Close this search box.

The Art of the Weak: From a Theology of the Cross to Missional Praxis

Author: Ben Langford
Published: February 2012

MD 3.1

Article Type: Peer Reviewed Article

The terms missions and strategy have gone hand in hand in Western missiology. The words at times are used synonymously, for who can imagine a successful mission without some sort of strategy for how to go about accomplishing it? Unfortunately, the pragmatism of strategy has often superseded theological reflection on the mission of God and its embodiment in the world. The term strategy assumes a locus of control that centralizes power within the self and then moves outward. Theological reflection on the task of mission must take seriously not only the message’s content but also its embodiment. A theology of the cross, in particular, stands as a critique of tendencies towards western notions of strategy and offers a more biblically-informed counter-proposal for mission praxis.

Strategy vs. Tactic – The Art of the Weak

The church has too frequently disregarded theological reflection in its practice of mission.2 Though the church receives its mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), it is also left with the responsibility of figuring out how to implement it. Often, the church is concerned with the effectiveness and success of its mission as it attempts to implement its mandate. It is, therefore, tempting for the church to adopt Western notions of strategy as a reasonable approach to missions over theological reflections that provide insight into mission praxis.

In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau provides a useful description of the terms strategy and tactic. He also makes a distinction between the two terms. De Certeau’s description, along with his differentiation of terms, provides a useful framework for understanding a theology of the cross that critiques Western notions of strategy and informs mission praxis. According to de Certeau, the dominant rationality of Western culture is characterized by what de Certeau calls “strategy.” He describes strategy as:

The calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research, etc.) can be managed. As in management, every “strategic” rationalization seeks first of all to distinguish its “own” place, that is, the place of its own power and will, from an “environment.” A Cartesian attitude, if you wish: it is an effort to delimit one’s own place in a world bewitched by the invisible powers of the Other. It is also the typical attitude of modern science, politics, and military strategy.3

Common practices of contemporary culture have been “concealed by the form of rationality currently dominant in Western culture.”4 Production and consumption are the ends of this rationality,5 and these are measured by effectiveness.6

Significant effects follow once a strategy has been established, according to de Certeau. First, strategy calculates “a triumph of place over time” that “allows one to capitalize acquired advantages.”7 One can then use the conquered space to “prepare future expansions” in order to obtain “a certain independence with respect to the variability of circumstances.”8 Second, strategy supplies “a mastery of places through sight.”9 Through positions of power, “a panoptic practice proceeding from a place whence the eye can transform foreign forces into objects that can be observed and measured, and thus control and ‘include’ them within its scope of vision.”10 Third, strategy is a “power of knowledge” that is legitimized by its “ability to transform the uncertainties of history” into outcomes that can be seen and thus predicted.11 Yet, strategy is not just a power of knowledge:

[It is] a specific type of knowledge, one sustained and determined by the power to provide oneself with one’s own place. . . . In other words, a certain power is the precondition of this knowledge and not merely its effect or its attribute. It makes this knowledge possible and at the same time determines its characteristics. It produces itself in and through this knowledge.12

There is similarity between de Certeau’s description of strategy and the Western, Protestant framework for the theory and praxis of mission through much of the twentieth century up to the present. David Bosch characterizes the modern era of missions this way: “The belief in progress and success that transpired from all these missions and visions, from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, were made possible by the advent of the Enlightenment, but also involved a subtle shift of emphasis from grace to works.”13 The church’s paradigm of strategy highlights Bosch’s observation that there was a shift from grace to works in two ways. First, natural theology takes the place of revealed theology. By looking at “the way things are,” one can determine who God is and how God works in the world. Second, Enlightenment rationality situated humanity as the locus of control in the world. The advent of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth century produced a rationality in which all things could be objectified, measured, and managed toward certain ends.

The Enlightenment emboldened pragmatic mission strategies because it engendered an unprecedented optimism about humanity’s ability to control the world. This optimism stemmed from a growing belief that humans were no longer contingent on the world but that the world was now contingent on humanity. The beginning of the twentieth century marked the high point of the optimistic, pragmatic, and thus triumphal approaches to missions.14

John R. Mott, in his book The Evangelization of the World in This Generation, captures the sentiments of Enlightenment triumphalism for mission. In light of the advances in technology which had brought the world together, he viewed it as God’s providence at work though human achievement that would serve to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ in all the world:

