Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

The Cross as Foundation for the Ministry of Reconciliation: Ending Violence in Our Endangered Globe

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

The Cross as Foundation for the Ministry of Reconciliation: Ending Violence in Our Endangered Globe

Article excerpt

  From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;
  even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know
  him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new
  creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become
  new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through
  Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is,
  in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself', not counting
  their trespasses against them, and entrusting the ministry of
  reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since
  God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf
  of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to
  be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become die
  righteousness of God.

  2 Corinthians 5:16-21 (emphasis added)

We live in an age of endemic violence: domestic violence in the home, violent crime on the streets, terrorist violence against innocents, and military violence between nations. In many instances people and nations would resort to violence as the first response in dealing with serious disputes. In the United States, there is a deeply ingrained and widely disseminated "myth of redemptive violence" that sees violence as the first resort for addressing intractable conflicts. (1)

In a violent world, where do Christians locate themselves in relationship to the Prince of Peace who proclaimed, "Blessed are the peacemakers" (Mart 5:9) and "Love your enemies" (Matt 5:44)? Dare we believe that the cross of Jesus Christ is sufficient to accomplish the reconciliation which Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 5? Can the cross really make a difference in relationship to the political, socio-economic, and interreligious conflicts faced by the church and society in our time?

Atonement in the Bible

While the New Testament is emphatic about the significance of the cross for God's work of salvation, some voices in contemporary theology articulate skepticism about the usefulness of the cross for dealing with the problem of violence in our world. For example, some critics see nothing redemptive about the suffering of an innocent man on the cross, rejecting sacrificial atonement as a kind of "divine child abuse" by the Father against the Son. (2) In other quarters of New Testament research, primary attention has been devoted to a recovery of the teachings of Jesus apart from a coherent interpretation of his death and resurrection. Furthermore, the meaning of the cross is radically contested by Muslim in that in principle do not allow for the death of God's Son on the cross. To set aside the centrality of the cross, however, eviscerates the central event in God's mission to the world as testified in the New Testament (Col 1:19-20). How can the church reclaim the significance of the cross for the ministry of reconciliation in our violent age?

Recall the multiple metaphors employed to describe the work of atonement in the Bible and, specifically, the meaning of the cross in the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, atonement referred to the removal of guilt by the ritual action of sacrifice. (3) On the Day of Atonement, for example, two goats were involved in the ritual removal or sin from the people (Leviticus 16). One goat was sacrificed and the other driven into the wilderness. The sacrificed goat worked atonement by the sprinkling of blood. By Living hands upon the head of other goat, the priest transferred the people's iniquity to the scapegoat before it was driven into the wilderness.

The New Testament gives rise to atonement thinking as the early Christian writers sought to articulate the meaning of Jesus' death. In one of the earliest formulas, Paul wrote: "Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3). Depending on the writer, context, and audience, the cross is variously interpreted in the New Testament as sacrifice (Rom 5:8-9, Heb 2:17), redemption (Eph 1:7, 1 Pet 1:18-19), victory over evil powers (John 12:31-32, Col 2:14-15), revelation (John 3:16, Mk 15:39), and reconciliation (Rom 5:10, Col 1:20). …

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