Confessing Christ Bloggers
Aug 13

Written by: Richard L. Floyd
8/13/2008 1:18 PM

4. The critics don’t take Jesus’ Jewishness seriously enough. When we look at the cross theologically we must keep before us that it is Christ who died for our sins, not just any man, but the Jewish messiah. The pre-Markan kerygma behind the New Testament is a thoroughly Jewish interpretation of the death and resurrection of Jesus. That is why the New Testament has so many echoes from the Old Testament.

Crucifixions were a commonplace in the ancient Roman world, but the significance of this particular cross was the claim that it was God's anointed who suffered and died. It was their own traditions that allowed these Jews to understand Jesus’ death as an atoning sacrificial death. For example, one of our earliest pericopes is 1 Cor. 15: 3ff where Paul rehearses the gospel that had been handed down to him that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.” And the reason it could be understood thus was because the scriptures contained stories such as the binding of Isaac in Gen. 22, the description of a suffering servant in the Servant Psalms in Isaiah, especially Isaiah 53, and passages like Psalm 22, which has Jesus’ words from the cross, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me? Without this Jewish context the cross is hard to understand properly.

5. The critics don’t take the Trinity seriously. Hans Frei's definition of doctrines as “conceptual redescriptions of the biblical narrative” well describes the later Trinitarian understanding of the whole Christ event and its emphasis on the inter–dependence of the divine persons. Jesus' experience of being abandoned by God, in which he endures the condition of the sinner before God, can be viewed as arising from a Trinitarian act in history, an act to which the Father intentionally sent him and which in obedience Jesus accepted. The cross is, therefore, a Trinitarian act of mutual consent in love between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.

This goes a long way to countering the charge that the cross is a symbol of violence, exploitation or even child abuse. A unitarian God who requires the sacrifice of the human Jesus is problematic, to say the least, but if we understand the obedient death of the Son as in some real sense a loving act in which it is God who dies for us, we move away from many problems.

The critics also say that substitutionary atonement means God is punishing Jesus. P. T. Forsyth made an important distinction here. He says the cross is penal, in that Jesus, though innocent, voluntarily takes on the sentence that we deserve. So the cross is penal, but it is not punishment, since Jesus is innocent. So why would the Father punish him? How could the Father punish the Son, with whom he is always well pleased.”? (Forsyth)

Princeton theologian George Hunsinger, whose commitment to non-violence is well known, said this about the critics of the cross in an interview: “They're bringing an alien framework of judgment to bear upon this. No one in the patristic period ever understood the cross as sanctioning violence and abuse. Nor did poor Anselm in the middle ages, who often has to take it in the neck for these things. I think that there are some fundamental problems in the way Anselm went about this question in Why God Became Human, but they're not at this level. You actually put the question a bit wrongly, I think, as far as these recent critics are concerned. It's an innocent human being that is tortured to death by a vindictive father in heaven. There is no Trinitarian frame for this, but there is certainly a Trinitarian frame in Anselm. This whole transaction occurs for him with inner Trinitarian consent. This is divine suffering for the sake of a larger good. The Father suffers as much as the Son in the power of the Spirit in Anselm, if we read him fairly and in the spirit of what he is offering. God's redemptive suffering is undergone in love for the sake of the world.”(PTR Interview)

5. The critics have too limited a canon. Like Marcion, the second century heretic who made up his own canon, Luke is their favorite Gospel. Marcion had one Gospel and ten letters of Paul and no Old Testament. The critics of the cross share his love for Luke, but not for Paul, who (after God the Father) is their chief villain, for his cross-centered Gospel. We all have favorite Gospels, and I love Luke as much as the next person, but the thickness of the biblical story is partly a result of the richness and complexity of the canon.

6. Finally, the critics have an inadequate eschatology of the cross. Again we must understand the cross within the framework of Second Temple Jewish monotheism, with its energetic eschatological expectations. The God of Israel was expected to act in the future. Second Isaiah, for example, expects a new exodus, which will show decisively God's identity as creator and ruler of all things. The first Christians, who had experienced this new exodus in Jesus, understood that God was continuing the story, and “a new narrative of God's acts becomes definitive for his identity.” (Bauckham, God Crucified, p 71.) The God who acted in the Exodus had now acted again in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

When the church included Jesus, a human being, humiliated and exalted, into the identity of God, they were saying something radically new about the identity of God. In the dying and rising of Jesus, God had done a new thing that could only be adequately described in the language of Old Testament eschatology. It was the restoration from exile, the new creation, the healing of the rift between God and Israel and more. The titulus that Pilate put over Jesus' head on the cross read, “King of the Jews.” Who could the king of the Jews be other than the messiah of God? Meant by Pilate as irony, the church could see the truth of it in light of their new faith that in Jesus Christ God had once again acted decisively as expected.

Copyright ©2008 Richard Floyd

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