The Cross-Centered Bible for a Cross-Centered God

The Cross-Centered Bible for a Cross-Centered God May 5, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 5.35.23 PMI begin as I did Wednesday.

If Christ is the incarnation of God, and if that means Who Christ is should shape our view of Who God is, what’s next? Greg Boyd, in The Crucifixion of the Warrior God, contends that the center of the center is the cross. So the question becomes How central is the cross to your view of Christ? And if the cross is central, the implication is clear: the cross determines our understanding of Who God is. Which means, we need a cruci-centric understanding of God, what God is doing, and on how to read the Bible.

This is the deep logic of Boyd’s book. God is seen in Christ, and Christ is seen in the Cross, so therefore God is seen in the Cross. So the message of the Bible is cruciform.

The Bible is cross-centered.

Jesus says so:

. Not realizing they are talking to the resurrected Lord, these two disciples express their disillusionment and bewilderment over his crucifixion (Luke 24:19-24). Jesus responds by rebuking them for being “slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (v. 25). Then, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (v. 27), which, more specifically, meant that he showed them that “the Messiah [had] to suffer these things and then enter his glory” (v. 26). 175

For example, reciting a traditional liturgy that he had received from others, Paul says that ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (l Cor 15:3).7 So too, while preaching to King Agrippa, Paul claims he is “saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen—that the Messiah would suffer …” (Acts 26:22-23). Peter included this point in his preaching as well, telling a crowd that in Christ “God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer” (Acts 3:18, cf. 3:22). 176

His actions were cruciform:

For example, Jesus rebelled against social norms by the dignified way he served, interacted with, and even touched lepers as well as other “unclean” people (e.g., Matt 8:1-3, 9:20-22,10:8,11:5, 26:6). So too, Jesus humbly served and engaged with the poor, the oppressed, people with infirmities (who were generally deemed to be afflicted by God), and women—even women with shameful pasts (e.g., Matt 9:27-34; Luke 7:38-50, 18:35-42; John 4:4-38). 183

A brief pause: if the cross is the center of the Bible — the Bible is cruciform in theology — is not our view of God and all that God says and all that God does to be understood through a cruciform lens? Only in the cross does one come to terms completely with the revelation of God for our redemption. Only there.

What does this mean for reading the Bible? I continue with…

John says so:

Richard Bauckham highlights another way in which the centrality of the cross is expressed in John’s Gospel when he notes that the motif of the son of man being “lifted up” (John 3:13-14; 8:28; 12:32, 34) and the ‘I am” statements that allude to Jesus’s divine identity throughout this Gospel (John 6:20; 8:24, 26, 58; 13:19; 18:5-8) are anchored in a particular christological interpretation of Isaiah 53:13 in which Yahweh states that his servant “will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.’ 186

Paul says so:

As a matter of fact, the cross is so central to Paul’s understanding of the Gospel [small “g”, sic] that he sometimes equates “the Gospel” with “the message of the cross,” using the two phrases interchangeably (l Cor 1:17-18, 23).( Hence, to be an enemy of the Gospel is to be an enemy “of the cross’ (Phil 3:18). Similarly, whenever Paul mentions “Christ,” he has “Christ crucified” in mind, as Moltmann has observed, even when discussing Christ in his resurrected power.

So completely does the crucified Christ encompass everything pertaining to the Gospel for Paul that he could tell the Corinthians that he “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (l Cor 2:2). 193

The Rest of the NT says so:

In the passage that most scholars consider to be the interpretive key to this entire book (Rev 5:1-10), we learn that the only one who is worthy to ‘open the scroll”—reflecting the secret of God’s ways of governing the world and triumphing over evil—is the slaughtered (sphazo) little lamb (arnion) (Rev 5:2-5). 200

So too, the author emphasizes the fact that it was only by suffering that Jesus “learned obedience” (Heb 5:8), was made “perfect” (5:9), and became “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (5:9). 202

“If you suffer for doing good and you endure it,” he notes, “this is commendable before God, for to this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (l Pet 2:20-21, cf. 3:17-18). So too, Peter notes, “since Christ suffered in his body,” discipies should “arm [themselves] also with the same attitude” (l Pet 4:1). 203

Some will question this but this is what happens when the cross becomes the paradigm for Bible reading and behavior: The cross implies nonviolence because the cross absorbs the violence and undoes it:

We are specifically instructed to “bless,” “pray for,” “do good” to, ‘be merciful” toward, and to “lend to” our enemies “without expecting to get anything back” (Matt 5:44-45; Luke 6:28-29, 35). These are not inner dispositions; they are concrete behaviors. 208

The behavioral ramifications of cruciform love are also evident in Paul. As we saw above, in Romans 12 he instructs disciples to “bless” rather than “curse” those who persecute us (v. 14), to never “repay evil for evil” (v. 17) and to never “exact revenge” (v. 19). Instead, we are to ‘overcome evil with good” (v. 21) by feeding enemies when they are hungry and offering them something to drink when they are thirsty (v. 20). 209

Any reading then of the Bible that affirms violence, Boyd is saying, counters the revelation of God in Christ of the cross.

I do not dispute that our commitment to nonviolence in the face of the world’s massive injustice requires a confidence that God will carry out justice in the end. However, the assumption that this requires God to act in a noncruciform way by engaging in violence is problematic, for at least three reasons. First, I will later argue that as with every other aspect of our theology, our conception of God’s “wrath” must be anchored in the cross (vol. 2, ch. 15). … Second, we saw above that Jesus predicates his command to love indiscriminately and to refrain from all violence not on pragmatic or strategic grounds but on the fact that this alone reflects the character of the Father. … . And this is also why Jesus, who is the one perfect expression of God’s very essence (Heb 1:3), refused to respond to his aggressors with violence and why he forbade others to do the same (Matt 26:51-53).

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