“When the church fails to [speak the gospel], it fails to say the thing that it alone is capable of saying.”
Fleming Rutledge’s book Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ aims to put death back at the center of the Christian faith. Not death in general, but the death of Christ. According to Rutledge, any number of inadequate (and occasionally untrue) themes have displaced the crucifixion at the center of the Christian faith. We say, “God is love.” That is well since the Scripture affirms it. It is a true, yet incomplete sentence. God does love you, yet we have to make sense of the God whose love involved the sacrificial death of his Son.
Making the love of God the totality of our proclamation means that rather than preaching the evangel (“good news”) we are preaching the proto-evangelion (“pre-good news”). God’s love is important, even foundational to the ways in which He interacts with his created order. Yet, God’s love must be paired with God’s wrath against sin, and other important dogmatic themes in order to actually preach the gospel.
In dealing with the death of Christ we acknowledge to the world that difficult things are normal–that far from being the exception, the cross is the rule. In a broken world we suffer, we lack easy answers and problems often seem (and actually are) intractable.
The church doesn’t exist to peddle easy answers for life’s most superficial problems. Such a church doesn’t have Christ–the dying God–for its head.
Jesus did not bring the church into being for the purpose of providing you a pleasing worship experience, a memorable and photographable vacation-like mission trip, or to simply baptize the American dream in either its leftist or right-wing manifestations.
The church introduces creation to reality–a reality that is deeper, older, vaster than the aggregate of our sense experiences. We see, in the words of Saint Paul, “through a glass and darkly.”
Instead in and through the church, Christ extends to the world the invitation to come and die–to come a meet the dying and rising Christ in the Word and in the Sacraments.
In the laying down of our lives we find the freedom that comes from returning God to the very center of reality, the place from which He never moved. In truth all creation is exerting massive energy in the vain attempt to suppress the truth and sustain the illusion that there is no God.
When the church fails to say this, it fails to say the thing that it alone is capable of saying.