Friday, December 23, 2011

The Offense of the Cross and Christ's Triumph

There is a tendency of some to favor an approach to the cross as solely Christus Victor in order to avoid the  offensiveness of the cross. Some seek to avoid their own personal offense to substitutionary atonement. Others think that they can avoid the offensiveness that culture and the world might have to "barbaric" notice of penal substitution.

The bottom line is that wherever hearts are in rebellion to God and Jesus you cannot avoid the offense of the cross. Christus Victor will be just an offensive. So to twist and dodge one aspect of the atonement or to seek to pivot from one aspect in order to play up another aspect will not truly evade the overall offensiveness people have with the cross and subsequent triumph of Jesus.

That is to say, there is a right way to bring Christus Victor and penal substitution into balance in the atonement. I think penal substitution is more basic and is first order for salvation, but the outworking of Christ's death for his people in their place (1 Cor. 15:1-4, Gal. 3:10-13; Col. 2:14) will bring out this aspect of Christ's death as victory (Col. 2:15) and his resurrection/exaltation as triumph (Eph. 1:18-23). It is this proclamation of triumph that is offensive. That Jesus actually achieves something that is effective by going to the cross is bothersome to the world. They like a Jesus who dies, but they do not like a Jesus who is subsequently raised up so that every knee must bow (Phil. 2:9-11).

Nowhere was this offense of Jesus' exaltation and triumph more obvious to me than in Michael Bird's latest posts. Check out the comments here, the response from a modern pagan blogger here, and the comments in Bird's response here.

Central to the gospel fulfillment in Christ are some of these OT psalms:

Psalm 110:1  The LORD says to my Lord:  “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” 2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies! 
Psalm 8:2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. ... 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 
Psalm 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;  the Lord holds them in derision. 5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,  and terrify them in his fury, saying, 6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” 7  I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 9       You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 
This verses are some of the most quoted in the New Testament and central to inaugurated eschatology that the work of Christ usher's in. God sets up his kingdom in the exaltation of Jesus Christ. Of course, the kingdom is won by Jesus' death and resurrection. Part of Jesus' ministry in saving people is God transferring them from the rebel kingdom to the kingdom of His Son (Col. 1:13-14). Redemption and reconciliation to former enemies is a central tenant to God establishing his kingdom. But equally some enemies are triumphed over by the exaltation even though they never receive redemption. Rival gods are shown to be not-gods--this is central to the eschatology incipient in Isaiah 40-66 which the NT fulfills with the return of YHWH to Zion themes, the Suffering Servant and the inaugurated New Creation.

The point is that the inbreaking of YWHH into his creation entails the overthrowing of all kingdoms that set themselves up as rivals. The other kingdoms will find this offensive. To think you can remove the offense of the gospel by going light on the cross and skipping to resurrection and exaltation is silly. These too are just as offensive. In the Old Testament people did not like finding out their gods were not gods when God thwarted them. This is what Jesus does.

People do not like finding out that their wisdom is foolishness--but this is precisely what the cross does (1 Cor. 1:18-31).

You cannot minimize Christianity conflict and triumph without de-godding God or de-Lording the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is not to say that Christians triumph is by military might--no, our triumph comes in the end but in the here and now we carrying the cross of Christ. But we are to be faithful witnesses, martyrs. Whenever we testify that Jesus is Lord we are implicitly proclaim Caesar is not, pagan gods are not, every other system of 'this world' will be brought into submission of the Kingdom of God or it will be removed. Christ will reign in the midst of his enemies until the last one--death itself--is brought under his feet.

Christianity is a victory unlike any other--victory comes by God hand as the Son of God humbles himself unto death--Christians likewise are to humble themselves. But Christ will be the victor yet--that is what Christus Victor proclaims and that too is a grave offense, an affront to those who want to win their way on their terms.

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