It was the means of agonizing humiliation and execution and has adorned the banners of armies through which some of the most brutal violence was perpetrated in history. It is a symbol worn by the faithful and sometimes the fashionable. It has famously been described as a stumbling block and foolishness. The cross is central to the Christian faith — but what does it mean? And how could this symbol of weakness also be a source of strength for followers of Christ?
As Christians ponder the mystery and meaning of the cross and Christ’s resurrection in this Easter season, I read Tony Jones’ new book, Did God Kill Jesus? which explores and analyzes various atonement theories through history and culture and considers whether the most famous — penal substitutionary atonement — is really the most accurate. Although Tony and I do not necessarily share the same views, I realized that our perspectives are not as far off as I had thought. I recently had the opportunity to interview him about the book and how his study and meditation of the cross has shaped his understanding of the crucifixion and what that can mean for the faithful.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
JV: You touch a bit on this in the book (but for those who might not read it), what do you believe are the theological and social implications of holding to a belief in penal substitutionary atonement? Could you elaborate on what you think those implications are? And do you think there can be anything redemptive or beautiful in Christians holding to a substitutionary atonement theory of the crucifixion?
Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones have been at this whole church leadership thing for a while now. As two of the voices at the forefront of the emerging Christianity movement, they are visionaries, strategists, and hands-on practitioners who, as much or more than anyone, have wrestled with the complex and persistent question of what tomorrow’s Christian faith looks like.
For one thing, there’s an emphasis on the word movement: ideas, communities, and understanding of what it means to be engaging a Christ-inspired faith in relevant ways is forever in flux. As such, certain contemporary iterations of the Christian tribe have been criticized for being ill defined or for too easily accommodating cultural trends.
But if Christianity is being true to the one from whom its name is borrowed, it will undoubtedly be countercultural. Any practice that has at it’s core mantras like “it’s not all about you,” or “community need trumps personal gain” will find a skeptical audience in popular culture. Jones and Pagitt are far less interested in offering church leaders a novel attraction gimmick to fill their struggling churches. Rather, they are focused on helping visionaries, activists, and theologians discern what it means to be a follower of Jesus in the 21st century.
That’s why they created the Christianity 21 Conference, part of what Pagitt describes as the Generous Christianity Movement.
Christian conservatives who think Satan is using communism and Islam to bring down America can add a new “adversary” to the list: the Emergent Church movement.
A portion of the upcoming Values Voter Summit in Washington will stray from its usual focus on politics and consider the Emergent Church as one of three “channels the adversary is using to bring America down.” Art Ally, president of The Timothy Plan, a Florida-based mutual fund company devoted to “biblically responsible investing,” will lead the breakout session.
“Why would Satan use Communism? It’s a godless form of government,” said Ally. “Why would Satan use Islam? Same reason. It’s not a religion. It’s a movement to dominate the world under the guise of religion. The Emergent Church plays right into that by weakening further our church community.”