theological reflections at the intersection of (my) perception with reality
Friday, May 9, 2008
Was God Mad at Jesus? On Moltmann, Feminist and Evangelical Christology
In my Christology class last week we discussed the theory of the atonement (in short: the meaning of the death of Jesus and its connection to our salvation). It has become rather popular in contemporary contextual theologies (e.g. some Feminist theologies) to dismiss any essential relation between God and the death of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross. Some have characterized atonement theories that incorporate God's intentionality in Golgotha and the crucifixion as "divine child abuse." It is inconceivable, some argue, that the God of love would subject God's own child to suffering and death to fulfill some higher purpose (e.g. to satisfy God's justice and procure salvation for humanity). If God is a non-violent God, then surely redemption would not be based on a violent act.
Jurgen Moltmann offers a hopeful alternative to the feminist critique of classical theism, without surrendering the traditional intuition that the death of Jesus was no surprise to God. In so doing, he upholds the mysterious, baffling, and inherently paradoxical nature of the Golgotha narrative. There are no easy answers here. God's hands do not appear sparkling clean. Neither, though, are there hints of the distant, immutable, impassible, heartless, disciplinarian Father God to which Feminist Christology rightly objects. Rather, God the Father suffers in and with the suffering of the Son. He suffers as the Father to the Son who hangs stretched in pain on the cross. He grieves as the Father of Israel for whom the Messiah dies, innocently but ignobly. There is nothing but paradox and agony here, and the only thing that holds the life of God together through the death of Christ is the empowering, enduring love of God in the Spirit.
As Moltman puts it:
"When Christian theologians do not accept what Jesus suffered from God, they are like Job's friends, not like Job himself. The contradiction between the Sonship of God and the forsakenness by God is a contradiction that cannot be resolved, either by reducing the divine Sonship or by failing to take the forsakenness seriously." (The Way of Jesus Christ).
Evangelicals would do well to unite aspects of Moltmann's trinitarian, narrative theology with the satisfaction atonement theories they hold so convictionally and, at some core level, rightly. It would allow the shape of the atonement presentation to listen and heed (to a degree) the critiques of feminist christologies without relinquishing the important insight that God's whole reality and life is implicated by the historical, universal and eschatological moment of the cross and resurrection.
I'm a theology professor at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, MN. I teach about Kierkegaard and postmodernity, theology and contemporary culture, the doctrine of salvation, theological perspectives on evil and suffering, and contemporary issues in the person and work of Christ. I enjoying cracking the mysteries of "Lost" with my beautiful wife, Sara.