I posed this question in my previous post and asked readers to respond in the comments,
Can you explain, “what the cross solves?” or “why do we need the cross?” or “how does a death solve anything?”, without using church language and the worldview you learned in Sunday school (language like “sin”)?
It’s harder than you think.
The defacto assumption within the church in the West is predicated on centuries of privilege. It assumes everyone, even non-churchgoers, know the stories. But society is changing. Presently, the fastest growing religious segment is no religion, they are the ‘nones’. Although they’re still a minority, that will soon change, and the majority in North America will have no religious background whatsoever. This presents a profound opportunity, (versus the doom and gloom narrative) since ‘nones’ tend to be areligious (neutral) and not against Christianity.
In an age of church disintegration, where there’s essentially decline clear across the board, the church as a whole must turn to the contextual habits of foreign missionaries to discern how we should respond in the here and now. However, although this is a necessary tactic, we have to address a deeper issue of theological bias (or ignorance).
When it comes to explaining faith, Christians tend to re-tell theological paradigms and not overarching narratives found in scripture. Christians are more keen to talk about their opinions of their religion, rather than tell the stories of Jesus and how he answers our human longings.
How would I go about explaining Easter, the cross, resurrection, sin, forgiveness, heaven, hell, and the rest, to someone without any church memory? I’ll share the long answer to flesh out my thinking. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Firstly, I believe that questions like, “why the cross,” and, “why did Jesus have to die, and, “how does a death solve sin,” cannot be fully explained. It’s not something you can solely understand in your head; it’s full of mystery and includes personal experience. Nonetheless, it still must make sense to everyone, faith or no-faith.
I believe there is a story about God and creation that makes sense AND appeal to fundamental longings all share. These longings point to a yearning to live out the fullness of our humanity. They are: justice (we care to right injustice); beauty (we are creators and restorers); hope (we all want to have purpose); and love. The dream to live out the fullness of our humanity, however, encounters problems. The biblical words would be idolatry or sin.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
What often gets in the way of our Gospel storytelling are long-held theological traditions. We hold theories of atonement, which is a fancy way to say opinions. That’s not to say theories are bad, but when we consider topics like the atonement, we must in the least consider how our theories fit into the whole. If a theory of the cross doesn’t make sense in light of the entire narrative of scripture, then it fails.
My own bias relies on a lens that uses the narrative of scripture as a whole to make sense of the small. To explain Easter we have to step back and go to the very beginning, where most of us part ways without much thought. But how you start will determine where you land in the end and in between.
In the beginning, God created….as the story goes. A few critical features: the cosmos has a Creator; the pinnacle of that creation is humanity, created in the image of the Creator; the purpose of creation is revealed/realized on the 7th-day. The climax of the story isn’t The Fall, rather, the rest on the 7th Day–the moment in time where we get a glimpse what God’s eternal hope for creation looks like.
A lot of theology is fundamentally based on Original Sin, how profane and screwed up you are. When you start your theology on this precedent, the remainder must lay on top of this foundation. The cross becomes the legal solution to appease the violence and justice God must met out on his creation that turned evil at the start.
I prefer to land on Original Goodness. I don’t discredit the disconnect and loss in the Garden, but I emphasize the critical features: we are created in the image of the creator–in the likeness of–to be image bearers.
We haven’t emerged beyond the first chapters yet we’ve hit a crucial junction: original depravity vs. original goodness. Which one does God speak to? One? The other? Both?
The former says we’re all depraved and need to be rescued from our depravity. The latter says we’re all human and need to be restored back to our humanity. (As an aside, the result of the depraved worldview over centuries is a Gospel of cruelty that looks more like secular conservatism than conservative Christianity.)
From there we leave The Garden, but the dream that God has for all humanity–for all of creation for that matter–never ceases. That dream is to put the world to rights and usher back an age glimpsed in the Garden.
To make a long story short there are covenants throughout the bible in an attempt to recapture this age. One in particular to Abraham is given, a blessing for a multitude. We then go back and forth throughout the stories. An Exodus, a Passover, a Deliverance, a Wandering, a Nation born to pick up and live out the same dream God has, all to try, forget and fail. Prophets, Kings, and more Kings, all fail too. Another Exile occurs and with it something different–a promise for a new King. The dream God was never honored by its bearers, and that was about to change.
Remember that disconnect in The Garden? Remember how humanity sat as the pinnacle of all creation yet somehow missed the mark in responding to God’s call for relationship? It seems as though we couldn’t finish the job on our own, that relationship and the dream God has was one we could never achieve by our own accord. The brokenness needed ultimate fixing, sin and Sin needed to be stripped of their power, and the greatest culmination these forces—death—needed to be defeated once and for all.
Why the cross?
The ultimate factor that separates us from recapturing the hope God has for us (not heaven in the clouds) was the greatest triumph of the Son—a plan that was in place all along. In humiliating fashion the Messiah was lead down the streets to Golgotha, clandestine midnight trials took place, an excruciating journey on the road to crucifixion, and then, up on the hilltop he committed his spirit and it was finished. But only for a second.
That moment the veil tore in the inner chamber signaled a cataclysmic shift. The world had changed. First, the powers both seen and unseen that disconnected humanity from living the fullness of our calling had been (and are) defeated. Second, the promise God made to Abraham, entrusted to Israel, and finally realized by the work of Jesus, was made good. From the cross to the empty tomb, light triumphed over darkness inaugurating a new age—the age when God’s dream, the same one glimpsed in that Garden, became real for all. A dream that remains constant: return back to the unwavering want to reconcile creation back to the hope found in the Garden. Not the Garden itself, it’s been lost, but the New Garden in the New City—New Heaven and New Earth.
The cross is the answer to the human story, where we find the possibility to live out our fullest dreams while beating all of the trash in our lives. It’s connected to the unchanging dream that God has had since the beginning of time. That dream, to put it simply, started with a hope for humanity to live out their full potential, yet wasn’t available in full, because nobody had lived it out (and beaten the evil) until Jesus arrives.
All of the powers and forces, both seen and unseen, that work against God’s dream for us, (fullness of our humanity), are ultimately confronted at the cross. The cross is the place where all the things that hold us back, all of the disconnect, your own self trying to solve the suffering in your life, the power of evil, ARE BEAT. The cross is the literal moment God demonstrates once and for all that the powers that works against us, everything we call evil, can be defeated.
How would I explain the cross
How would I explain the cross and what it does? There are human longings we all have, and we can chase them down in our own way, but we’re ultimately left incomplete. God’s dream, the unchanged hope for you and I, seeks to return us back to the fullness of our own humanity, to recapture an existence chasing justice, creating beauty, living out hope, and most of all giving and receiving love. Everything that holds us back from that purpose is taken and beaten by Jesus through the sacrifice (all good dreams take sacrifice) and ultimate resurrection. Your hope for the best life does stand alone, rather, you’re invited to be a part of a God’s dream that fills you to the very core of your being.
Jesus starts God’s dream for the best that continues to unravel today–one you’re invited to participate in. Your best dreams are found here.
Your thoughts and additions?