Love and Liberation in the Cross of Christ

I’m continuing to work my way through Gorman’s Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross as well as some feminist responses to theologies of the cross.  It’s been a great benefit to have some really great comments on my last post (Kenosis, Cruciformity, and Feminism) so thank you all for joining in the conversation!

I wanted to share an excerpt from Cruciformity in which Gorman argues that we cannot and need not “liberate the cross from Paul” (p. 376n.21) as some theologians have sought to do. Gorman writes,

Paul’s understanding of the cross does not focus on substitution demanded by a vindictive God but on the love and freedom of both God and Christ that liberates humans from oppressive powers. While it is true that Paul inherits and accepts a sacrificial and even substitutionary understanding of the death of Christ, he places his own emphasis elsewhere. In particular, Paul is concerned to show that Christ’s death is an act of God’s love and of Christ’s love, and that Christ accepted his death voluntarily–even if obediently. He was not the passive recipient of punishment but the initiator of an act of love… God’s sending of Christ was not experienced by Paul fundamentally as an act of violence but as a gift of love for enemies and willful sinners who were simultaneously victims of the evil they embraced.

Paul, then, is not concerned about the details of how atonement occurs, but about the motivation of love behind and in the death, and about the effects of the act of love. It reconciles people to God as it defeats the powers of sin and death, thereby inaugurating a new age–the new age–in which hate and violence have no place. (p. 376)

Gorman notes that his intention is not to downplay “the function of the cross as God’s mans of atonement” but rather his “concern is to stress that Paul does no know a vindictive God but a loving one.” (p. 376n.21) Amen to that!

This focus on motivation and effect is vividly evident in 2 Corinthians 5 in which Paul emphasizes how God demonstrates the initiatory nature of love by willingly taking the first step towards reconciliation–in this the love of God is magnified. The God of Paul’s gospel is the God who loves his creation and is eager to reconcile creation to himself. This passage stands as a loving and necessary rebuke to those who mantra is ‘God hates you’.

I’ve been reading on the atonement (namely, violence and the atonement) for another class and it’s interesting (and helpful!) to see some overlap between my topics of study.  It just goes to show how interconnected and interdependent the different topics and -ologies of the Christian faith are. How we think abut one things affects how we think about another… and so on. And yet, there is so much mystery!

Stay tuned for more thoughts on cruciformity and feminism. My paper is due in two weeks!

Love Takes The First Steps

I have a short exegetical essay (on a passage of our choosing) due next month for my Paul class. After some deliberation, I have chosen one of my favorite Pauline passages: 2 Corinthians 5.16-21.  I am very interested in the topic of reconciliation and how Paul uses the language of reconciliation to describe the gospel, as well as how we should relate to others–especially within the church.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts in the coming weeks as I search the depths of these wonderfully puzzling six verses, but until then I leave you with some great words from the “golden mouthed” saint:

Can you see how great God’s love is for us? Who was the offended party? He was. Who took the first steps toward reconciliation? He did. Some will say that he sent the Son in his place, but this is a misunderstanding. Christ did not come apart from the Father who sent him. They were both involved together in the work of reconciliation.

Chrysostom, Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 11.5 (from Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, 1-2 Corinthians)