Cheesus Christ

Zachary's FuneralIn one of those bizarre moments of serendipity this morning I read Giles Fraser’s latest column for the Guardian’s Comment Macht Frei section right after I had just sorted out the Easter lily for my dead son to be part of the adornments in our church on Easter Sunday. Each year St Mary Bredin invites congregation members to buy a lily for a deceased loved one and to have that person’s name written in a book of remembrance. It is a glorious reminder that the victory of the tomb is the triumph of Jesus over all suffering, pain and death. Christ is the first fruits of those who will rise on the final day, glorified beyond their sin and destruction by the one who wiped away on the cross all their sorrow and iniquity.

By contrast, Fraser’s polemic in the Guardian is a weird conglomeration of class warfare, a functional lack of awareness of what many Evangelicals actually believe and have experienced and liberal distaste of the more explicit portions of Scripture that quite clearly declare Jesus’ death on the cross as a victory. The thing is though, that victory like so many things in the Bible is a two part process. The events of Good Friday achieve the victory but the Empty Tomb on Sunday morning proclaims it. The two are the same event. The cost of Jesus’ death and the price he had to pay for removing the spiritual consequences of both our sin and our wounds from living in a fallen world are the very reason why Evangelicals and others take such delight in the name of the one who has transformed us.

The two years after my son was stillborn were the darkest in my life. Depressed and angry with God for taking our child before his life even began, and for then not giving us the job we wanted (because obviously if you do the right thing then God will make everything OK) I entered that long dark night that the Christian mystics speak of. You’d be surprised how many Evangelicals do. As I sat in the dust alongside Job I learnt that it is in suffering and despair that we learn to wait on God, and it is in the surrender of our desires and dreams that we give God the permission to raise from the dead that which we (and He) have crucified. But as Evangelicals understand, it is the moment of darkness that is the moment of triumph. The Father lays upon the Son every sin of the believer, every suffering, every moment of pain, anguish and sorrow and as Jesus dies he takes upon himself the entire spiritual consequence of those things. There is a supernatural exchange – my brokenness for his perfection. It is an exchange that cannot be understood by those who have not experienced it and it is one that the world derides and mocks.

No doubt there is a tendency amongst all Christians to do one of two things with suffering and sin. The first is to ignore it and pretend that the Christian life should be all smiles and laughter. This isn’t so – nowhere does Jesus promise us material prosperity and emotional security. But secondly there is also a tendency amongst some Christians to positively wallow in their plight, to not envision that the events of the Easter weekend are transformational, not just supernaturally for Jesus but also for us. If we are to be united with Christ in sharing his sufferings and becoming like him unto death then we also can taste the power of his resurrection. Jesus does heal today, he does bind broken hearts, change sinful attitudes and transform opportunity and situation.

That of course is at the heart of the experience of not just Evangelicals but also other orthodox Christians. The joyful expression of the name of Jesus is not a denial of the suffering and pain but a bold proclamation despite it. At the heart of conversion is the understanding that everything has changed and that everything will change. No matter what faces me now, regardless what hurdles a broken and sinful world is presenting me with, now that I am Christ’s I can raise my face through the tears and praise him for what he has done and what he will yet do. The glory of Good Friday and the Cross is that is does lead to Resurrection Sunday. Evangelicals are not the stereo-typed cheesy, happy-clappy HTB attenders without a care in the world from Giles Fraser’s column but rather are and should be men and women who completely understand the price Jesus paid for them (and calls them to pay daily), have had a foretaste of glory divine and who positively revel in the grace of it all. What’s not to celebrate?

I’d love to ask Giles to dinner to discuss why he caricatures Evangelicals in such a negative manner but it’s likely he wouldn’t come, suspecting that I’d be serving some posh Sloane Square culinary pretentiousness. So I’ll invite Teresa of Avila along instead as we would have much more to talk about over our Cheesus Fondue.

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8 Comments on “Cheesus Christ

  1. “They are brilliant at PR and have pots of money. And if Christianity is all about success, then you have it hand it to them.”

