Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Scandal of a Scandal

It is undoubtedly the worst and most obscene scandal that the Christian Church has ever faced. And that's saying a lot, because the Christian Church is founded on a scandal. But, this scandal is worse! It's, like, the scandal of a scandal, scandal squared, mega-major-super-duper SCANDAL! This scandal is so scandalously scandalous that it scandalizes even scoundrels!

In short, it's a crying shame. And here it is:

The first scandal - the scandal upon which Christianity is built - is that God was in Christ, suffering shame at the hands of humans, displaying that God's way of exercising power in the world is through the cross, a "power that is made perfect in weakness." Of course, the idea that Christ on the cross was revealing God's way of power to the world is just plain silly. It defies any common sensible approach to power, it is contrary to effective exercises of power made known in history, and it violates every kind of theology that has been preached, worshiped, or idolized since the beginning of religious consciousness. The cross is not power; God is not weak; and dying for a cause has never been as effective as killing for one. To imagine that such a display of weakness can be either a form of power or a revelation of God's power is indeed scandalous or simply foolish.

And yet, that's precisely what the Christian Church professes about the death and resurrection of Jesus. It's scandalous, it's foolish, and it's Christianity. To embrace that scandal is to understand why so many of Jesus' followers betrayed, denied, and fled from him at his hour of trial and death.

Even so, the second scandal of the Christian Church is even more scandalous than the first. And the second scandal is that - somehow, remarkably and convincingly - the Christian Church has managed to denude Christianity of its original scandal and to make it a posh-filled prescription for gaining success. Here are the salient features of this second scandal.
- the cross is no longer a call for followers of Jesus. Jesus died on a cross so that we don't have to.
- the cross, in fact, is a sign of the church's strong power. No more power made perfect in weakness.
- the cross ensures that we can be wealthy, healthy, and reach our full potential of success. As seen on TV.
- Jesus' disciples are called to exercise dominion in this world. Long live the Crusades!
- churches are gathering spots where people of power  are assured that they are fine "Just as I am."

The second scandal, so to speak, is that the first scandal has been turned on its head and made meaningless. As it turns out, Christianity now believes - with the Romans of old - that all of this 'power made perfect in weakness' stuff is real foolishness. And so, we have simply translated the cross into a symbol of 'power made perfect in power,' we have relegated dying on the cross to a one-time event in history, and we have imagined that Jesus is now a shiny-headed Caesar-like figure, who is ever on the verge of returning with Caesar-like armies that will conquer evil with real, Caesar-like power. The weak, crucified Christ was a vanishing point in history. The real, Caesarean Christ is shuffling his feet at the door, anxious to come back and show his true colors.

The first scandal - the scandal of the cross - was the sacrificial way that called people to trust in love over hate, goodness over evil, and peace over strength. The second scandal has kept enough of the language of the first scandal to keep us good and sentimental, religious and pious, but not to bother us with any more of that weakness foolishness. Our Jesus pushes Christian soldiers onward and plays for keeps.

It is a sad state of affairs.

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