We live in a world where people are bewildered, doubtful and despairing and feel let down by religious leaders, institutions and dogma. Sometimes it seems as though, God himself has turned his back on us, and we doubt who Jesus is. Is he God? Is he the Messiah? Was he even a real person (as a recent book by Bart Ehrman asks)?
In The Searchers, historian and journalist Joseph Loconte puts his finger on the pulse of our culture and our hunger for faith, hope and purpose. Loconte brings his readers into conversation with the story of Jesus’ encounter with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). This was shortly after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection (a handful of women had brought back reports of an empty tomb). These two disciples are on their way out of Jerusalem when Jesus meets them on their way, though they do not recognize him. He walks with them and explains to them from the Hebrew Bible the truth about the Messiah. When they reach their destination, they invite Jesus to stay the night with them. As they sat down to eat the evening meal, they recognize Jesus as he says the table grace. He disappears from their sight and they say to one another, “Did not our hearts burn when he talked to us on the road and opened the scripture to us?”
Each of Loconte’s chapters probe this story and its connection to our current cultural search for Jesus. The Emmaus story is broken down into sections which stand as epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter which Loconte uses as a scaffolding to hang his reflections. He explores how Jesus’ presence on the road calls us to look beyond the hopelessness of our world, confronts our grief, exposes the poisons of religion (it was the religious establishment which demanded Jesus’ death), challenges our illusions, and gives us reason to hope that God is alive and at work behind the scenes in very real, supernatural, and surprising ways.
There are few stories in the Bible that hit me at an emotional level the way the road to Emmaus episode does. There is something really touching about how Jesus meets two disciples stuck in the depths of grief, doubt and disillusionment and nurses their fragile faith back to life. I think Loconte does a great job of inhabiting the space these disciples are in and showing how we, in our culture, are also infected with doubts and disillusionment but hunger for something beyond our grasp.
This is the perfect book to read with a seeker (or as a seeker). Loconte’s use of films, novels, history and cultural analysis brings the gospel into lively interaction with a world in need of Jesus. But this isn’t just a book for evangelists and Christian apologists and those on the hunt for God. As someone firm in my convictions about who Jesus is,Loconte’s book invited me into deeper reflection of all Jesus is and does. We who believe also need to walk the Emmaus road and encounter Jesus afresh.
I happen to like this book because it is thoughtful and beautifully written. Loconte probes the resurrection and brings it into conversation with examples of conspiracy theories, contemporary obsession with angels, and analysis of of the biblical concept resurrection against ancient myths. Making for a highly entertaining and engaging read.
Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.
The cross is the Triune God’s way of addressing human sinfulness and reconciling the world to Godself. Yet theologians and popular preachers make certain inferences which undermine a robust doctrine of the Trinity. In Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters, Thomas McCall (associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) aims at answering some of the thorny questions people ask when they consider the cross and the Trinity. The title comes in reference to Christ’s cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and is the subject of the first chapter. McCall asks what can we and should we infer from this cry and how do we understand this in light of contemporary scholarship, patristic and historical theology and attention to the actual text.
I really like McCall’s approach of taking popular questions which we’ve all encountered (or asked!) and addressing them theologically. Although this may make this a somewhat lengthy post, let me walk you through each chapter before concluding with some general reflections on the book:
Chapter 1- “Was the Trinity Broken? -The Father, the Son and Their Cross- How are we to understand Christ’s cry of dereliciton? Does it mean total desperation and desertion of the Son by the Father? Was the Trinity completely ruptured? McCall points to contemporary theologians and biblical scholars which conclude that Christ was completely abandoned by the Father. But McCall reads these contemporary conclusions against traditional readings (Patristic and Medieval sources) and observes that traditionally, these words have been understood, not as a broken relationship within the Trinity, but as the ‘Father forsaking the Son to this death for us and for our salvation. McCall also invites readers to reread the passion narratives in light of the allusion to Psalm 22 (the cry of dereliction is a direct quote from Psalm 22:1) and a Christian understanding of the Trinity. He reviews the Social Trinity and Latin Models of the Trinity and concludes that for either model, the Father’s complete abandoment of the son is impossible (For the Latin model, if the Father abandons the son entirely, he also forsakes his own fatherliness and the unity of God is broken; for the Social trinitarians a broken relationship within the Trinity brings God into an ontological crisis (following Zizuoulas, God’s being is bound up with his ‘ being in communion’). He also argues that the biblical evidence does not warrant a complete break within the Trinity, and that we ought to read Christ’s cry with the stunning reversal in mind that is implied by it’s allusion to Psalm 22. Finally he concludes that we should avoid any position which says Jesus did not suffer and was not ‘really abandoned’ but also reject any approach which asserts God’s abandonment of the Son’s humanity during crucifixion. We should affirm that the Father did abandon the Son (to death on the cross) but that this no way implies a break in Jesus’ union with either humanity or in the Son’s relationship with God.
