What is the Theology of the Cross? – A 500 Word Primer

The theology of the cross (ToC) is apocalyptic theology and resistance theology. It is apocalyptic theology (apocalypsis is Greek for “reveal” and “unveil”) in that it reveals God’s core nature as cruciform love—through the weakness of God on the cross—to human beings and unmasks the gods of civil religion to expose their beastly monstrosity. ToC is resistance theology in that it puts forth a lens and method by which we can follow the Lamb who was slain to oppose and subvert civil religion and its gods in the name and Spirit of Jesus’ cruciform solidarity with humanity.

The cross of Jesus is the centre of the world. Bonhoeffer states that the “meaning of history is tied up with an event which takes place in the depth and hiddenness of a man who ended on the cross. The meaning of history is found in the humiliated Christ.”

This earthly centre reflects the eternal centre—the Cruciform Word of the cosmos, the God of unfailing and everlasting love who created and sustains all existence. Only this resurrected God of the cross can renew all things, because only the concrete Spirit of Cruciform Love can heal what is broken and in decay in a world of pain and existential corruption.

“Only the consummate love of God is capable of encountering reality and overcoming it,” proclaimed Bonhoeffer.

The theology of the cross declares that God is found in the weakness of the cross, for that is how he specifically chose to reveal himself “in fullness” to human beings. ToC is opposed to the theology of glory, which falsely preaches that God is found in transcendence above a suffering world, and in the holy, powerful, prosperous and pure things of the world. In essence, it has a critical apocalyptic edge, for it is “a mode of comprehending the world and God’s actions within it,” states Robert Cady Saler, “but this comprehension has a critical edge aimed at resisting and dismantling the marriage between two kinds of arrogance: theology unchastened by the cross and a church that has located obedience to God’s will in earthly success rather than fidelity to the crucified Messiah.”

Understanding the theology of the cross and infusing it into mission is perhaps the most urgent task for the church if it is going to be a light in the darkness in this era of Donald Trump. For it stands in direct opposition to those who would locate “the things of God in the true, the good, and beautiful in such a way as to privilege that which is powerful and successful on earth,” writes Saler.

And this is the task of not only theology, but those who claim to follow the Lamb who was slain in this dangerous world we are now facing. For “when one speaks of the cross rightly,” Saler adds, “then it brings us into conflict with those principalities and powers that would use a ‘God of glory’ to give aid and comfort to structures of exploitation.”

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