The Cruciform Pulpit - Preaching Toward a Robust Theology of the Cross

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2020

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Abstract

This thesis project focuses on preaching a robust theology of the cross. This work was born out of a desire to envision and enable preaching shaped by a theology of the cross that acknowledges historic theologies of the atonement, while also being informed by contemporary voices that have served to broaden the church’s understanding of God’s saving act through the cross of Jesus Christ.

A robust theology of the cross seeks to identify those aspects of atonement theologies that have been co-opted by oppressive power structures, recognizing the deeply problematic ways that theologies of the cross have supported the oppression of the weakest and most vulnerable among us. This project seeks to bring voices into the conversation that have often been marginalized in hopes of a more inclusive and faithful theology of the cross.

The methodology for this thesis reflects research through the exploration of a variety of available literary resources, engaging theologians representative of differing historic and contemporary views on the cross. In addition to surveying traditional atonement theories that have been fundamental to the church’s understanding historically, the contributions of black, liberation and feminist theologians have been engaged to develop a deeper understanding and more robust theology of the cross.

After engaging with a variety of theologians in search of a more comprehensive theology of the cross, this thesis explores the implications of a robust cruciform theology for contemporary preaching. In the final chapter I offer some examples of my own pulpit ministry that have been informed by this project.

Through engaging traditional and contemporary theologians, I have come to appreciate more fully the overlapping of theological motifs and images of the cross that are provided through the biblical narratives. This work has left me with a clear understanding that to claim one particular atonement theory to the exclusion of all others hampers any hope of developing a rich and robust theology of the cross.

The theological perspectives encountered in this work have had an impact on my life and ministry. The Christus Victor views of Gustaf Aulen have greatly expanded my understanding of Christ’s conquering work over against the principalities and powers, while the work of Charles Campbell has greatly impacted my understanding of preaching’s role in leading congregations toward a posture of resistance against the powers.

Black, liberation and feminist theologians have offered valuable critiques of traditional atonement theories, theories that have often been mishandled by the powerful, becoming tools of oppression against the weak and vulnerable. I believe my use of theological language is more faithful and sensitive thanks to their witness.

I’ve come to a deeper appreciation of the role solidarity plays in a faithful Christian witness. This work has revealed to me more fully that cross-bearing discipleship requires standing in solidarity with those who suffer unjustly, while joining in the struggle against all forms of injustice. I realize now that to stand in solidarity with the One whose death on the cross is the supreme act of solidarity with human suffering is to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, especially the weakest and most vulnerable.

I now see more clearly that the cross provides a way of seeing. To see my neighbors through the lens of the cross is to see their suffering, to see the results of injustice and to see my own complicity with systemic and institutional barriers to life-giving wholeness and freedom for all people.

This project was born out of a desire to engage in a pulpit ministry that enables and empowers a cruciform congregational character. Through this thesis project, I have come to believe more strongly than ever that faithful cross-shaped preaching is essential to casting a vision that supports a way of seeing and knowing that can open the hearts and minds of thoughtful Christian disciples, stirring imaginations to consider what it means to take up one’s cross and follow Jesus.

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Lucas II, John Randolph (2020). The Cruciform Pulpit - Preaching Toward a Robust Theology of the Cross. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/23655.

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