The Cross in Our Context

Douglas John Hall. Augsburg, Fortress, 2003, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Hall challenges us ‘Christians’ to take seriously the theology of the cross, a theology we have ignored in favour of seeking power. ‘It is the theological triumphalism of Christendom that must be altered if the Christian faith is to exist in the world of today and tomorrow as a force for life and not death’ (p 5).

        Historical Christianity—Christendom—has steadfastly avoided the ‘theology of the cross’ because such a theology could only call into question the whole imperialistic bent of Christendom’ (p 6). Christendom has opted for triumphalism, not for a theology of glory (theologia gloriae); the tendency in worldviews to present themselves as full and complete accounts of reality; this temptation infects every genre of human thinking, not only religious thought (p 17).

        ‘The ‘birth’ of Christendom brought about a species of Christianity that could be practised without any threat or hint of its being a process of identification with the one who was ‘despised and rejected’’ (p 141).

        An imperial Christianity with a triumphalist theology just does not work in Jesus’ kind of world, that is at odds with ‘the official cult of the imperial culture’ (p 174,175). Hall calls on the church to recognize the theology of the cross as a theology of worldly engagement. And it is expressed in discipleship as outreach in mission and ethics, based not on natural law (religion) but on faith. And this ethic will take seriously the created order: ‘the world is purposed, its existence is neither random nor capricious…. This world is the beloved of G-d and must not be abandoned’ (p 220); a theology of the cross will use the prophetic stance, not the apocalyptic (p 228).

        Hall’s book is a wonderful treatment of Christian witness and faith.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.