Too Much Life

Daniel honoured my ponderings about the prominence of ‘the cross’ in his fourth chapter by blogging further about the problem of cruciformity in Pauline ethics and ours. I have a few brief comments about our discussion, but I will keep them short because I didn’t sleep very well last night, and I will probably make even less sense than usual.
First, I re-emphasise that I have no objection to the axiom that we mustn’t let our theologia crucis be suppressed in favour of a theologia gloriæ. I am not ashamed of the gospel; lift high the cross! Cross, cross, cross. All okay by me.
My hesitation involves situations wherein the sound exposition of Pauline theology (and Michael Gorman’s Cruciformity and Apostle of the Crucified Lord are two of my favourites, which I’ve assigned in classes for years) entails such an emphasis on the cross that it may no longer be evident that ‘the cross’ isn’t by itself the vehicle of our redemption. One of the virtues of narrative theology lies in its appropriate, important insight that moments in the story don’t do the whole work of the story itself. Specifically, in this case, the cross (perhaps more precisely ‘the way of the cross’) matters for disciples in conjunction with what led to it (faithfulness in action, regardless of how appreciatively that faithfulness is received — whether with acclaim from the crowds, or with persecution, torture, and execution at the hands of Roman power), and it matters in conjunction with what came after (the revelation that God’s power for life is so great that death cannot prevail over it). So it may be that ‘the cross’ and ‘cruciformity’ function suitably as shorthand for the whole story, but capsule summaries don’t substitute for the defining narratives of our identities. We want to keep an eye on our short cuts, lest we fall into the error of mistaking the short cut for the Way.
But that word of caution contains what may be my response to myself and to Daniel. I noted his attention to, and he reaffirmed, the daunting dangers of ‘successful’ ministries; humility, in its evangelically healthful mode, not in the feigned humbleness of Uriah Heep or the culturally-mediated self-abnegation that scars the souls of many of our neighbours, characterises faithfulness to the Jesus who set his face to go where he would be least popular, where rancour against him was most concentrated, where he may well (without supernatural foresight) have anticipated the most hostile of receptions. Faithfulness tarries not to cultivate fame, nor avoids facing opposition (nor seeks suffering, nor refuses truthful praise); faithfulness follows where the Way leads.
There will be no short cut to discerning whether our course is unduly influenced by craving for approval, or by ineradicable shame. Again, short cuts aren’t the gospel. But the steadfastness that sustains faith through ups and downs, whatever the (im)balance of those circumstances, bespeaks the character of Jesus, and even of that gospel-mad Paul (whether you love him or not).
Anyway, thanks for the good read and the worthwhile conversation, Daniel!

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