7/11/2008 9:06 AM
My own view, influenced by my St Andrew’s tutor Richard Bauckham, is that the first Christians understood Jesus’ death from the beginning as an atoning, sacrificial death, and that was expressed in a pre-Markan kerygma that then shaped the Gospels. This view runs counter to the received liberal line that Paul created a soteriology missing from the earliest kerygma. Bauckham claims that the earliest Christology was the highest Christology.
I argued in my atonement book that ideas of sacrifice and substitution are both biblical and necessary to fully express the radical nature of this divine act of love. Now in the Evangelical camp this is widely accepted, and when I give my dog and pony show on the atonement in those circles, during the Q and A someone invariably says something like, “Yes! So!” Now there are various nuanced and sophisticated discussions in that world about the precise nature of the atonement. But I don’t have a horse in that race, because my more focused mission has been as a witness to the cross to the mainline, where the soteriological center of the Christian story is in danger of being lost. Gabe Fackre has taught us that we need to keep the whole story in view when we look at any part of it, and I think that is one of the problems that some of the critics of the cross have, in that they focus on the cross wrenched out of its larger narrative.
So while I am interested in theories of atonement, and want stronger rather than weaker arguments around the “what” of the cross, I want always to view it within the larger Christian story. So Jesus Christ who died on the cross “for us and for all humanity,” must be seen as the One who is “the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow,” and who, as the divine Word, was at the beginning of creation, and will be at the end, on the Day he comes to judge the living and the dead.
But let us be clear that the cross is not just any part of the Christian story, but the very center and climax. And by the cross I mean more than just Golgotha, but, like Paul, I use “the cross” as a kind of theological shorthand to describe the whole soteriological center of the story as shown in the life, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
In that story I see an act of God, who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, saving us from sin and death. Therefore, my view is that the work of Christ on the cross is constitutive for salvation and not merely illustrative of it. And it is this high view, with its lineage back to St. Anselm, which is particularly under attack from the critics of the cross.
Copyright ©2008 Richard Floyd