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.


Brian said...

That's a good quote from Moltmann.

Joshua David Bau III said...

I finally found your blog!!!..A question that I do not necessarily have myself, but one that has been asked regarding the crucifixion is whether or not that particular death was necessary. I think we agree that the entire life, death and resurrection of Jesus in effect is inextricably connected to salvation not simply the death of Christ. But the question that has been circulating around me is whether or not any sort of death that Jesus suffered would have been salvific as well? Or to put it more simply, if Jesus had died of natural causes, like the measles before the crucifixion, would it still have been salvific. What are you thoughts on this?

peace K-Rob


Kyle A. Roberts said...

Hi Josh,

Excellent question. The question "would it still have been salvific" (if Jesus had died of the measles) requires the prior question, "what, exactly, was salvific about Jesus' death on the cross"? (e.g. was there something uniquely salvific about that way of dying?) I think it's best to think of salvation as a consequence, not so much of a particular way that Jesus died, as of the fact that the Son of God was incarnate in Jesus and suffered death--and, subsequently resurrection. Jesus was the "second Adam" for us, and thus by God uniting God-self to creation, and in particular, to the crown of creation in humanity (the image of God), Christ mediates salvation from "both sides" (God and humanity). So salvation may not "hinge" on the cross-death, but is a consequence of the incarnation, and the sacrificial death of Jesus. If Jesus had died of a disease, wouldn't that still have been, in a way, sacrificial? Philippians 2 tells us that Christ "emptied himself" and became a human being, and Hebrews reminds us (as do the synoptics) that this meant "becoming like us in all things..." including human weakness, perhaps susceptibility to disease, etc. That is a kind of sacrifice.

All that said, the cross-death, it seems to me, was the most profound way that Christ could have died a sacrificial death (the cross was the culmination of the covenant of God with Israel, and Christ, as our high priest, also became the sacrifice).

So, in sum, I would answer, both "yes and no." Christ could have died another way and it could have been salvific (he would have been resurrected by God after his death, no matter what kind of death it was), but there was a divine intentionality behind the cross-death that connected Jesus on the cross to the covenant scheme of sacrifice/atonement.

Ben Williams said...

Hi Kyle, I came via Tony Jones's blog.

Also a cruifixion was a slow death. Because at the "speed" that Jesus dies, it could be said that He "willed" Himself to die.

Carn-Dog said...

Hi, got here via Tony Jones' blog. I'm not a Calvinist, but I do think there is intentionality in the kind of death Jesus died. And hear this as a question, not a statement, but could it have been that the cross was the ideal politically subversive instrument of death? Said differently, maybe the cross and not measles because then Jesus' resurrection trumps not just death, but the death dealt him by the best the Roman government had. And the Roman Government functioning here as "the kingdom of the this world." Just a thought. I strike out a lot on these questions.

Ben Williams said...

Oh, here is the Wikipedia entry of the Max Ernst who did the wonderful painting that Kyle posted.

Kyle A. Roberts said...


That's a great point. The cross was "the best (or worst?) the Roman govt. had)." There was no cruder, no more humiliating death for its political opponents and threats. So Christ's resurrection subverted, not only the "principalities and powers" of the spiritual realm, but also the destructive and evil powers of human, political institutions. So Christ is "victor" through the cross-death in ways he wouldn't have been through dying by disease.


Thanks for the link to Ernst.