By Kevin Diller | Faculty Contributor
Spiritual renewal talks this week brought us helpful and often poignant reminders of the preeminence of Christ in and for all things. Through Jesus, God is "loving us to life," and there can be no compartmentalization-our being enlivened to God informs all aspects of life in this world. I particularly appreciated the vision of eternal life as dynamic and ongoing growth in our capacity to know and enjoy God.
But these talks also raised an important question about the nature of Christ's preeminence. In what way should we view the lordship, dominion and glory of Christ? What are they really like?
It is possible to have a split view of Jesus and therefore of God himself. Some suggest that on Christ's first trip to earth he was mostly meek, mild and forgiving; but on the second trip there will be no mercy. One might conclude that God has opposing sides: love vs. wrath, mercy vs. justice.
Difficulty in resolving this tension has sometimes led the church to present a confused picture. On the one hand, there is the grace of the crucified God-on the other the condemnation of the glorious conquering king.
The culture war mentality of the religious right has included a confusing mixed message of grace and condemnation. And still to this day, the message of much of the Evangelical church to the world has been grace for sinners alongside (sometimes rather selective) condemnation of moral depravity. We heard this message very strongly at times during the spiritual renewal talks.
Luther is well known for his theologia crucis (theology of the cross): the view that all of our thinking about God should be filtered through the clearest point of the revelation of God, the incarnation and particularly the cross. He worries about a theologia gloriae (theology of glory), which reasons from what we as humans would expect from a sovereign judge. Like the zealots who anticipated the Messiah would come in military dominance, this theological lens gives a different picture of God than is expressed in Philippians 2. The glory, mercy, condemnation and love all come together in the humility and suffering of God at the cross.
It seems to me that if the church of this generation is to have any hope of helping a watching world see the true Christ, it must adopt a theology of the cross. What if the community of those striving to follow Jesus became known for its posture of self-sacrificing love and solidarity with those suffering? What if it were clearer that-even in our moral judgements-what the church wants most is to point others to the transforming love of God that has found us and seeks to "love all to life"?
I understand the worry that emphasizing the love of God will dilute the need for repentance and moral transformation. But surely it is the very love of God that underscores the motivation for repentance and transformation (Rom 2:4). All the church's politicking and public moral denouncements do not bring repentance and moral transformation-in painful irony, I believe they often instead risk obscuring the centrality of the cross. We should at least have grace with each other in working through the difficult question of when to speak out publicly. Silence certainly does not make one a moral relativist. And when we do speak, it must be with great humility and openness to having our own views refined-acknowledging the preeminence of Christ.
The preeminence of Christ in Colossians 1:20 is not one of domination, but rather a preeminence for costly reconciliation: "Through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
(For more good thoughts on how a theology of the cross could inform our political engagement, see Mark Noll's Adding Cross to Crown: The Political Significance of Christ's Passion.)