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Week One: Fifth Day

Introducing a Theology of the Cross

The word “theology” brings up strong feelings in some and is virtually unknown to others. The word has its origin in Greek: theos – meaning “god” and ology – meaning “study of.”

The ancient people understood that the study of God was more than just theorizing about some deity we can’t see. They were talking about the ultimate character of the universe that humans inhabit. They realized that human cultures both shaped and were shaped by their stories of God or gods. When that god is an authoritarian warrior who violently captures more and more territory, it is likely that the leaders of that culture will do the same. God-language for most of the ancient world described the universe, how human beings are to relate to each other, what kind of society to build, and how humans understand their role and purpose in that society. Whoever controls the narrative about God, then, has an enormous sway over that population to tilt people’s behavior toward their favor.

The Jewish tradition, according to many historians, was the first time that the idea of “god” was used not to maintain the status quo, but to overthrow it. In Exodus Chapter 3, God speaks to Moses and sends him to free the people from slavery to the Egyptians. The conflict that follows is not a conflict between God the creator and Pharaoh. It is a conflict between two theologies, as Pharaoh was understood to be part-god. For the People of Israel, God is a “revolutionary God.” God takes every status quo and seeks to transform it to be more just and deeply peaceful.

The theology of the People of Israel was not, therefore, about a static God who blessed the way things are, but a God who led toward a better way to be human and to be human community. God is a revolutionary God.

In the time of Jesus, Augustus Caesar was understood to be the son of the god Apollo. This expressed their claim that the Roman occupation of other lands was not only due to the military power of Rome, but was also the will of the gods. You can’t fight city hall and the throne room of the universe!

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is claimed to be the Son of God. Born to a lower class family, this claim was meant to create a stark contrast between the ways of the God of Israel and the gods of the Romans: God works through the weak and powerless to overturn the way things are to create a new way for human beings to live, and live together.

At its root both Jewish and Christian theology is rooted in the practice of critiquing the current worldviews and cultural expressions and advocating for change. Just as our tradition understands that baptism means a life so deeply rooted in God’s love that we can go through a continual process of change, so our tradition advocates our participation in God’s healing and creating of the world.

Here is how we express this in TCC:

Theology is the practice of the critique of worldviews and how they form and deform human beings: we practice theology from the perspectives of the Jewish and Christian tradition.

Theology of the Cross:

First let’s talk about what we don’t mean by this: we do not mean some kind of atonement theory where God has to punish Jesus to be able to forgive us. (We do believe that we experience reconciliation with God in and through Jesus. But we don't believe that God is a child abuser who needs or benefits from violence.)

In the Lutheran tradition, we understand a theology of the cross to mean something like this: that God heals and creates the world not by brute force or power over people but by joining humans and human community in its darkness and pain and bringing new life precisely there.

We understand that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is not simply a one-time event, but rather expresses what God always does.

God seeks to honor the dignity of creation and the dignity and mystery of human beings by joining with us in our own vulnerability and in our own pain and darkness so that God can bring new life to us and to all creation.

Here is how we express our understanding of a theology of the cross

Because the earth is beautiful with its species, people and cultures yet broken with injustice and violence, God suffers with and brings new life and new ways of living together as revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.