The Hope of the Cross

For many theologians, the cross is a symbol not of blood redemption, but of hope even amid suffering. Kavin Rowe warns that excising the symbol of the cross would decimate the “specifically Christian impetus to work with and for those who are being bruised and crushed.” Credit: Creative Commons/Adam Jones.

Ignorance of major world religions comes in many forms today, but Lawrence Swaim’s particular version is still stunning. It is almost as if Swaim skimmed pop or even comic books on Christian theology and early church history and fashioned a reckless rant from their raw materials. Of the many historically and argumentatively strange things in his essay, his call for Christians to get rid of the symbol of the cross is the most bizarre. Getting rid of the cross is tantamount to getting rid of Jesus—which is to say, of Christianity itself. Many self-proclaimed progressives may want Christianity to go away, but realists know that this will not happen anytime soon. So, for the time being, let at least this much be understood: If Christianity is here at all, it will have to do with Jesus of Nazareth. And if it has to do with Jesus of Nazareth, it will have to do with the symbol of the cross.

Serious historians dispute many things about Jesus’s life, but the one thing they all acknowledge is that he was killed on a Roman cross. Even the ancient Roman historian Tacitus knew this. The founder of the abominable Christians, said Tacitus, “suffered the extreme penalty … under one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” As Tacitus knows, the cross of Jesus is a historical fact. Banishing it from our understanding of Christianity falsifies the truth of history and thereby ruptures the continuity with Jesus of Nazareth as he really lived and died. Jesus without a cross is, quite frankly, someone else. No more could we speak truly of Abraham Lincoln or his legacy without mentioning his assassination. On this point, the past is not so pliable as our contemporary sensibilities may wish: no cross, no Jesus. To talk meaningfully about Jesus at all is to speak clearly of his earthly end—execution on the cross.

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C. Kavin Rowe is a professor of New Testament at Duke University Divinity School. He is the author of multiple scholarly books and articles, a Fulbright Scholar, and the 2009 winner of the John Templeton Prize for Theological Promise.
 

Source Citation

Rowe, C. Kavin. 2012. The Hope of the Cross. Tikkun 27(4): 28.

tags: Christianity, Rethinking Religion, War & Peace   
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2 Responses to The Hope of the Cross

  1. konradyona October 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    The “ignorance of major world religions” Prof.Rowe is attesting to Lawrence Swaim reminds me on Jesus’ metaphor concerning people who denounce the splinter in the other one’s eye and overlook the beam in their own. If Prof. Rowe had read Kierkegaard’s “Exercise in Christendom” (1850) or Coudenhouve-Kalergi’s “Judenhass von heute” (Jew-Hatred of Today, 1925/1935) or Dagobert Runes’ “The Jew and the Cross” (New York 1966), he would know how well his “symbol of hope” works as a learning-device of Jew-hatred. If he had a short look at the history of sacral Christian art, he would realize that Jew-hatred began to explode around 11th century CE, just when the artists ceased to paint crucified Christ as the painless sovereign king and instead came to figure the suffering victim in all his pains and misery, forcing the spectators to a) feel compassion with him and b) transform this compassion into that “empathic anger” J.S.Mill (Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society. CW vol.X, Toronto 1969, p.248) described as “the natural desire for revenge … uttered by reason and compassion and which relates to those offences which hurt us by hurting others”.
    In 1973, Jean Piaget (Das moralische Urteil beim Kinde, Frankfurt 1973, pp.248-249) explained the same psychic mechanism working in children: “As the child, due to his amazing ability to empathy and emotional identification with the suffering one, suffers himself, he feels the desire to revenge for the unhappy one as himself, and senses a certain malicious joy concerning the suffering done to the perpetrator of another one’s pain.”
    You mean “Christians have betrayed the meaning of their symbol”? No, Mr. Rowe, they just enacted, fulfilled, worked out on it. Would you please take to conscience that Hitler, Himmler, Goebbels, Eichmann and the whole gang got their early childhood education beneath the crucifix?
    Anyhow, have warm thanks for your statement that the crucified one was not only G’d but a Jew also. So what do you think this Jewish rabbi Jesus (one of 6000 Jews governor Pilate sent to the cross during his 11 years of power in Jerusalem), considering the strict prohibition of all G’d-images by the second commandment, would say about his being misused until today within the most terrible G’d-image mankind ever invented? Pope John XXIII, who personally saved thousands of Jews by faked baptismal documents, had it absolutely right when he spoke of “six million crucifixions”. Of 1.600.000 Jewish children living in Europe in 1939, 1.500.000 were dead in 1945. Not 1 reason to renounce of crosses, Mr. Rowe?
    Shabat Shalom,
    Dr. Konrad Yona Riggenmann

  2. four-leaf-clover December 18, 2012 at 4:46 am

    Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Lawrence Swaim for sure knows that Jesus was not the only one who was crucified on the cross, yet became the symbol of change globally. A Crucifix is a symbol of self examination for every human being. Jesus came as Gods manna for the Jewish people, a manna for the spirit, which they shared with rest of the world according to Jesus command. A thoughtful person will contemplate on the words of Jesus “this is my body given up for you”. Jesus humbled himself and suffered a painful and shameful death by accepting the cross, that’s why God raised him above everyone on this world. What makes him different from others who were crucified?. Jesus was a blemish lamb. What makes cross a symbol of significance is the resurrection of Jesus. hitherto a symbol of shame and oppression becomes a symbol of victory and redemption.

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