Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Theology of the Cross for the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

The Theology of the Cross for the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

The Theology of the Cross for the Twenty-First Century, Edited by Alberto L. Garcia and A. R. Victor Raj. St. Louis: Concordia, 2002, 254 pp., $15.99 paper.

In today's therapeutic culture, unbelievers and even some Christians find the cross less important than techniques of personal growth and empowerment. Narcissism and consumerism fuel a "theology of glory," where human beings try to make themselves acceptable to God or to be gods themselves. Especially in The Heidelberg Disputation, Luther rejects this man-made theology in favor of a theology of the cross. The current volume, edited by Alberto Garcia and Victor Raj, is unique in showing how an authentically cruciform perspective transforms a wide variety of contemporary issues facing evangelists and missionaries.

The volume contains thirteen essays arranged into three sections. The first and foundational section shows how the theology of the cross provides signposts for contemporary witness. The second section locates the cross in the prevailing worldviews of East Asia, the Islamic Crescent, India, Africa, and post-Marxist Russia. The last section applies a cruciform perspective to America's multi-cultural reality, addressing the Hispanic and African-American experience, the bioethical revolution, postmodernism, and the New Age movement. This review selects several of these essays for comment.

Alberto Garcia's foundational essay does an excellent job of explicating four key links between Luther's theology of the cross and effective Christian witness in a global context. First, the cross is countercultural. An effective witness is aware of how his or her biases get in the way of the gospel. To suggest that the gospel is Western (or Eastern) is to replace a heavenly message with cultural idolatry. As Garcia rightly notes, such idolatry obscures the true "vulnerability of the cross." We must begin with a recognition that all cultures are vitiated with sin and fall short of the glory of God. We do not have a division between sick cultures and doctor cultures; in C. S. Lewis's phrase, we are "fellow patients in the same hospital." second, the cross is incarnational. Although God's word can never be reduced to a culture, it stands in solidarity with all cultures: "It is a call to call worthy those who are despised or considered unworthy because of our human pride and idols of power" (p. 23). However, we are called not only to speak, but to live the word. As Luther so colorfully put it, "one becomes a theologian by living, by dying, by being damned" (p. 24). Third, the cross is eschatological: "The key to Luther's understanding of the atonement is that he finds God decisively loving us for all times in the person of Jesus Christ" (p. 28) so that we know our sickness and suffering has a final end in glory. Fourth, the cross is sacramental, the basis for a common life: we are not called to witness only as individual to individual, but to draw people into the body of Christ. These four themes are taken up and developed by other contributors throughout the volume.

Robert A. KoIb provides a careful examination of Paul's theology of the cross and its practical implications. First, the cross reveals who God really is. KoIb emphasizes the paradox that God is a resident alien. God is an alien who "comes from outside our experience" but also a resident who "bridges the gaps constructed by every individual and society between themselves and their Creator" and "makes Himself and His people at home in every culture because they all belong to Him" (p. 42). second, the cross is the means by which people know God. The cross signifies that it is not through mental constructions that we come to know God, but through what God has done for us (p. 46). Third, the cross reveals who God's people are. God's people are dead people marked by a new life. "Dead, having a life hidden with Christ, they will put to death every kind of disruptive behavior" (p. 49). Fourth, the new life leads to actions of love: we help and suffer for and with our neighbor without any illusions that this saves us because we know this has all been accomplished on the cross. …

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