Periodically I come across a writer who speaks to what I believe to be the beauty and power of the Christian faith. I have come across two who are from very different traditions, yet whose writing resonates with the same deep grasp of the gospel. One is Jurgen Moltmann, a Lutheran theologian. The other is J. Denny Weaver, a Mennonite.
For both, the gospel is not primarily about what happens after this life is over, but is the story of God’s deep plunge into this world to embrace life, this life, this created life.
Both speak to the power of God’s Kingdom, which is yet to come in all of its fullness. But rather than letting this life disappear into our expectations for the future, both argue that the hope of the Kingdom transforms how this life is to be lived, now, present tense.
Christ’s resurrection comprehends God’s ‘yes’ to life and God’s ‘no’ to death…’Jesus is the defiance against sin and misery’ (quoting Christopher Blumhardt).
The origin of the Christian faith is once and for all the victory of the divine life over death: the resurrection of Christ. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’: that is the heart of the Christian gospel. It is the gospel of life.
Jesus didn’t found a new religion; he brings new life to the world.”
( Jurgen Moltmann, Son of Righteousness Arise: God’s Future for Humanity and the Earth, Fortress Press, 2010. 77)
Moltmann clearly grasps the powerful embrace of life in the coming of Jesus into the world. His life, his death on the cross and resurrection, and God’s promise of a Kingdom in which all the contradictions and struggles of this life will be overcome, not only open up hope for renewed future, but even more, offer a renewed power for living now.
The cross then, is not an expression of God’s anger at sin that needs to be appeased, but rather of God’s compassion for those who find themselves placed on crosses, and a protest against the evil and violence that continues to crucify and claim victims. The resurrection is God’s victory over everything that stands against life, including death itself. It promises a new future to all and a new way in this life: the way of Christ, the way of peace.
In a world of that knows too much of death, Christ opens up and offers a life that cannot be stopped. The call to follow him is an invitation to embrace his way of life. In Moltmann’s words, he comes not to start a new religion, another cult, but to bring new life to and within this world.
J. Denny Weaver speaks in much the same way, writing:
While Jesus’ mission for the reign of God may have made his death inevitable…neither the purpose nor the culmination of the mission was to die. God did not send Jesus to die, but to live, to make visible and present the reign of God
Rather than cooperating with divinely sanctioned violence, Jesus countered the violence of the powers…rather than meet it (evil and violent power) on its own terms, he made visible the fact that the rule of God does not depend on violence…The resurrection showed the power of God to overcome even the annihilation of death.”
(J. Denny Weaver, The Nonviolent Atonement, Eerdmans, 2001. 74)
Like Moltmann, Weaver understands Jesus’ life death and resurrection to be God’s definitive ‘no’ to death and ‘yes’ to life. Jesus enters the world to make visible and real the way of life that God makes possible. He overcomes and transcends everything that would stand against life. He invites us to a life energized by the Spirit, rejecting the violence that surrounds us, embracing his way of compassion and peace.
I am excited by Moltmann and Weaver. Both speak to the power of the gospel, not as a thing that leads to a new kind of cult, but as an invitation to a new way of life.
The Christian faith is not about an escape from this world or this life with all of its struggles and contradictions. The Christian faith calls us to embrace this life, all of it.
To be Christian is not to be part of some exclusive club of the saved, but to be part of a people who make visible the power of God’s love in this time and place, a way of life and peace.