    Says the guy who is a “Guardian columnist. Moral Maze panelist. Visiting Professor at the LSE” and proclaims it on his twitter profile. He might be lacking the money and big enthusiastic constituency, but he’s brilliant enough at PR to be a main (or even the main) talking head of the liberal wing of the church among the chattering classes. And a lot of that PR is pieces like this having a go at middle-class, rich, Tory-voting, happy-clappy Flanderses…

    Reading the piece it seemed to me to be a theology of glory, not the cross, that was the driving force. Mocking people to gain credibility with the world is the very opposite of a theology of the cross!

    There’s some reasonable critiques there, though – I find the Charismatic Evangelical wing of the church does gloss over Holy Week/Good Friday, jumping quickly to Resurrection Sunday (and generally in the church year a bias against the humiliation holy days, with Pentecost only not being bigger than Christmas due to the relative celebrations in the culture). The drama is missing, not the Cross – which is (quite rightly) a focus throughout the year* though (quite legitimately) seen in the light of the Risen Christ.

    *well somewhat – Alpha sort of rushes past it to focus on the more controversial (among evangelicals) bits: Session 1 “who is Jesus”, Session 2 “why did he die?” Session 3-10 (and 4 weekend sessions) on different aspects of the Christian life/Holy Spirit with strong Charismatic bias.

  2. Hey Peter

    Great response, I find it sad that Giles, a Christian minister has to deride other Christians in such a public forum that does nothing to impress people, but only give non believers more opportunity to point out our division. Whilst I think he may have made a good point about the pain of the cross, I find that assuming all Evangelicals are the same, is like lumping all liberals together! Chances are, it just doesn’t play out like that in reality.

    Moreover as you poignantly point out, many of us both in ministry and in life have experienced first hand times of utter darkness and difficulty. Its why we make such a big deal of the cross, because in Christ, we have one who has completely entered the human condition, but unlike us he has gone so much further, but without the compromise of sin. However, what turned the disciples around from headlong flight, was the resurrection. I completely agree with your point, and that the cross and resurrection are counter points that if we major on one over the other distort the whole. The Cross reminds us there are no cheap victories, the resurrection that real hope exists, so we don’t give into despair.

    For such a clever man, why is it that Giles resorts to cartoon illustrations and cheap shots of God’s people? And why is it, despite his view of the cross, does it appear to afford him so little help or grace when it comes to speaking to and accepting God’s people whoever they are?

    D.

    • Yes my immediate reaction to the piece was anger and astonishment, not least at his apparent lack of understanding of the wider mainstream Christian theology of the cross. We’re probably used to his ‘have a pop at panto-villain evangelical’ pieces by now, but this goes much further than his normal stuff, and contains some quite blatant falsehoods. As Peter says it’s actually quite bizarre. This guy was an Oxford academic, for goodness sake, so should be able to understand different points of view even if he doesn’t share them.

      Now, though, I’m increasingly concerned for him personally – How can a minister with pastoral responsibilities remain emotionally and psychologically stable, and a loving pastor to his congregation, when he clearly holds so much anger and resentment?

      • Also it was a personal attack on the Archbishop of Canterbury of the ‘this man hasn’t actually done or said anything to upset me, but I have a prejudice against the section of the church he comes from that makes me suspicious, so rather than give him the benefit of the doubt, and keep my fears to myself, I’m going to publish an article attacking him in a mainstream newspaper and blacken his name for no good reason’ variety. Sad and self-indulgent.

  3. From outside of Christianity, just about everything Giles had to say rang true and reminded me why I rejected evangelicalism and find it shallow and unconvincing.

  4. I wonder if Fr Giles uses CW Daily Prayer for his daily office. If so he may not enjoy this evening’s service, which includes the hymn “The royal banners forward go”. Here are 2 of the verses:

    Fulfilled is now what David told
    in true prophetic song of old,
    how God the nations’ King should be;
    for God is reigning from the tree.

    O tree of glory, tree most fair,
    ordained those holy limbs to bear,
    how bright in purple robe it stood,
    the purple of a Saviour’s blood!

    Given that the original Latin hymn dates from the 6th century it seems those pesky’ theologically illiterate’ evo-types have infiltrated not only the the C of E Liturgical commission but also somehow have backfilled to the wider, historic Christian tradition.

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