Saturday 23 March 2013

Victory as Failure, a Cross as a Springboard

I have to thank Peter Ould for providing this link to a Giles Fraser piece on the Cross, "Cheesus" and evangelicalism. It may not be a co-incidence that Giles Fraser refers to Rowan Atkinson's woeful sketch on Comic Relief as being "too close to comfort". Most of us thought it too unfunny for words.

But like Peter Ould, the thing that really takes me is the statement that "....the cross of Good Friday is actually celebrated as a moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate."

No, it's not.

The cross of Good Friday is the symbol of a massive victory. It's where all the temptations to rule the cheap way, to call in the angel army, to call on Daddy to help, to go off and have a quiet life, to settle down and have a family somewhere that Jesus won't upset the authorities, to rule by conquest not by submission, are beaten. It's where the charges laid against us are nailed to the cross with the accusation above Jesus' head, and are ripped up. It's where the Devil finds that there is one human being - in our whole, failing, falling, weakened race - that will never give up, never give in, never let go.

Of course, the Cross is also a moment of failure. It's when the powers and authorities laugh and the bullies have had their day, and the snivelling cowards have bought themselves some time before the next Messiah turns up and threatens the peace again. But it is the moment when God fails like us, that shows God is truly with us. When Jesus asks God why he has forsaken him, he is absolutely where we start out. If some evangelicals have cheesy grins because they like to give a cheesy impression, others have those grins because they know, when they got as low as they could have got, there was someone else down there, despairing with them, and lifting them out. If God can die, all the ancient myths have found their completion - and all the seeds the Spirit has scattered through history have seen fruition.

And as Peter Ould points out, we don't see the Cross as a failure because we know that it doesn't stand alone. The Cross is the gateway to Hell for Jesus, as he storms down to set the captives free - as the Devil realises that he's really let the wrong bloke in this time. The Cross is the launchpad for the Resurrection, and beyond that the Ascension. It doesn't point to the sky for no reason - it's the first stage in our humanity being lifted up to heaven.

Some failure, sure. But what a victory.


  1. That GF is getting grumpier and grumpier. Does he think that Evangelicals are only worth considering if they've had some personal tragedy befall them? It's just nonsense. And as for the rubbish RA sketch, was he watching the same one as me?

  2. Has GF never read "The Dream of the Rood"? "The the young hero - it was God Almighty - strong and steadfast, stripped himself for battle"

  3. Not worthy of GF who can quite often write some real sense. Christus Victor is one of the oldest understandings of the atonement, dating back to the Church Fathers and long predating Evangelicalism. GF must have studied it at college!

  4. This is brilliant on Good Friday, thank you.

    As for Giles F - I was reminded of the farewell piece he wrote in the Church Times a few weeks ago, 'Goodbye - I am letting anger drop' where he says

    "The Occupy thing obviously continues to haunt me; and I will probably remain bruised about all of that to my dying day. Watching the new man being made Archbishop at St Paul's brought much of it back - and I had been preparing this week to write something that expressed some of that emotion. It was then that I realised clearly that it was time for me to go.

    Sometimes you have to let the anger drop, if only for your own sanity. It's time for fresh fields and pastures new"

    Perhaps he's still working out the anger he feels. I found his piece simplistic and unpleasantly disdainful of other Christians, but I can identify all too well with the pain of losing a ministry. Maybe his disdain for the 'success' of HTB - which he seems to feel is merely a matter of good PR - is understandable into the context of the Occupy saga when he may feel he very publicly failed - and was failed by others - in all sorts of ways.

  5. Blogged something similar myself - obviously he forgot about Christus Victor theology dominating the West for 1,000 years until "I can't get no" Anselm came up with satisfaction theory. The thing that I found equally unpleasant was the rather back-handed insinuation about Justin Welby being of the cheesus persuasion too.

  6. Couldn't help but smile when I said this as part of the Palm Sunday long preface today:

    "The power of the life-giving cross reveals the judgement that has come upon the world and the triumph of Christ crucified."

    So the C of E is theologically illiterate? actually he might have a point there...


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