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The Cross: "Cosmic Child Abuse"?

  • Dr. Paul Dean
  • Updated May 14, 2007
The Cross: "Cosmic Child Abuse"?
From the more radical wing of the “Emerging Church” has emerged a phrase and/or concept that is not only fashionable in that camp but has been picked up by liberals and secularists alike. It is now in vogue to refer to the cross of Christ as “cosmic child abuse.” While Brian McClaren and Steve Chalke speak freely in such terms, Adrian Warnock has chronicled other examples including Philip Yancey in The Jesus I Never Knew, Eugene Rogers in Sexuality and the Christian Body: Their Way into the Triune God (Challenges in Contemporary Theology), Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore in Let the Children Come : Reimagining Childhood from a Christian Perspective (Families and Faith Series), and Haven Kimmel in The Solace of Leaving Early.

Further, Dr. Peter Jones, author of Spirit Wars: Pagan Renewal in Christian America, warns against the pagan agenda of radical feminism that has been embraced by much of the church and connects that agenda with environmental activism propelled by Gaia worship. Numerous so-called Christians in that society refer to the cross of Christ as “cosmic child abuse.”

Moreover, in his article highlighting the comments of the homosexual Anglican Priest, The Very Reverend Dr. Jeffrey Philip Hywel John, Dr. Albert Mohler not only points out the priest’s belief “that the church's traditional understanding of the cross of Christ is both ‘repulsive and ‘insane,’ but also cites Giles Fraser, who “throws his lot in with Dr. John. In his words, ‘For, once again, what [John] has been saying is nothing other than a truth known by most people in the pews: that the idea of God murdering his son for the salvation of the world is barbaric and morally indefensible. It turns Christianity into ‘cosmic child abuse.’”

In our present context, we are left with two competing visions of the cross of Christ. Either the cross was insane and a form of cosmic child abuse, or, it was not only just, but appropriate for God to send His Son to die such death. Dr. Mohler is right when he notes, “On this question there is no middle ground.”

It is clear that Christ came into the world for a purpose. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9). Now, this raises a massive question (particularly in the Jewish context): is it right or appropriate or even true that the Messiah should suffer and die? Of course, the Old Testament is filled with references to this particular reality. The problem lies in the fact that most Jews did not understand such nor did it comport with their understanding of the Messiah or the law.

It seems that contemporary minds have the same difficulty, though for different reasons. The first-century Jews thought the Messiah would be a military conqueror. Furthermore, the law declared that anyone who hung upon a tree was cursed of God. In the same way they could not stomach such a notion, neither can today’s liberals fathom God crucifying Christ for their salvation. The truth is that Christ was cursed of God for a time. Six reasons are here offered as to why this action had to be and that it was indeed fitting.

First, it was fitting for the Father to send Christ to taste death for His people because of who God is and the purpose He had in bringing many sons to glory. To put it simply, because all things are for and by God Himself, what He does is right. One of the things God determined to do was to adopt a family and then bring that family to glory; something that family could not do for itself.

The propriety of Christ’s death is set forth in Hebrews 2:10. The writer simply declares, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” It was fitting, right, and appropriate for God the Father to send Christ to die. The writer supports his assertion in subtle ways.

As noted, whatever God does is appropriate by virtue of who He is. He is God and all things are for Him and by Him. This reality is highlighted elsewhere in Scripture and is attributed equally and interchangeably to the Father and the Son (Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16-17). Paul put it this way to the Corinthians: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live" (1 Cor. 8:6).

Now, God’s purpose was to bring many sons to glory. His redemptive purpose is highlighted throughout Scripture and includes the adoption of a people for Himself. The adopted children of God are predestined for glory and will be called, justified, sanctified, and glorified (Ephesians 1:5; Romans 8:29-30).

Second, because God purposed to bring many sons to glory, Christ had to taste death for His people in order to bring them to glory. Why? Because the stark reality is that sinful human beings cannot save themselves. They must have a Savior and the only sufficient Savior is Christ Himself. Thus, it is Christ who is the captain, author, leader, or trailblazer of salvation for His people. Christ is the One who accomplished salvation for His people.

Third, the question as to why Christ had to die in this context warrants further explanation. In order to bring His people to glory, Christ had to blaze a trail to glory. As noted, He is the author of their salvation. He is the One who leads them into salvation. He is their captain or leader. In that sense, He blazed a trail to and into salvation for His people as the Greek word for “captain” indicates.

But, the writer references the sufferings of Christ. The trail that Christ blazed to and into salvation was a trail that went through death. The collective testimony of Scripture is that He had to suffer and die in order to save His people. The wrath of God abided upon them by virtue of their sin. The wages of sin is death. Thus, Christ died as a substitute for His people in that He tasted death and took the wrath of the Father upon Himself for them. He atoned for their sins: something they could never do for themselves.

