One can imagine all sorts of interesting BJS headlines when one is sitting in his study on Good Friday waiting to hear confessions. Like the Maytag repairman, I am experiencing a bit of dead time.
Each year we schedule time for members to come in for confession and absolution on Good Friday. We also hear confessions throughout the year. The number of people knowing the joy of hearing the pastor speak forgiveness into their ear personally is growing here at Bethany Lutheran but we still have a long way to go before it becomes routine.
With a little bit of time on my hands I thought I would pose to the BJS nation a question that Dr. Norman Nagel proposed to a bunch of us ambitious fourth year seminarians. Unbeknown to us there was a hidden Calvinistic tendency lurking in us, born of pop Christian culture already some 25 years ago.
The question came to mind as I drove to church this morning and saw a curious banner in front of the local Presbyterian version of the church-of-what’s-happening-now. It was advertising their Good Friday service but the headline was “He is Risen.” I also saw a banner hanging in a dentist’s office window yesterday that said “He is Risen!” And for the trifecta, I got an email this morning from some conservative blog and in the title the editor announced “He is Risen!” That was an odd email to get on Good Friday. I’ll offer more on that below but for now let’s return to the main question.
So this theological terrorist holds a gun to my head and says that unless I want to make his day and enter my eternal day, I must choose between Good Friday and Easter, which is better? Having been properly catechized by “the Nagler” I did not miss a beat and promptly responded: “Good Friday without a doubt!” Fortunately for me the terrorist is a Lutheran (probably a BJS reader since he is so theologically aggressive) and he says, “Right you are. Now go hear some confessions and speak absolution.”
Twenty-five years ago, rambunctiously chomping at the yoke to get out into the parish, I and my twenty other classmates had it wrong. We had been immersed in the Calvinist play land of Larry Norman, Second Chapter of Acts, Phil Keaggy and even Noel Paul Stookey and just like the dentist, happy-clappy Presbyterian Church, and conservative blogger mentioned above, we would have all chosen Easter as the big day. We were wrong.
Before you blow a fuse don’t think that I am committing the error of choosing one over the other. Remember, it’s a gun-to-the-head, imaginary question for the sake of theological fine-tuning. I know and confess that you cannot tear Jesus’ death and resurrection apart. They are one piece, one cake. They go together. However, our infatuation with Easter, our members’ infatuation with Easter and the whole reformed world of theology’s infatuation with Easter betray a harmful theology of glory. Here is how Dr. Nagel argued the matter.
If you had to choose one over the other your choose Good Friday. That is when everything got finished. Easter is icing on the cake or that distasteful coconut frosting on the bunny mold dessert if you will. (I don’t like coconut.) It is on Good Friday that Jesus says “It is finished.” That is the really hard day of work for God. Raising people from the dead he can do in his spare time on his day off, but for God to take on human flesh and die on the cross, now that takes some genius and some ingenuity.
Dr. Nagel quoted I Corinthians 15 on this matter. Verse 56 says that death is not the issue. Sin and the law are the issues. The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. Sin and the law were defeated on the cross.
For sure, earlier in that chapter Paul says that if Christ is not raised from the dead our faith is in vain (they are one cake). If you read that section carefully it is clear that our faith is in vain because then our preaching is a lie. Paul is refuting those who say that there is no resurrection. His point is that if we preach that Christ was crucified, died, was buried and rose from the dead, but there is no resurrection then our preaching of the cross is nothing but a deception as well. But thankfully this is not the case. Jesus died to pay for our sins and the Father verified that death by raising him from the dead.
As long as we are on the subject, it is not only the Calvinists who like to hold the glory of Easter over the death of Good Friday. There is also a liberal strain of this as well. It likes to highlight the Christus Victor over the “crucified victor.” The victorious Christ (popularized by Gustaf Aulen and others) is certainly a message that has some merit but some use it to overshadow what they consider to be the archaic and invented notion of blood atonement. Yes Christ was crucified they say, but the real deal is that he rose victorious and is a model for our victory.
This approach to the gun-to-the-head question has been brought into confessional Lutheranism via the liturgical movement with such interesting themes as the eighth day theology. Like Aulen’s Christus Victor, the teaching of a dawning eighth day of new creation has its place but it often overshadows the preaching of Christ crucified.
Don’t get me wrong. I am “eternally” grateful for the liturgical movement in confessional Lutheranism. I am not sure that without it I would be a real Lutheran and not just a Phil Keaggy pietist. But I am even more grateful, if that is possible, to Dr. Nagel, who knocked that surprisingly large piece of the theology of glory out of many of us, with his famous question, at the last second, just before we all entered the Holy Ministry, to preach Christ crucified.