Okay, it’s time to get back to Kim’ question regarding the centrality of the cross to this story we find ourselves in. As Kim noted, many evangelicals and others as well place the cross at the center of all theological understanding. Thus the story prior to Jesus is merely a setup up to the crucifixion, and the story afterward is a response to Jesus’ death.
I want to say at the beginning of this reflection that I believe in the power of the cross, and that I’m not suggesting that the cross is meaningless. Yet, the crucifixion has not always been the starting point for Christian theology, and there are many of us (including folks in the emerging church movement) that are finding our hermeneutical center changing.
When I was in seminary I once sat through a lecture by Bill Mallard that was life changing for me. Bill was teaching on hermeneutics, that is, the frameworks that we use in interpreting the scriptures, tradition, and our experience through reason. Until that lecture I had never considered that the story of faith was understood differently depending on the point of reference we use in understanding the story. Thus, a cross centered theology often leads to interpretations like Calvins focused on total depravity and judgement, while creation centered theology like that of the Orthodox tradition focuses more on God’s love and grace (a simplistic explanation, I know, but’s let’s live with it for now). Bill provided a language by which I could begin to understand interpretation and theology, recognizing that we weren’t talking about orthodox and non-orthodox, but rather orthodox and other orthodox. Both theologies (and others such as contextual theologies) are full biblical and fully within church tradition. But what they require is a faith choice regarding our theoligcal reference point.
What does this have to do with salvation and Kim’s question? Basically a recognition that evangelical, Calvinist based theologies generally hold to a cross centered theology. Yet, there is another way of thinking that has become a part of my thought process. That is understanding the story in relation to creation rather than the cross. Thus the story is not about human’s depravity leading to the cross, but rather God’s desire for creation and God’s continuing wooing of his rebellious creatures. The cross is certainly a significant part of that story, but God’s intention for redemption and restoration has been part of the story from the beginning, not only focused in the cross.
Of course this raises some questions. Doesn’t this erode God’s omniscience? The answer is maybe. Frankly, the scriptures are mixed regarding God’s omniscience. That proclamation is much more of a human construction than scriptural one. I know Rick Warren will be angry that I don’t hold to the belief that God has charted out our lives, but for free-will to be free-will, God has to give up some control and knowledge to allow freedom of choice.
As I read the scriptures I see again and again places where God changes God’s mind (Jonah is the clearest example). That is, after all, part of the process of creating. Seldom does the artist have everything planned out to the Nth degree without allowing the opportunity to change in pursuit of the higher good. Thus, God is much more flexible than we sometimes like to admit.
Okay, now that I have stirred up a bunch of questions, I’ve got to head back to the church. I’ll try to write more soon.
By the way, as we are moving toward the United Methodist General Conference, I will be doing a bunch of my blogging at the Methoblog. You may want to look for me there.