Why has God made the whole world known and accessible to our generation? Why has He provided us with such wonderful agencies? . . . “Providence and revelation combine to call the Church afresh to go in and take possession of the world for Christ.” Everything seems to be ready for a general and determined engagement of the forces of Christendom for the world-wide proclamation of the Gospel. “Once the world seemed boundless and the Church was poor and persecuted. . . . [Now] the Church of God is in the ascendant. She has well within her control the power, the wealth, and the learning of the world. She is like a strong and well appointed army in the presence of the foe. . . . The victory may not be easy but it is sure.”15

Mott was not alone in his thinking about the church’s mission. This type of rationality, which combined natural theology with scientific and technological capability, permeated the Protestant Western church. The church viewed itself as a power base of knowledge and wealth that sought to define its own space, or locus of control, so that the church might possess the world for Christ. Descriptions of mission strategy sustained this paradigm in mission theory and practice. Metaphors characterizing mission in militaristic terms such as army, crusade, conquest, advance, campaign, resources, and marching orders reinforced the conception of the church as the locus of control. According to such a view, God has given the church access to enormous power, influence, and wealth. It is the church’s responsibility to seize that power so that it might manage all threats to the gospel and win the world for Christ. Strategy, as described by de Certeau, constitutes much of the language that continues to frame much of mission practice in Western culture.

In contrast to a strategy, de Certeau describes a tactic as:

action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.16

A tactic does not have the “option to plan a general strategy or to view its adversary as a whole” in order to manage desired outcomes.17 It “operates in isolated actions” and “takes advantage of ‘opportunities’” afforded within the space of the other.18 It has flexibility because it is willing to appropriate “possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment” and transform them towards its own ends.19 A tactic can “create surprises” and “be where it is least expected.”20 According to de Certeau, “a tactic is an art of the weak.”21

It is not the term strategy per se that is the problem but the philosophical assumptions that underlie the term and make it so appealing. The human will for power is not easily resisted. Stanley Hauerwas, in his book After Christendom, utilizes de Certeau’s distinction between strategy and tactic and perceptively connects it to the church, asserting: “By employing de Certeau’s distinction I think of the church as tactic, not strategy.”22 De Certeau’s distinction between strategy and tactic is not only a functional paradigm for understanding the church, but it also provides a useful framework for how the church engages the world through a theology of the cross. It is helpful in understanding how a theology of the cross might reframe our mission praxis as an art of the weak.23

Theology of the Cross

Martin Luther coined the phrase theologia crucis (theology of the cross). Yet, the idea behind it is found in much of Paul’s writings and his understanding of the Christian life and faith. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, proclaimed, “We preach Christ crucified” (1:23) and then goes on to write, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2).24 Luther’s understanding of Paul’s message of the cross gave him a theological framework to critique what Luther referred to as theologia gloriae (theology of glory). In the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Luther wrote:

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.25

Luther understood that the cross of Christ had more than just salvific implications: it was the self-revelation of God. It stood as a critique of a theology of glory which attempted to know God by his works through natural theology: “Because men misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering. . . . It does [humanity] no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.”26 As Douglas Hall has observed, “The closest we may come in contemporary English to what Luther intended [by a theology of glory], I should judge, is the term triumphalism.”27 A God who triumphs through his works of power and strength marks a theology of glory. In turn, humanity triumphs through works of power and strength as well. A theology of glory seeks to know God through glory and power. In contrast, a theology of the cross knows God through weakness and suffering. God is recognizable when he is the Crucified God.28

For Luther, these two theologies had major implications for the church. Since a theology of glory seeks to know God through glory and power, this knowledge informs humanity’s identity and posture in relation to God and the world as glory and power. In contrast, a theology of the cross views humanity as people called to weakness and suffering. Althus summarizes Luther: “Man’s cross ‘destroys man’s self-confidence’ so that now, instead of wanting to do something himself, he allows God to do everything in him.”29 Part of Luther’s brilliance is that he understood that what one said and believed about God ultimately determined one’s practices. His recognition that Christ’s crucifixion was first and foremost a revelation of God allowed him to critique the church’s understanding of God and its own practices.

As revelation, a theology of the cross has implications for the church’s understanding of how God engages the world. It seems appropriate to claim that God has a strategy, according to de Certeau’s term, which is to distinguish his own place of power from the world. The transcendent otherness of God should be held in its proper place within Christian theology, life, and faith. Yet, God does not engage the world in Jesus through strategy in this sense. Instead, God’s mission in the life of Jesus functions like what de Certeau describes as the art of the weak. God does not enter the world (delimited exteriority) in order to create his own space from which to exert power and will; Jesus inhabits the space of the other on its own terms. God’s choice of incarnation is a choice to play within a terrain imposed on him and organized by the law of a foreign power. This in no way implies a conflict of Jesus’ loyalty to the Father, though, as Paul proclaims that Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7).30 For Paul, Jesus empties himself of his own space of power, that is, “equality with God,” and assumes the form of a servant, the form of the weak.

