Victims or victimizers?

Peter Ould linked Giles Fraser’s Easter piece for the Guardian, “A merciful crucifixion”, in which Revd Fraser argues “how important it is for Christians to insist upon a non-sacrificial reading of the death of Christ”.

Fraser describes sacrificial understandings of the death of Christ – and the understanding of the Eucharist as a sacrificial meal – as “a disgusting idea, and morally degenerate”. He argues that Jesus rejected the whole concept of sacrifice (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice”), and continues:

The Gospel is clear. I am with the hunchback. I am with the one cast out. He became one with the rejected and the cast out. And thus he suffered the same fate. This is not to endorse sacrificial theology but to condemn it.

As Peter points out, Fraser’s take on the crucifixion is hard to reconcile with Isaiah 53, and indeed much else (including Jesus’ own words). In addition, I would say that what Fraser is espousing is a theology about the cross, not a theology of the cross, to use the distinction described in a post at the excellent Mockingbird blog.

As the writer of the post, Jacob Smith, puts it, a theology about the cross quickly becomes “sentimental and therapeutic as opposed to healing and salvific”:

This is because a theology about the cross sees us in this cruel world as chiefly victims; and hence because misery loves company we are called to gaze upon Jesus as the ultimate victim, one with whom sufferers can identify. Therefore, since we are victims, what we need is affirmation and support.

We can see this in Fraser’s article, where what is in view is Jesus’ sharing our victimhood on the cross (“I am with the hunchback. I am with the one cast out”). However, as Revd Smith points out, Jesus himself rejects the idea that he goes to the cross as a passive victim: “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18)

The cross is not about how Jesus shares the fate of “us poor misunderstood victims”. Rather:

[A] theology of the cross points out that Jesus suffered and died alone because all of us poor misunderstood victims, are actually at odds with God and were in the crowd shouting “crucify him.” […] It sees all of us not as victims who are just misunderstood, but as the victimizers who have killed Jesus.

It is precisely because we are the victimizers, not the victims, in the story of the cross, that a theology of the cross “sees us as sinners for whom Jesus became sin and died in order to forgive (2 Corinthians 5:21)”. For Fraser, by contrast, the victimizers of Jesus are those other people, over there: the state functionaries and religious leaders whom he feels able to look down on (perhaps muttering, as he does so, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets”).

As Revd Smith concludes:

Therefore, a theology of the cross, as opposed to simply inoculating our conscience to sin and our own culpability in it, finds us guilty of the sin that we have committed, and states that we should be justly condemned for it, while at the same time stating our penalty has been paid for and we are 100% forgiven. A theology of the cross keeps us in our proper place, as helpless sinners, and keeps Christ in His proper place, as our Lord and Savior.

Update: Peter Ould blogs on Fraser’s article, looking in more detail at the original biblical texts.

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6 Responses to Victims or victimizers?

  1. Mark Nikirk says:

    Nice commentary, John. I wonder, did the discussion about PSA over at the Boar’s Head prompt this, or is this something that’s been rolling around in you for awhile?

  2. John H says:

    Mark: Thanks. I’ve not really been following the BHT discussion about PSA: this post was prompted by the coincidence of reading Peter’s tweet and the Mockingbird post in fairly quick succession.

    To be honest, a lot of the detailed PSA discussion passes me by. For me it’s more concrete: Jesus was “wounded for my transgressions”, the Supper is a sacrificial meal, and so on. So while I don’t require people to sign up to a detailed exposition of PSA, anything that contradicts those basic statements is out.

    To put it another way: I basically agree both with what Stott says in The Cross of Christ, and with what Lewis says in Mere Christianity.

  3. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Blog Archive » Tim Keller on love and substitution

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