by dominant culture, he writes:

Theologies of glory have been productive of soteriologies that can seem to bring closure to the human predicament: eternal life in place of death and fate; forgiveness in place of preoccupation with guilt. But no theology of glory will be able to bring closure to the question, "what are people for?" For that anxiety, the only answer that will suffice is the participation in our lives of a God who shares the question, whose Presence gives us the courage to hope (and I would add: act!)

As Jan Nolton of Yale Divinity School has recently observed: the way of the Cross - and the testimony of Jesus in Gethsemane - offer us an alternative to either apathy or panic in the face of our fears and anxieties. "Jesus showed the disciples how to feel fear and vulnerability" without falling asleep, dulling ourselves into oblivion or reacting with exaggerated terror. (see Reflections: The Fire Next Time, YDS, Spring 2009) As I pray over how to be present with those who have lost their hope and jobs...

+ as I try to stay with loved ones whose hearts and bodies are breaking in the most staggering ways...

+ when I try to discern how to be a presence of hope in the political conversations of this day - from deeper US involvement in Afghanistan to ways of bringing balance to the Supreme Court'

... this emerging theology of the Cross is making more and more sense.


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