It is by choosing to play within a terrain imposed on him, in the space of the other, that Christ takes the cross imposed on him and transforms it toward different ends.

One cannot overemphasize the fact that the theology of the cross speaks of a free and sovereign God who in Christ chooses to be engaged in the very depths of the human situation . . . the revelation of God in the cross leads us to speak of God’s—and the people of God’s—engagement in the vicissitudes of history.31

The church discovers in the cross God’s presence in the world and how he engages the world:

In human suffering and degradation, in poverty and hunger, among the two-thirds who starve, in races that are brought low, in the experience of failure, in exposure to the icy winds of the nihil, in the midst of hell – there it [the Christian community] looks for the God whose acting is the precondition of Christian obedience.32

A theology of the cross, then, reveals God as having a strong world-orientation. God in Jesus Christ does not will to escape the world and all its suffering but deeply engages the world for its own sake. He relinquishes his own life to the world and the powers within it for the sake of the world. He becomes weak and identifies with those who are weak, those who do not operate from a locus of control found within themselves. This revelation insists that those who choose to follow Christ embrace the actual world in which they find themselves. It also assumes that there is a particular way in which they engage the world around them that determines their identity as cruciform people.

A theology of the cross has implications for the church’s identity in relation to its practice of mission in the world. In many of Paul’s letters, the message of the crucified Christ emerges as a central point of concern.33 “The cross of Jesus the Messiah stands at the heart of Paul’s vision of the one true God,”34 and therefore, this revelation changes Paul’s allegiances and revamps his identity. The crucifixion of Jesus functions as the norm for Paul’s identity in relation to power. For example, Paul has much reason to boast about who he was and what he could do, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil 3:5-6). Yet, all of that was worthless in comparison with knowing Christ’s resurrection power, sharing in his sufferings and conforming to his death on the cross (Phil 3:10). To the Galatians Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). Moreover, the cross also marks the identity of the church in relation to power. For Paul, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18) but to the church it is God’s power. He goes on to write, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor 1:27-29). Therefore, a theology of the cross functions as the norm of the church’s quest for identity in relation to power. Charles Cousar articulates this point well when he writes,

This critical function of the theology of the cross becomes particularly apparent when considering the issue of power. It becomes easy for the church to assume that power, whether exercised within the community or in the broader society, has to do with domination, control, coercion, and regulation, and operates in a context of rivalry and competition. The worlds of politics, finance, and education, with their clearly defined pecking orders, their “ole boy” networks, their carefully managed bases of power, become tempting models. But the Letters to the Corinthians present an alternate world, where God’s power is manifested in weakness, where the powerless are chosen to shame the strong, where cloaking the gospel in eloquent wisdom leaves it ineffectual, where competing factions are confronted with the sharing of power. From time to time someone like Mother Teresa emerges to remind the church of this alternate world, this strange dialectic that critiques its own exercise of power.35

The church’s engagement with the world through its practice of mission must match the event of God’s definitive engagement with the world in the crucified Christ.

