It is once again time for a #progGOD challenge. Tony Jones called all us emergent-y types to write on the meaning and, potentially, necessity for the crucifixion. This time, he’s rewarding the person whose post gets the most likes, shares, and whatnot, so if you like what you read here, please, share it so I can get free books. You can read my other #progGOD posts here (nature of God) and here (incarnation).
Today is Ash Wednesday.
This is my first Ash Wednesday since I began practicing an active faith in which I will not be going to a church service. No, instead, Doug Pagitt (more likely, his wife) is going to make me tacos. For real. But, this is a very strange feeling for me. I don’t know if this is good or bad.
Similarly, I’m not sure if it is very timely or horribly inappropriate to write about the crucifixion today. We’re in the right season (sort of), but we’re also not. Lent is a process.
I’m going to go ahead and write anyway, if for no other reason than that Tony posted the challenge today.
First, I must begin with my atonement theology history.
I recall writing a paper roughly two years ago for a theological controversies class I was taking. The class was instructed to write on the nature of the atonement, based on a book our professor had written. This book contained expositions of four (really three) atonement theories: Ransom, Penal Substitutionary, Christus Victor, and Kaleidoscopic. I remember writing my paper and affirming the Kaleidoscopic theory, which claims a multifaceted understanding of the atonement, simply because none of the other three really seemed to accurately depict what I thought happened on the Cross.
Probably because there are many more major atonement theories than the three/four listed in that book. Talk about limited atonement (ba dum shhhh).
A few months later, I read Love Wins by Rob Bell. I had to rethink my atonement theology as a result. I came out basically agreeing that love does indeed win.
Last spring, I wrote my senior thesis on my emergent systematic theology, and had to rethink not just the atonement, but all the related theological issues. It was at this point that I rejected the idea of original sin.
I have since realized that, without original sin, there is no express cosmological need for the crucifixion (or the resurrection).
So then, if all this is to be assumed, Tony rightly begs the question–why a crucifixion?
If Jesus didn’t die to break some cosmological sin-curse, why did he have to die? Why couldn’t he have just “ascended” like Elijah (physics and historicity aside)? Why is this violence central to Christian theology?
I think this requires a quick reworking of the associative property:
- God is love.
- Jesus is God incarnate.
- Therefore, Jesus is love incarnate.
Ha. Mrs. Eldredge was right after all–I would need to use math in real life.
So, if Jesus is love incarnate, then the reason for his life is to spread and teach the ultimate αγάπη love. This is a radical movement on his behalf. While there might not be such a thing as original sin, we can think of sin as a disease that spreads throughout all humanity–namely, selfishness–and thus we can understand that we are all chronically, but not terminally, ill. Jesus is our great healer. His radical, completely selfless love is the means by which humanity is redeemed. He invites all creation in, even the sickest people, and loves them recklessly.
However, if this love is our medicine, it surely is not one that goes down easily.
Because this great love can move us to do wonderful and amazing things, but it can also make us furious, jealous, or even vengeful when we can’t seem to look past our own selfishness and let love abide. It is especially threatening to those of us with great privilege, as this love requires us to let go of the things that have given us power over others, power which we rather like.
So, forsaking humility, we take that love and we dominate it. We arrest it, strip it, scourge it, and mock it. We pin it down and nail it to a tree–where we can keep an eye on it and be assured it won’t get out. We starve it of food, drink, rest, even air. We push it to its breaking point. We let it die.
And the beautiful, yet incredibly terrible thing about this love is that it submits to it all.
This love chooses to die. Because if it chose not to, it would be going against its very nature and choosing self over others.
But do not let submission read as giving up. Because this love does nothing of the sort.
Beautifully and terribly, this love rises from the ashes. This love is so strong that not even the worst thing we can do to it can overcome it. Our very worst–the depths of our selfishness–are nothing in comparison to the depths of this love.
Tony asked why a crucifixion is necessary. Ontologically speaking, it isn’t. Even considering the pervasiveness of sin, it still isn’t necessary. But, presented with the choice between being crucified and saving himself, Jesus shows us why choosing the crucifixion is the only choice, and why the resurrection is the only possible outcome.
Because, dear friends, in the end, love wins.