What's The Challenge? Check out Day 1 for the explanation, and Day 2 for why it's gonna be tough.
One of the questions that I came into the K-LOVE Challenge with was: are there songs that are playing on Christian radio that would connect well with what we're trying to do at Crossroads?
I've heard Matt Redman's "Your Grace Finds Me" about 750 times since I started the K-LOVE Challenge (as a side-note, I'm realizing that a lot of what annoys me about Christian radio is just stuff that annoys me about radio in general, namely: aren't there more than a dozen songs in existence at any one time?). It's one of the songs that has made me think, "hmm, maybe we could sing that at Crossroads."
But then the chorus comes in, and I cringe a bit.
"From the creation to the cross/there from the cross into eternity/your grace finds me."
At Wesley, we learn a style of biblical interpretation that starts with a step called, informally, "speed bumps." Read the text, see what makes you go "Huh?" or "Nope!," and then figure out what in your context is making you react like that. It's pretty basic, but it has the interesting effect of making the things that bug you about a passage the focus of your study rather than being things you avoid or gloss over.
So when I "speed bumped" at Redman's song, I figured I'd dig in a bit.
What bugs me about the chorus of "Your Grace Finds Me"? The cross, rather than Jesus' life or resurrection, is at the center. And I'm uncomfortable with that. And that's worth exploring.
It's not just Redman's song. I would argue that there is a trend in contemporary worship music to focus on the cross and on atonement, with less emphasis on resurrection and even less emphasis on Jesus' life or on the way of discipleship. (I'd be willing to listen to counter-arguments, and I've got 23 days left, but that's my working hypothesis). What's more, I often perceive that the theology of atonement being proffered in contemporary worship (and in much traditional worship) is a form I don't have a very high opinion of, namely substitutionary atonement.
Here's the basic outline: we're sinners. God is holy and righteous. Since God is holy and righteous, God can't stand sin, so He (and in this theology of atonement, God is MOST DEFINITELY a He with a big ol' capital H) has to wipe us out. But luckily for us, Jesus, who is completely without sin, steps in to take the punishment instead. So if we believe in Jesus, we're good. But if not, we're doomed to God's wrath.
There are a bunch of problems with this idea. Like the fact that it's largely based on the writings of a medieval monk named Anselm who understood God as a feudal overlord, which is a wee bit of an outdated metaphor. Or the fact that it makes God into a child abuser. Or the fact that it separates God the Father from God the Son in a way that, I would argue, is actually counter to the traditional understanding of Christian theology that it claims to represent.
But none of that is really the point of this post. The point is that Matt Redman doesn't actually say anything about substitutionary atonement in "Your Grace Finds Me." He just says creation-cross-eternity. And there are other ways to understand the cross as central to Christian theology; ways that, in fact, I'm kind of a big fan of.
Take, for example, my favorite old German dude, Jurgen Moltmann, who says that in Jesus on the cross we see God in solidarity with suffering humanity--even God in solidarity with those who feel Godforsaken, since Jesus cries out on the cross in the words of Psalm 22: "My God, why have you forsaken me?"
Moltmann argues that the cross is a paradox that is in a sense the crux of the Christian understanding of God: "On the cross the Father and the Son are so widely separated that the direct relationship between them breaks off. Jesus died a ‘Godless death.’ And yet on the cross the Father and the Son are so much at one that they present a single surrendering movement....Christ’s giving of himself to death on the cross unites the Son with the Father at the very point where the separation and mutual abandonment is at is deepest.” (Those quotes are from his book The Way of Jesus Christ, pg 174 and 95 of the Fortress Press edition, if you're a glutton for punishment.)
This is getting a bit heady for a blog, but here's a simpler way of saying it. In the cross, we see God present in the hurting, broken, awful places of the world. Or, as Nadia Bolz-Weber says, "God isn’t feeling smug about the whole thing. God is not distant at the cross. . . . God is there in the messy mascara-streaked middle of it, feeling as shitty as the rest of us."
In the cross, we also see the cost of discipleship. Jesus tells his disciples that they are going to have to take up their own crosses. They, too, will have to face the powers of the world, and it might not turn out so well. And maybe Redman's song reminds us that, when faith is a struggle, grace is there.
So while I am still a big advocate of not separating the crucifixion from Jesus life and resurrection, and not separating the cross of Christ from the cross of discipleship, I think I will try to temper my reactivity when I hear CCMers singing about the cross. Because there really is a connection between creation--which, as a sort-of-boringly-orthodox Christian I think Christ has something to do with--and cross and eternity. Jurgen Moltmann, this round is on you:
“Jesus therefore dies the death of everything that lives, in solidarity with the whole sighing creation.”
Solidarity with the whole sighing creation. I'll drink--and sing--to that.