Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday

I have been reading Hilary of Poitiers and Gregory Nazianzen, both early church greats (Hilary in the West, and Gregory in the East).  What strikes me is the way each of these brothers are so completely consumed with the incarnation of the Father’s Son, and the anointed One.  Any, and every, hint of insult to the shocking union of Jesus with us in our fallen existence catches their quick scrutiny.  They never pretend to explain how this most beautiful union came to be; they simply defend it with a vengeance.  For both of these men, and for other great leaders of the early church—Irenaeus, Athanasius, Cyril, Basil, and Gregory of Nyssa, to name a few—the whole work of Christ is bound up with his union with us.  For me, this is the fundamental difference between the early church and us today in the ‘modern’ West.  Within the legal framework, which is normal to us, the incarnation gets a mere nod, as it is perceived as essential to having a pure sacrifice for the cross.  The incarnation, like the ascension of Jesus, is orthodox as we all know, but when is the last time you heard a sermon on the ascension, or on the incarnation for that matter?  For these men, however, the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus are all of a piece, all part of the same stunning act of the Father, Son and Spirit working to unite us as we are in our brokenness and sin with the trinitarian life.  What could be more beautiful?

It is here that my understanding of the crucifixion of Jesus has changed over the years.  As a young boy I was taught that Jesus suffered the wrath of his Father on the cross, the wrath that was intended for us—and I was to be grateful.  Such an interpretation made sense to my Western mind, but it never made sense to my heart.  When I read Athanasius over 35 years ago my heart heard another message, with a different God, and a different issue.  Some years later I heard the same message in T. F. Torrance, James Torrance, John McLeod Campbell, Thomas Erskine, George MacDonald, and C. S. Lewis, and not least Karl Barth.  Without being too complicated let me say that how we frame the problem that Jesus came to ‘fix,’ or what we assume about the problem, determines the way we interpret what happened on the cross. 

In the modern West, generally speaking, at least on the right, the problem is that God is holy and we have sinned.  Since God is holy; he cannot simply forgive us.  Thus, there must be some kind of satisfaction (Anselm) or punishment (penal substitution).  Hence, Jesus steps onto the scene of history as the pure, spotless lamb who gives himself to suffer the punishment due to fall on us as guilty sinners.  In this framework, and its extreme versions of a fiery, angry, furious God, Jesus suffers from his Father.  His sufferings are on our behalf and for our salvation, but the suffering is afflicted from his Father.  The cross, on this reading, is about satisfying the Father’s (rather different from the Son’s) holiness.

When I read the brothers mentioned earlier, the frame is different.  For them the fundamental issue is not ‘how can a just God forgive sinners’ or be legally satisfied to forgive (not to concede that penal substitution is forgiveness, for there is no forgiveness in this theory at all, only justice, and a non-relational, abstract justice at that).  For these brothers the question is ‘how can God unite himself with us in our fallen humanity.’
Anything less than this union—real, personal union between the Father’s Son and the anointed One with us as broken, sinful, shame-riddled sinners—is for these men unworthy of the word ‘salvation.’ For it leaves us outside of the divine life.  So the question is not so much as to the satisfaction of divine law as it is the uniting of the divine life with us in our death.  This distinction, to me, constitutes two different pair of glasses through which to read the story of Jesus’ death.  It may well be that both pair need to be honored, in some way, but at the moment I am simply contending that the ‘union’ pair be brought back into the conversation.  This perspective has been disastrously lost in the modern West.

The discussion comes to this: Is the cross about Jesus’ suffering wrath from his Father or about his suffering wrath from us?  If the goal is to satisfy his Father’s justice (leaving aside how this could possibly be different from his own) then the death of Jesus will be interpreted as his suffering the righteous wrath of his Father against sinners in our place.  If the goal is to unite himself with us as fallen sinners (and with his Father and the Holy Spirit in shared life) then the goal is to reach the real, sinful us.  And how does the Father’s Son, and the anointed One unite himself with us in our iniquity?  How does Jesus connect with us in our estrangement and alienation?  All four Gospels shout a straightforward, simple message.  He willfully submitted to our rejection.  We crucified Jesus.  Nothing could be more clear.  The wrath poured out on Calvary’s hill did not originate in the Father’s heart, or in the Holy Spirit’s, but in ours. It was the Jews and the Gentiles (us), not his Father or the Holy Spirit who mocked Jesus, ridiculed him, unjustly condemned him, beat him, and tortured him to death.  (See Matthew1:21, 23; 16:21; 17:12, 22, 23; 20:18-19, 28; 26:2-4, 45, (53) 59, 66; 27:1, 25-26, 31, 35, 46; Mark 8:31; 9:12, 31; 10:33-34, 45; 14:1, 11 (27) 41; 15:24-25; Luke 9:22, 44; 17:25; 18:31-33; 19:47; 20:13-17; 22:2, 53; 23:18-23, 33; John 16:32; 17:26; 18:35; 19:15-16, 18; Acts 7:52; Heb 12:3; 9:28; IPet 2:24; 3:18; Gal 3:13, not to mention the rest of Paul).