Theology of the Cross
and the Church’s Practice of Mission

A theology of the cross as the revelation of God shapes the church’s identity and its engagement in the world—its practice of mission—in particular ways. First, in contrast to strategy, which seeks to manipulate, manage, and control outcomes, a theology of the cross places witness as the primary practice of the church in the world. The Greek word martys, or witness, is where we get our English term martyr. It is not coincidence that the term came to be associated with death. For early Christians, such as Ignatius, to witness to Jesus Christ in the form of suffering or death was considered a central aspect of the experience of imitating Christ.36 Martyr refers to one who bears witness or testifies to an event.37 However, Darrell Guder argues that in order to understand the breadth of the biblical understanding of witness one needs to contemplate “the person as witness (the being of witness), the witness as action (the doing of witness), and witness as communication (the saying of witness).”38 This threefold view of witness is seen in the lives of some of the earliest Christian martyrs. They understood witness not only to be the communication of Christ to the world but also to include being and doing as the continuation of God’s redemptive purposes in the world. This being and doing was an imitation of Christ through participating in Christ’s suffering and dying as witness to what God was doing in the world.39 The church is called to give witness by embodying the crucified Christ whom they proclaim, through their being and their doing. The church must consistently wrestle with the questions: Does this practice of mission embody the crucified Christ? And does the church view the cross only in soteriological terms and thus look past the cross in favor of other modes of being and doing? Or does the church look through the cross as the determinant of its practice of mission? These questions should not be reduced to morality and religious piety but must include the church’s political, economic, and social engagement with the world. It is a question of faith for the church. Practicing the art of the weak recognizes that witnessing to the crucified Christ will be viewed, as Paul puts it, as “foolishness” and a “stumbling block” to those outside the church and perhaps by some within. Nonetheless, it is an act of faith to witness to God’s grace and power through Jesus Christ and not to our own ability to draw the world to him. For Christ witnesses to the power and reign of God in this way: “‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32–33). Witnessing to the crucified Christ through the church’s speaking, being, and doing is an act of faith that God will draw all people to himself through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Second, the church should not think of itself or its engagement with the world as a strategy with all of its philosophical underpinnings of power mentioned above but as participating in God’s mission in the world through the cross. This art of the weak seeks kenosis, or self-emptying, as an alternative to strategy, which seeks to establish one’s own resources, influence, and space in order to calculate that power over and against the other. What Jesus did for humanity on the cross is not just the message that the church needs to proclaim to the world, but it is God’s vulnerable act, which is precisely for the world and fully in the world. God does not position himself in Jesus Christ in order to manipulate the world towards himself; rather he gives himself wholly to creation as an act of vulnerability. Regarding this act of vulnerability, Reinhold Niebuhr argues that “the suffering servant does not impose goodness upon the world by his power. Rather he suffers, being powerless, from the injustices of the powerful.”40 Hall reflects on Niebuhr’s statement:

Niebuhr understood the work of God in Christ as God’s decisive participation in the historical process. This is not however the participation of a divine omnipotence which sets aside every obstacle. It is the participation of a suffering love which alters the world, not through power but through solidarity with suffering humanity.41

The church that views its engagement in the world through the cross will seek to posture itself in positions of vulnerability rather than in positions of power.

Finally, the rubric of effectiveness is built into the framework of strategy. Effectiveness as a rubric allows for measurement of power and influence. It allows a person or a group of people to determine if they have carved out their own space in which they can manipulate and govern outcomes. However, a theology of the cross measures the practices of mission differently. It provides the church with a different rubric for success in mission; that is, it sets faithfulness as the primary measuring stick by which the church can determine its own fulfillment of calling to and participation in the mission of God. Questions of effectiveness in mission practices are not dismissed entirely, for one can gain insight by asking what works and what does not work in a particular context. Nevertheless, effectiveness cannot serve as the primary rubric for mission success. A theology of the cross views faithfulness as the measuring stick for the church’s participation in God’s mission in the world, because it is less concerned with the effect that the church has on the world than with the faithfulness of the church to embrace the world the same way that God does—through weakness, which is the power and wisdom of God. A theology of the cross, then, is highly suspicious of evangelistic techniques and mission methods that intend to manipulate people or contexts through power relationships. It opposes the inherent epistemology of Western culture—the knowledge of how one effects results—that consistently looks past the cross and not through it.42 Instead, it evaluates its relationship with the world through the cross and according to its faithfulness to the revelation of God’s embrace of the world through Jesus Christ.

The church should not separate its identity and its practice of mission from what it says about God. The modern notion of strategy leads the church to embody practices that centralize power within the church in order to calculate and manage outcomes. A theology of the cross offers a critique to such power claims and offers a way for the church to identify with the crucified Christ and reframe its practice of mission as an art of the weak.

Ben Langford is the Director of the Center for Global Missions at Oklahoma Christian University and teaches courses in Bible and missions. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies and Ministry from Oklahoma Christian and a MS in Ministry from Pepperdine University. Ben, along with his wife Kym and three children, spent 6 years in Jinja, Uganda from 2004-2010 serving as missionaries on a church planting team. He can be contacted at


Althaus, Paul. The Theology of Martin Luther. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Boyarin, Daniel. Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Cousar, Charles B. A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Guder, Darrell L. Be My Witnesses: The Church’s Mission, Message, and Messengers. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

______. The Continuing Conversion of the Church. The Gospel and Our Culture Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

______. “Incarnation and the Church’s Evangelistic Mission.” In The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church, edited by Paul Wesley Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner, 171-84. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Hall, Douglas John. “The Cross in Contemporary Culture.” In Reinhold Niebuhr and the Issues of Our Time, edited by Richach Harris and Richard Wightman Fox, 183-204. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

______. The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

______. Lighten Our Darkness: Toward an Indigenous Theology of the Cross. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

______. Professing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Hauerwas, Stanley. After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.

