The Theology of the Cross Finds a Way

I had just finished my prep-work for our Youth Ministry Committee meeting that was set for this particular evening. Our task was to begin the process of crafting a vision statement for the ministry—one that would capture the direction we felt God was calling us to go with our Jr. High and High School programs, one that would inspire youth, parents, leaders, and staff alike. But now that everything was set and ready to go, I decided it was time to step away and change gears for a bit. I didn’t have long before I had to be back, but I wanted a change of scenery. So I went to the Starbucks around the corner, ordered my tall chai tea latte (go ahead espresso junkies, have your laugh), sat down, and cracked open my copy of Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God—completely unaware of how potentially jeopardizing this decision was for the future of my ministry (or at least for my job as the Youth Director at this particular church).

By Hans Olav Lien (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
I was in the second chapter, where Moltmann is busy dispelling all the pleasantries and ways that the cross tends to be prettied up and made palatable, coopted into an uplifting and self-affirming religious humanism. The cross, he argues, is an ugly thing. It is not uplifting or affirming (or if it is, it is only by way of its radical opposition to us and our idols, freeing us from ourselves and our delusions). Fundamentally though, the cross contradicts “all conceptions of the righteousness, beauty and morality of [human beings],” and “everything [human beings] have ever conceived, desired and sought to be assured of by the term ‘God’” (46-47).

Quoting H.J. Iwand, Moltmann affirms that coming to terms with the cross means coming to terms with the fact that our faith begins with “…the triumph of death, the enemy, the non-church, the lawless state, the blasphemer, the soldiers. Here Satan triumphs over God. Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must be at an end…with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt” (44-45).

About half-way through my latte, I paused to consider what a youth ministry vision statement inspired by this chapter in The Crucified God might look like. Pages 49-50 seemed like they would help me sum it up well:
By Emőke Dénes (kindly granted by the author)
[CC BY-SA 2.5],
via Wikimedia Commons
“Following the way of the cross, our youth ministry will not be ‘positive and constructive,’ but ‘critical and destructive.’ It will not bring students into a better harmony with themselves and with their environments, ‘but into contradiction with [themselves] and [their] environment[s].’ It will ‘not create a home for [students] and integrate [them] into society, but [will make them] homeless and rootless,” and in doing so will set them ‘free from their cultural illusions, releasing them from the involvements which blind them, and confronting them with the truth of their existence and their society.’”
In the end I decided against pushing for this kind of Crucified-God-style vision statement (in other words, I do still have a job). I justified myself to myself (hmm, sh*#) saying: “now Alex, remember, this vision statement doesn’t exist to enshrine your own present theological emphases.” And after all, I didn’t want to run off all the students and their families (remembering Moltmann’s warning on p. 47 that this might happen).

However, if I may adapt the words of the great Dr. Ian Malcolm: the theology of the cross will not be contained; it breaks free, expands into new territories, crashes through barriers, painfully, and hopefully pastorally (and within the broader framework of a theology of hope); yet, when all is said and done, the theology of the cross finds a way.


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Thanks for another great post, Alex. Perhaps you made a wise career choice.

But, with all due respect, don't you think The Crucified God calls for something stronger than a chai latte? ;-)
Alex DeMarco said…
Thanks Scott! I have to admit, you're probably right about the drink choice. A shot of whisky would have been more fitting--the kind from the dusty old bottle down in the well, that burns on the way down, and wants to come right back up. But you know pagan Starbucks, all roses and no cross.
Looks like there are some good options here (if you click through to the third page of the gallery).
Anonymous said…
I am again reading "Crucified God." I was 3 inches away from using it in my dissertation in dialogue with C.S. Lewis. You captured this with poignancy. As someone who did a decade of youth ministry, a Crucified-God approach could be an answer to the consumer model.

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