Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Cross: new religions, new theologies and the only difference in a pluralistic society 5

So to push this question of contextualization deeper, how, for instance, does one go about offering the gospel to Delores Williams who believes “People do not have to attach sacred validation to a bloody cross in order to be redeemed or to be Christians?” She is not asking the same questions that early Jews and Athenians were asking about God, nor is she seeking the same kind of answers the medieval scholastics were when they formulated their theories about atonement. (Picture of Warehouse Ministries in seventies ministering Jesus for the sake of rock fans and hippies. I am in the picture somewhere.)

We might start from her questions or even from her weaknesses. We would surely start from her position as one who is an advocate for the needs of Afro-American women, and as one who is concerned for those who are ancestors of slaves. Williams sees Afro-American women’s survival in the present, as well as the survival of those who were slaves, rooted in their strengths. She believes the cross, understood as sacrifice, harms her position. So she needs to see the cross as neither advocating for slavery nor wimpishness on the part of women. Nevertheless she still needs to see the cross as Christ's great sacrifice for sinners. She needs a clear picture of God’ holiness, humanity’s sin, and God’s redeeming love.

Paul the Apostle is an example of a Christian who proclaimed the Gospel contextually. In his preaching in Athens he appealed to his listeners using the words of some of their Greek poets. And he used the many gods they worshipped as an opener to speak of the gospel of Jesus Christ. (Acts 17:22-34) In 1Corinthians 9 verses 19 through 22 Paul speaks of becoming as a Jew, becoming as a Gentile, (those without law) and becoming weak for the sake of the weak, that he, “may by all means save some.” Paul, however, has not denied the Gospel here, he has not compromised the person of Jesus nor found fault with the atonement. Rather, he is avoiding offending their scruples that he might either bring them to Christ or if they are Christians “win them for greater strength.”25

But Paul is strong in his emphasis on the doctrines of the faith in particular the cross of Jesus Christ. In 1 Corinthians he writes, “For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the Wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24)

Jesus Christ, the one who is fully God and human, who died for us, who carries our sin away on Himself, who stands before God the Father for us, this is the great offer to the religions and cultures of our day. We must come in a spirit of humbleness and empathy, shedding any of our cultural layers that are contrary to the gospel and harmful to Christ’s message. But we cannot compromise the gospel; we must preach only that good news which is scriptural, the crucified and resurrected Christ.
Those in Christ stand before God robed in the righteousness of Christ enjoying and pleasing their creator because of the death of Christ on the cross. Those in the religious world, including those who call themselves Christians, who deny the cross of Christ, stand without, striving to encounter God, and sometimes accepting a doorway toward evil rather than the One who is the Truth, the Life and the Way. (John 14:6)

25 Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, revised version, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company 1996) 135-137.

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