As the writer notes, Christ was made perfect through sufferings. The word “perfect” in the Greek speaks of perfection to be sure, but also carries the idea of maturity, end, or goal. Christ was certainly not imperfect, flawed, or sinful. He was and is perfect God. He was perfected in His role of Savior through suffering, death, and ultimately the defeat of death by virtue of His sinlessness. Because He had no sin of His own, death could not hold Him. He achieved His goal, the bringing of His people to glory, by suffering and dying for them.

Fourth, in order to blaze a trail to glory, Christ had to suffer and die as a man. It was appropriate for Messiah to die: “For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Heb. 2:11). A few points may be gleaned here.

Christ is the One who sanctifies. That is, He sets His people apart by virtue of His atoning work for them. He sanctified His people or set apart His people from the rest of humanity for the Father. He accomplished this reality at the cross.

At the same time, Christ’s people are also being sanctified. This dynamic is progressive and occurs over a lifetime this side of glory. In justification, the work of Christ is applied to the believer by imputation. The believer is declared righteous in God’s sight by virtue of the imputed righteousness of Christ to his account. In sanctification, the righteousness of Christ is progressively imparted to the believer by the Spirit.

Finally, Christ, the One who sanctifies, and His people, those who are being sanctified, are all of one nature or family. The issue here is identification. Christ identified with His people in order to save them. But, the issue goes further. He became a partaker of their nature that He might actually save them by dying in their place as an acceptable substitute. Certainly Christ died as God to satisfy God but He also died as man to be a substitute for man. He had to add humanity to Himself to be an acceptable substitute for men.

Fifth, because Christ suffered and died as man, He is not ashamed to call His people brethren. Because Christ added humanity to His deity, identified with His people, and set them apart, He is not ashamed to call them brethren. They now share the same human nature. By virtue of that reality and His sanctifying work, Christ and His people are brothers.

Sixth, because Christ is not ashamed to call His people brethren, He points them to the Father. The writer quotes Psalms 22:22 to support the assertion that Christ is not ashamed to call His chosen ones brethren. Of course the Psalm is Messianic and speaks volumes to the questioning Jews. The simple statement is this: “saying: ‘I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You (Heb. 2:12).’”

The Messiah will declare the Father’s name to His brethren. Three points may be gleaned here. Firstly, the concept of Messiah having brethren supports the notion of his incarnation and the realities to which the author to the Hebrews has been pointing (Christ’s incarnation, suffering, and death).

Secondly, declaring the Father’s name to the brethren is more than mere verbal proclamation. It is Christ who reveals the Father to His people by virtue of who He is as God. In salvation, Christ reveals God to His people.

Thirdly, Christ reveals God in a saving way to His brethren alone. He does not reveal Him to the rest of humanity in the same way. Christ says to the Father that He will declare His name to “my brethren."

The Messiah will also sing praise to the Father in the midst of the assembly. The Greek word for assembly is ecclesia and refers to the elect or those called out of the world by the effectual working of the Spirit and is translated “church.” It is in the midst of the church that Christ will sing praise to the Father. Christ as the elder brother reveals the Father to the church and sings praise to Him in the church. He is the elder brother who leads his brothers in the way of salvation.

In v. 13, the writer continues in the same vein as v. 12 by quoting from Isaiah 8:17-1818: “And again: ‘I will put My trust in Him.’ And again: ‘Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.’” Isaiah, in the midst of Israel (and here the faithful remnant), the Old Testament people of God, who typify the spiritual people of God, declares that he will trust God. Christ is in the midst of God’s true people, the children the Father has given Him, and declares to them that He will trust in God. In this way, Christ unites the church to the Father not only by virtue of His work, but also by constantly pointing to Him and declaring the way of faith.

Christ trusted the Father in the mission given to Him: the work of redemption. Christ is the elder brother who trusts the Father with the church and unites the Father to the church. It was appropriate that Christ taste death for His people that He might constantly point them to the Father.

Far from being cosmic child abuse, the cross is the only action a loving God could have taken to maintain His holy character and be lovingly gracious to guilty sinners at the same time. He is God and what He does is right. He graciously determined to save a people out of lost humanity. Therefore, Christ had to taste death in order to bring His people to glory. Because His people could not get to glory on their own, Christ had to blaze a trail for them to glory. That trail led through death, thus, Christ had to die. He had to die as a man in order to identify with man and become an acceptable substitute for man by virtue of His sinless humanity. As He identifies with man, His people, He is not ashamed to call them brethren and therefore constantly points them to the Father. How fitting…and how loving.

Dr. Paul J. Dean is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, SC, and hosts a daily, live, call-in radio talk show: "Calling for Truth." He serves as the Director of Applied Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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