Half a gospel
I sympathize with the spirit of this post at Patheos by David Henson–it is weird and creepy to talk about the infant Jesus as having been “born to die”–suggesting perhaps that a child sacrifice would’ve done the job of saving the world just as well. More seriously, it’s just bad theology to separate Christ’s death from his life. This has been a recurring problem in popular Christian piety and even among theologians who should know better.
That said, Henson veers a bit too far in the other direction when he writes that “it wasn’t his death and crucifixion that set things right in the world. Rather it was his incarnated life that shows us what a world set right might look like.” I’d argue that the writers of the New Testament certainly thought that Jesus’ death (along with his resurrection) were acts by which God went about setting things right in the world. Without the cross and resurrection we seem stuck with the old liberal Jesus who’s primarily a good role model. (Or as Paul would say, if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins!)
I haven’t blogged much about my switching from attending a Lutheran church to a Methodist one, but one of the things I’ve come to appreciate about Wesleyan theology is that it tries to maintain equal emphases on Jesus’ death and his life, and on our justification and sanctification. Wesley had a very “Lutheran” doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, but he insisted that the acceptance and forgiveness we receive through Jesus’ cross and resurrection laid the foundation for continuous growth in love of God and neighbor. According to Theodore Runyon, the keynote of Wesley’s theology is the restoration of the image of God in humanity, which allows us to reflect back to the world the love which God has shown us. From this perspective, to downplay the life and teachings of Jesus or his cross and resurrection would be to settle for half a gospel.