Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Theology of the Cross

"The theology of the cross gives us a paradigm for witness, friendship, and support in the normal routines and in the emergencies of those around us. The Lord calls us into their lives to embody the Living Presence of his love. As Paul sketched his theology of the cross, above all in the first two chapters of his first epistle to the Corinthians, we see that this paradigm for Christian realism first of all defines who God is for us. He is not some hidden form, whose plans and counsels we can only dimly sense. The God hidden behind his own majesty and glory is a god shaped in our own image, as Feuerbach observed. The only God we know is the one whose righteousness-whose right way of being God-is revealed in the sacrificial love of the blood-drenched cross. The only God there is appears to us as the kid in the crib, the criminal on the cross, the corpse in the crypt. The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in the one who reconciles all things to himself by making peace through the blood of his very own cross (Col. 1:19-20).

Second, the paradigm of the cross defines who we are. We are those people who know ourselves only when we come to see that we are sinners, justifiably forsaken by God and utterly vulnerable to death. We see our reflection in the image of a dying incarnate God (Mark 15:34).

Third, the cross shows us the way back to life: through faith-alone! Neither empirical proof nor rational proof will place us in the hands of God; these epistemologies serve well on earth, but they place the object of our search for knowledge under the dominion of our own minds. God maintains his Lordship over our minds. He speaks his promise of life from the cross. This promise elicits and creates faith. God destroys the wisdom of the wise and thwarts the discernment of the discerning; he saves those who believe, through the proclamation of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1:18-25).

Fourth, the cruciform paradigm reveals how God restores life: by letting the law pay us the full wages our sinfulness has earned us (Rom. 6:23a), by burying us as sinners in Christ's tomb and thereby giving us life again as an absolutely free gift-genuine human life (Rom. 6:4, 23b).

Finally, the theology of the cross presents us with the way in which we live our lives in him. Our resurrected life as God's new instruments of righteousness is a life which bears crosses for others-for the sake of Christ (Matt. 16:24). We evaluate our success neither in terms of how many blessings we experience nor in terms of how much suffering we have endured. Rather, we find satisfaction in serving up the love of Christ to those who are thirsting for love, as God places them in our paths.

The theology of the cross directs us away from all attempts to speculate about God as he is hidden behind nature or the clouds of our imagination. The theology of the cross directs us to God in human flesh, God on the cross, God raised from the dead. To all the modern questions about what truth might be and what kind of claim truth might have on us, the God who is revealed in crib, cross, and crypt seizes us anew as we present him to those who have lost their way. We introduce our God on his cross. We witness to God revealed as Jesus, on the cross.

For people who are dissatisfied with their old identity, the cross helps explain why they do not 'feel good' about themselves. The theology of the cross helps us understand the fullness of what it means to be human, and thus how broken humanity is. The theology of the cross points us to the center of our humanity, our trust in Jesus Christ. From the foot of the cross we see how wrong we were-no matter how well we behaved-because we did not love and trust in Yahweh above all things. We witness to the God who calls us to trust him and who bestows our new identity in this trust.

For those who are seeking the right way of living and thrashing about for a new identity, the theology of the cross confirms what the disciples of psychologist Erik Eriksen all know. Successful human life begins by learning to trust, and trust accompanies those who can live at peace throughout the progression of their lives. The theology of the cross leads us to place our lives in God's hands, through the power of his Holy Spirit, rather than try to master life on our own terms. It helps us understand fully what the biblical writers mean when they say that those who are truly human-the just-do live, in fact, by faith. The theology of the cross also shows us how God restores the true identity of those whom he has called to be his children. He does that by taking us through the death of Christ into our own death as people who have fouled our own nests and have to live with the consequences of our sin. The theology of the cross leads us from our old life being crucified with Christ into a new life which is raised with him. We witness to new life for old, dying sinners by carrying people on the Lord's words to his cross.

The shape of that new life becomes clear through the theology of the cross. For those who have learned no boundaries and delight in finding sure boundaries through some kind of regulations of the law, the theology of the cross comes as a freeing word. It puts the whole world at our feet because the whole world is at our Lord's feet. And following the example of our Lord, we learn that we stoop to lift the world at our feet and hold it, with all its misery, in our arms. In modern America many people are searching for a formula for a satisfying and successful life. When the Lord says to us that we find that kind of life by taking up our cross, our initial reaction is surprise. Christians help one another to practice the kind of life that does not depend either on temporal success or temporal suffering but depends only on faithful following of the Lord into the lives of those who need us in the course of daily life.

Therefore, we come to hurting people with the word from the cross. For the prodigals whose broken lives seem beyond repair and who find no way out of their apostasy, despair can be broken by the theology of the cross. The light from the other side of Christ's tomb may again shine into their hearts through an evangelistic approach which grows out of this theology.

For those who hate themselves so much that they wish they were dead because they have been betrayed and exploited by others, or because they have failed to live up to their own understanding, Christian witness can give the gift of death to an old identity and a horrible past. The theology of the cross then gives witness to the gift of new life which replaces the wages paid by Christ's death.

For those who long for a new identity, or a new sense of security and safety in life, or a new meaning and feeling of worth for life, this death to the old way of living expressed in the theology of the cross will come as the life-bestowing breath of fresh air direct from Eden.

The theology of the cross is not only a good way of approaching the content of Scripture for study and learning. It also offers an analysis of human experience, and of God's way of dealing with the human experience, which provides power and insight for evangelistic witness. For the theology of the cross presents God's message for North Americans at the turn of the twenty-first century in a dynamic and meaningful way which will reshape their lives and give them the gift of faith in Christ Jesus. His dying and rising are the truth and the only way to life."

Robert Kolb, Is Anybody Home? What To Do When It Seems Like God Isn't There, Modern Reformation, July/August Vol. 6 No. 4 1997, pp. 14-17.


  1. In the book of Acts which records the first 30+ years of Church history, the Apostolic witness was focused on the resurrection of Jesus rather than the cross. Over this earliest period the Apostles seemed not to have developed a theology of the cross. They preached forgiveness, salvation and the new life from the vantage point of the resurrection. Their theology of the cross was a later development from their theology of the resurrection. New Testament witness is focused on the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection made all things new.

  2. Really?

    Paul disagrees, "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2).

    Let us be careful in making uninformed assumptions.

  3. The resurrection of Jesus gave the cross its meaning, not the other way around. Paul says if Christ was not raised from the dead we would still in our sins and our faith would have been in vain (1 Cor. 15:17).

  4. The meaning of the cross is not predicated upon the resurrection but upon the covenants that God established both within the Trinity and with man. The resurrection is the aftermath, the declaration that Christ's covenant-keeping and payment for the covenant-breaking of His people by His death has satisfied God's requirement of perfect obedience to His law and death for disobedience to the same Law. Therefore, the locus is in what Christ did to effect the result and not the result itself. Apostolic doctrine teaches us to look singularly to what Christ did on the cross for it is the cross that paved the way for our own resurrection.

    What is the power of God unto salvation according to Paul, the word of the resurrection? "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18).

    Paul boasts of what, the resurrection? "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 614).

    It seems Paul has refuted your claim once again.


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