How does the blessed Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit find a way to unite themselves in their unutterable oneness and love and life with us in our iniquity, and sad, broken, hellish destitution (and what is ‘salvation’ without this union)?  This is the question, to me.  Anything less than this union (with the sinful us) may get us forensically ‘declared’ legally clean, perhaps, but the broken us is still outside of the abounding life of God.  What exactly is ‘salvation’ if it does not include our real place in the trinitarian life? 

The shocker, as Scripture is at pains to shout, is submission, divine submission—to us in our sin.  Far from being the place where he poured out his wrath on his beloved Son, the cross is about the human race pouring out our wrath on the beloved and anointed one.  And the cross is about the Father using our treachery as his way of finding us in our iniquity—in his union with Jesus—and accepting us as we are, embracing us, including us in his own relationship with his beloved.  Who saw this coming?  Yet what could be more obvious?  On this day millennia ago Jesus submitted himself to us in our loathsome pain, in our collusion with the dastardly one’s vile hatred of the blessed Trinity and of all things living and beautiful. We were trapped in the darkness of the evil one, lost to life in the Father’s arms, without light, life, and hope.  Jesus submitted his life to us, and we—in the madness of evil’s spin—crucified him.  He died in the arms of our disgust.  He bowed before humanity in our great darkness.  In his submission he made contact with Adam hiding in the bushes.  Therein he reached us, the real us.  Submitting to our diabolically schemed, murderous betrayal he found his way inside our iniquity—and he brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him—uniting all that he is as the Father’s beloved and faithful Son, and all that he is as the One anointed in the Holy Spirit with us in our sin.  This is the at-onement.  Jesus is the mercy seat, the place where heaven and all it contains meets all that we are as sinners in divine, inconceivable mercy.  This Jesus is real hope.  He is Good Friday.


Mike Rough said...

As usual, you're insights are wonderful and liberating! Thanks!

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

It was great to meet you brother. I look forward to seeing you again in June.

dan56198 said...

Thank God for truth being preached I thank God putting this message in your heart Baxter and hope to meet you someday.

Unknown said...

Again, there is much more than mere intellectual value in reading your posts Baxter.
Your passion for understanding the our inclusion is almost as great as your clear passion for embracing it is. Thank you for posting this blog.

Sharon said...

I am so moved reading this, thank you. Humbles me greatly and fills me with joy. And I am thinking greater upon the depth of Jesus' commandment to love each other as He loved us. Wow.

Bill Winn said...

Hey brotherman, I love this. I also love this quote from a Mississippi bass fisheman too, " The crucifixion of Jesus Chrsit- the Father's eternal Son incarnate, the One anointed in the Holy Spirit- involves the shocking submission of the blessed Trinity in him to us as sinners in our greatest iniquity as it took shape in the murdering tutelage of the father of lies."

Unknown said...

Gorgeous... Meat and Life and Love. Oh that we might see the Gospel for what it is. i love the portion where you talk about using all the sets of glasses to see the Good News. Surely the redemption bought for us through Christ Jesus, is more enormous than we can (yet) begin to imagine. OH HOW HE LOVES US!!! OH HOW HE LOVES US!!! OH HOW HE LOVES US!!!

Brad Harper said...

Wonderful thoughts. I really resonate with and appreciate them. I am a fan of keeping all the lenses, especially since greats like Cyril of Jerusalem and Athanasius speak of penal substitution. But the exclusivist domination of the legal view in the west since the Reformation has skewed our understanding of the relational aspects of the atonement. So glad we are pressing back into these aspects again. I look forward to meeting you in June and participating with you in the Open Table at Multnomah University.
All the Best,

Brad Harper, Ph.D.

C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D. said...

Thanks everyone and all for your comments. I shall slog on in trying to rid myself of the alien mind and its mythological projections. Brad, I cannot speak for Cyril of Jerusalem, but one is hard pressed to find post reformation penal substitution in Athanasius. He does, of course, use the word 'punishment' on occasion, but there is no hint of any kind of separation between the Father and the Son from the champion of the homoousion. I am sure we will have a large time at Multnomah. Blessings to all.

Anonymous said...

This idea of us crucifying Jesus is new to me and finally makes sense. I always saw Jesus as a whipping boy and that didn't make snese to me. However, I'm not understanding how Jesus's death allows Him to join to us. I'm pretty new to theology. Can you dumb it down for me? or suggest a book?


Todd said...

¡So! thankful for you, cBK, for helping me see Jesus work is IN us--not just a legal transaction performed Outside us. He has rewired Our minds--Not the Father's (whose mind has Always been "stuck" on us!)
!!!The "Personalizing Person" (from the place of joining us As We Are--Inside our darkest worst) brings us INto HIS LIFE in His Father, through the Spirit!!!

