A couple of days ago Michael Bird wrote what I take to be the most important post I’ve seen in a long time. It’s titled “Living the Victorious Christian Life?” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/euangelion/2017/05/living-victorious-christian-life/). It’s a no-holds-barred, no-quarter given expression of that “not much loved” tradition (Moltmann) of the theology of the cross. Scrubbed free of sentimentality and false expectations (“Does it mean having sin conquered, success in your ministries, a fruitful spiritual life, healthy relationships, onward and upward all the time?”), Bird takes the cross as the “means and model” of victory in the Christian life and then claims that “victory looks like defeat, it feels like despair, and it smells like death.” He follows with a litany a la 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 closing with a echo of Leonard Cohen that “Victory is a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.”
In the midst of all this living for God that “doesn’t look like victory . . . doesn’t feel like victory . . . doesn’t smell like victory,” God wins the victory through us. Calling to mind Jesus’ example, Bird concludes, “If you think victory looks like a ticker-tape parade, steady success, your best life now, then I do not hold high hopes for the longevity of your spiritual journey. But if you believe that victory looks like the cross, that it feels like defeat, that resembles being downtrodden, then you know that when you are wounded, despairing, and powerlessness, that God is still bringing his victory . . . You want a life or a ministry of victory, I suggest you pray that your back is strong enough to bear it.”
We have long needed a harsh dose of reality about what living for God entails in a world like the one we live in. Kudos to Bird for having the courage to do it for us. Yet, I fear he leaves us with only an imitatio Christi or an imitation of Paul as the rationale for what he asserts. He does claim it is God’s work in us that he seeks to clarify and set forth. Yet there is a startling omission – the resurrection!
All that Bird says about living for God is true, and we need to hear it. Yet what makes such a life possible, not to mention bearable, is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That’s what makes the cross potent and fruitful as a way of life reflecting God’s love to the world. Bird doe mention the atonement as Christ’s victory for us but makes little of that afterward.
Paul, on the other hand, as Bird certainly knows, bases everything on the resurrection. The baptismal exposition he gives in Romans 6:1-4 is characteristic – we die and are buried with Christ in and under the water. Then we rise to new life with Christ emerging from the water. That new life, which is what Bird so clearly expounds, the life of the cross, is possible only because of Jesus’ resurrection. The theology of the cross is only livable because it is the form of the victory of the risen Jesus for those who follow him in a “cold and broken hallelujah” kind of world. In other words, the cross is only possible as a mode of living because of the resurrection just as the death of Jesus needed the resurrection to make it a “good” Friday.
I wish Bird had been clearer about this in his post. It would make it all the more powerful and convincing.