Louw, J. P., and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2nd ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.

Luther, Martin, and Timothy F. Lull. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.

Mott, John R. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation. New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1900.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Translated by R. A. Wilson and John Bowden. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History. Essay Index Reprint Series. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Wright, N.T. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a paper presented at the Christian Scholars’ Conference, “The Path of Discovery: Science, Theology, and the Academy,” June 16-18, 2011.

2Since the 1980s, efforts have been made to re-envision mission practice theologically. In 1994, Darrell Guder commented that “in the ecumenical conversation about mission and evangelism in the last decade, there is frequent reference to ‘doing mission and evangelism in Jesus Christ’s way.’” Darrell Guder, “Incarnation and the Church’s Evangelistic Mission,” in The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church, ed. Paul Wesley Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 171.

3Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 35-36.

4Ibid., xi.

5Ibid., xi-xii.

6Ibid., xviii.

7De Certeau, 36.






13David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 339.

14Ibid., 338.

15John R. Mott, The Evangelization of the World in This Generation (New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1900), 130-31. Mott quotes Calvin M. Mateer from a letter in the Archives of the Student Volunteer Movement.

16De Certeau, 36-37.






22Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 18. Hauerwas argues that the church in Western culture “continues to presuppose a Constantinian set of presuppositions that the church should determine a world in which the church is safe” and where the church can do much good by remaining in power. He rejects these presuppositions and maintains that “the church always exists, if it is faithful, on foreign or alien grounds.”

23There is much similarity in the general meaning of the words strategy and tactic that might cause confusion. It is not the term tactic that is useful for this paper, but the way in which it is defined and used as distinct from the word strategy. To avoid confusion and for the purposes of this paper, de Certeau’s phrase “art of the weak” will be used in place of “tactic” from this point forward.

24All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

25Martin Luther and Timothy F. Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 31.

26Martin Luther, as quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 26.

27Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 17.

28Moltmann contends that “a truly Christian theology has to make Jesus’ experience of God on the cross the centre of all our ideas about God: that is its foundation.” Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, trans. R. A. Wilson and John Bowden, 1st Fortress Press ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), x.

29 Althus, 27-28.

30Barth notes that God is true to himself in the lowly, incarnate Christ. “We are confronted with the revelation of what is and always will be to all other ways of looking and thinking a mystery, and indeed a mystery which offends. The mystery reveals to us that for God it is just as natural to be lowly as it is to be high, to be near as it is to be far, to be little as it is to be great, to be abroad as to be at home. Thus that when in the presence and action of Jesus Christ in the world created by Him and characterized in malam partem by the sin of man He chooses to go into the far country, to conceal His form of lordship in the form of this world and therefore in the form of a servant, He is not untrue to Himself but genuinely true to Himself, to the freedom which is that of His love.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956), 4/1: 192-93.

31Charles B. Cousar, A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 182.

32Douglas John Hall, Lighten Our Darkness: Towards an Indigenous Theology of the Cross (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 151.

33Hall states, “What Paul means when he asserts that he is determined to know and to preach only the one thing, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified,’ is that for him this represents the foundation and core of the whole Christian profession of belief. That is to say, he intends to consider every subject from the perspective that one acquires upon it when it is considered from the vantage point of the cross.” Douglas John Hall, Professing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 363-64.

34N.T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 96.

35Cousar, 183-84.

36Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism, Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 95.

37J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 419.

38Darrell L. Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, The Gospel and Our Culture Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 70. See also Darrell L. Guder, Be My Witnesses: The Church’s Mission, Message, and Messengers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985).

39Of course the church went on to discourage Christians from seeking a martyr’s death because so many were too willing to pursue suffering and death as an imitation of Christ. The church is never advised to go and seek a martyr’s death for the sake of martyrdom.

40Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History, Essay Index Reprint Series (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 181.

41Douglas John Hall, “The Cross and Contemporary Culture,” in Reinhold Niebuhr and the Issues of Our Time, ed. Richard Harries and Richard Wightman Fox (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 198.

42 “The theology of the cross, I have insisted, implies an entire mode of thinking the faith.” Hall, “The Cross and Contemporary Culture,” 195.

Close this search box.