Bilbo said...

Hi Baxter,

I just read your book, Jesus and the Undoing of Adam. I enjoyed most of it, but I'm having some trouble with your view of what it means to be fallen. I find C.S. Lewis's description very helpful: Here.

I agree with you that in the Incarnation God unites with us in our sinful state, but then you seem to say here that the point of the Cross is to unite with us in our sinful state yet once again. But surely the point of the Cross is to unite with us in our death, so that we can be recreated and raised to new life in Messiah, isn't it? Our fallen nature must be put to death, and only then can we be made into a new creation in Messiah.

Bilbo said...

Perhaps an even better way to understand why we must be put to death is to see ourselves as

Bilbo said...

Hi Baxter,

There have been serious divisions among believers in a fellowship that I used to attend, part of it based on some people liking your teachings and others not liking it. I started a discussion group in the hope of resolving issues surrounding your views. After reading "Jesus and the Undoing of Adam" and some of your blog posts, including this one, I wrote this:

"... at this point in time, it seems very clear to me that the problem I have with Baxter Kruger's theology is his superficial understanding of human nature. In our fallen state we are by nature creatures who want to be our own gods. Even if we saw God as completely loving and accepting of us, we would still want to be our own gods. The only cure for our predicament is for us to die. God's judgment on us that we must die was God's mercy for us. He will not allow us to continue to exist in this demonic state. This fallen human nature must cease to exist. The good news of the Cross is that the Son has united with us in our death, so that He can recreate us into beings who do not want to be their own gods, but want God to be God. If the penal substitutionary theory of atonement is a stumbling block for you (as it is for me), feel free to cast it away. But until Baxter Kruger realizes that our problem is much worse than our anxiety about being accepted by God, and that the problem is that we are by nature creatures who want to be their own gods, he is offering only half a gospel. I like much of what he has to say, I understand why others enjoy reading him. But his theology needs correction."

One of the people who favors your teaching says that I have seriously misunderstood you. I have promised to re-read your book, continue reading your blog, and read any other of your books that he thinks will help me to better understand your position. But you could make this much easier simply by stating that I did misunderstand you, and that of course you believe that in our fallen state we are by nature creatures who want to be our own gods, and that our fallen natures must die before we can be created anew by Christ.

Bilbo said...

By "be our own gods" I mean that we want to set up on our own and be the most important thing in existence. To have a fallen nature is to have this desire naturally.

Anonymous said...

God is not dead! And neither is this…Baxters message of truth!

Anonymous said...

Dear Baxter, You talk about God's love so eloquently but you allow your right hand man Bruce Wauchope to try to convert demons, cause unbelievable damage to so many people & you do nothing about it! To be so deceived by this man means you are being blind & deceived terribly yourself! You talk the talk but you & many of your followers do not walk the walk! You say we are all included in the finished work of Christ & then you say people just have to come back into fellowship with Jesus. In this you are deceived! Jesus was the second Adam He did die for the whole human race but all of us have to choose to be in Christ. Adam & Eve chose autonomy & blatantly disobeyed God! Jesus has made a way for us to be with the magnificent Triune God forever in intimate fellowship, but we must choose Him! You say there will be no judgement but 14 times in the New Testament it speaks of Hell & the majority of these times they were said directly by Jesus! You need the whole of the Bible not just the few verses that you brain-wash people with! The Fruit of your Ministry is sadly poor, people have not become more Christ-Like, they have become weak, immature, more sinful & quite honestly you have reduced God to a wishy washy
blancmange! Shame on You!!! You talk of damage from other teaching & other churches & yet your teaching & your leaders have caused more damage, harm & hurt to people, than all of the others put together! My Husband & I have moved on from your unbalanced & incorrect teaching! We forgive you & yours, but will never ever recommend you or your off-track rantings again! It just does not measure up when the rubber hits the road & too many people have turned away from God or have just become weak & sloppy in their walk with God! We have not seen or known anyone who has had any lasting real
help, but we have known many people who have had awful damage! We are all going to come before God & He will judge who are His & who are not! He will also judge the work we have done & the fruit of it & there will be rewards! To ignore the damage that you & your leaders have done is a terrible thing to do! God sees & God knows, nothing is hidden from Him & He hates the hurting damaged sheep & the ongoing harm that you have allowed! Be careful that all of your work will not just be burnt up!!! God Bless You & may you become a lot more wiser & discerning man & when you talk of God & His love so sweet, how you thrive on milk but reject His meat!!! Make sure you & your leaders behave & reflect God's love in their character & behaviour, because actions speak much louder than words!!! If you truly love God, you will obey Him!!! D. & J.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the tuning fork, D&J's comment is all I would ever need to trust Dr. Kruger's work. KB