Reading World History from the Theology of the Cross

Onward and upward is the hope of any and every people group no matter how large or small. Human betterment is an obvious and understandable goal for all to aspire to. The church too sends out missionaries and other workers to aid in such betterment. Sometimes we’re even tempted to believe it might just happen! And in certain ways and places it has.

Yet even as the church engages in such work for human betterment, we (should) live by a theology of ministry that follows Jesus’ own pattern of engagement – a cruciform, or cross-centered, pattern. His resurrection validated and vindicated this cruciform pattern of life for Jesus’ followers between his ascension and return.

And that’s where the rub comes for many of us. We seem to think that Jesus’ victory through his resurrection means that his followers in history will (or should) be victorious too. That is, we believe the church should be

-a cultural power,
-a moral exemplar and judge, and
-a major contributor to human betterment,

Individually, we expect much the same. We expect we will be

-reputable and respectable people,
-successful strivers against sin, and
-beacons or wisdom for human living.

This approach has been dubbed a “theology of glory.” Here victory is present and evident in our life in the world in at least enough measure for us to see and others to notice. Some expect the world to progress to better and better. But those who don’t nevertheless tend to expect the church will be as described above.

One could make many responses to this scenario. The one I want to focus on here is the church being minted follower in the pattern of Jesus’ own cross-centered engagement with the world. We have not thought well or hard enough about this by and large. What might it mean for us to engage our world the way Jesus’ did?

-we will like him find our most appropriate “home” among the last and the least and the lost. We may become one with the “deplorables” and disrespectful. In other words, a favorite of our current president, the “losers.”

-we experience the victory of Jesus’ resurrection as a losing of our lives (sometimes literally) for Jesus’ sake. The church father Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs was the seedbed of the church. The Greek word martyr means witness and suggests that our witness will provoke resistance rather than being received as wisdom for human living or betterment.

-though we may share in making some inroads in working for human betterment in the world, we will “win” the world for God through sharing in Jesus’ death in hope of resurrection beyond what we can hope or imagine.

It is, of course, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who has in the modern world (along with MLK, Jr., Oscar Romero and a host of others) embodied such a “theology of the cross” or “Discipleship for Losers” for us to examine and emulate. I will leave it to you to pursue their examples. I will leave you with 
the conviction Bonhoeffer articulated and lived: faith is the sharing in God’s sufferings in the world.
And that’s our victory cry in the world.  As the hymn “Lift High the Cross” puts it:

So shall our song of triumph ever be:
praise to the Crucified for victory!                                                                                                                                          Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.

So we do not read our world’s history as a story of ever greater progress and betterment. Nor as a “tale told by an idiot” that bears no meaning. Rather, it is those who bear the cross of Jesus, sharing in God’s own sufferings in world, and give their lives, reputations, ambitions, resources, and everything they have for the life of the world God loves to the uttermost that bear its meaning and hope.


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