Chapter 2 Did the Death of Jesus Make it Possible for God to Love Me? “Righteous Wrath, Holy Love and the Heart of the Triune God” –McCall begins by observing that the God of scripture is revealed as a God of wrath, which is directed againt human sinfulness; however wrath is not presented in opposition to God’s love but both are affirmed in scripture. He reviews the ways contemporary theologians sometimes ignore , minimizing and depersonalizing God’s wrath, or place them in opposition to God’s love. Yet McCallseeks to place God’s love and wrath within the context of the doctrine of God. He argues that Divine impassibility does not imply that God does not love, but it does point to his eternal trustworthiness and solidity of divine love. He also points at the doctrine of Divine simplicity to frame the discussion of what we mean when we refer to divine attributes and the unity of God’s character. He concludes that God’s righteous wrath is a contingent expression of what is essential or necessary to him against sin, and a contigent expression of the holy love of the Trinity. Furthermore, God’s wrath is an expression of his holy impassible love. From this discussion, McCall concludes that we should avoid downplaying, depersonalizing, or anthropomorphizing God’s wrath, or any explanation which posits tension or ‘strife of attributes’ within God but we need to affirm that God’s wrath is real and personal and that it finds it source God’s holy love. McCall claims that this is important because if we ignore God’s wrath we ultimately trivialize his love and if we put God’s love in opposition to God’s wrath, we malign the character of the Trinity. Furthermore, by clarifying our thinking we see that the atonement ‘did not procure grace, but flowed from it.”
Chapter 3-Was the Death of Jesus a Meaningless Tragedy? “Foreknowledge, Fulfillment and the Plan of the Trinity– This chapter addresses the meaning of the cross. McCall first points to how it was foreknown by God and foretold in scripture (though he is careful to frame how this is different from determinism). He then discusses the nature of Christ’s work. He discusses the substitutionary dimension of the cross, but also how it achieves Christ’s victory (Christus Victor) and sets an example for us (Moral influence). He concludes by saying we should avoid understanding Christ’s death as just a tragic accident or meaningless tragedy, avoid saying God killed his Son, avoid determinism, and avoid pagan notions of substitutionary atonement or one-sided affirmations of Christus Victor or moral-influence themes. Instead, we should affirm that Christ’s death was according toGod’s plan, and that through it Christ makes satisfcation for our sin and guilt, wins us a decisive victory over the powers through his death and resurrection and shows us how to lead lives pleasing to God.
Chapter 4- Does It Make A Difference? “The Brokenness of Humanity and the Unbroken Work of the Trinity?” – In chapter 4, McCall ties together the themes of this book to discuss what it means to understand the cross as the work of the Trinity. He places the concept of Justification under the category of ‘primary justice,’ referencing a rightly ordered social whole, rather than ‘secondary justice’ (rendering judgment). This doesn’t alter the traditional view of justification, but it places it on a ‘broader soteriological canvas.” Thus forensic judgment (important as it is) describes God’s secondary justice, while primarily the cross is about ‘God bringing us home.’ McCall also moves beyond the doctrine of justification to discuss the process of sanctification as flowing out of our justification (and involving the Spirit’s work in our salvation). He concludes that we should avoid understanding our salvation, only in legal terms, and that we need to reflect on the relationship between justification and sanctification. We also need to affirm the proper order of salvation (we can’t sanctify ourselves into justification by the cross) and realize that justification entitles more than where you go when you die, but also how you live now.
Conclusion- “A Personal Theological Testimony” McCall closes with a moving tale of his father’s final day and how the Triune God’s work through the cross brings him hope.
As the above summary should indicate, McCall’s reflections are theologically rich and he draws from variety of sources (philosophical, historical and biblical theol0gy). I really appreciate the way he is able to affirm the substitutionary and forensic character of the atonement while avoiding the popular (and tritheistic) caricature of penal substitution which paints the father as the angry father and Jesus as the God of love. To my mind McCall is judicious in his conclusions and is able to demonstrate both biblical and theologically the ways in which the cross was the work of the entire trinity for our salvation.
There were a couple of places I wish he unpacked certain scriptures because I have heard them used as proof texts for alternative positions (i.e. He claims that the Bible never teaches that God killed Jesus, but I have heard preachers point to Isa. 53:4 as evidence that God did). But this is a short book (171 pages) and you can’t address everything. McCall really does a solid job untangling many of the issues surrounding the implications of the trinity and the cross.
I recieved a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for this review. The views above are my own.
(At our house, Mother’s Day is a happy time, a time to celebrate the mothers who raised us and a chance for my kids and I to pay homage to the wonderful wife and mother that Sarah is. Yet for many, Mother’s Day is a time of pain as they struggle through grief, infertility, the loss of a child. I offer this litany as a prayer for those who are hurting this day).
In peace let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy
For all the women of God’s church across the face of the earth, who have loved and nurtured others into the faith. Lord have mercy
For those who are single mothers and struggle to provide for their family. Lord have mercy
For the poor and widowed whose child has been taken from them because they couldn’t care for them. Lord have mercy
For those held captive by abuse who fear for their children and their life. Lord have mercy
For those who are estranged from their chlidren. Lord have mercy
For those have suffered the loss of a child either through miscarriage, abortion or the premature death of a child. Lord have mercy
For those who have lost their own mothers and feel the dull ache of their loss. Lord have mercy
For those who have never, and may never, have the opportunity to have a child. Lord have mercy
For strength in joy and hope for all women and confidence in God’s care for them. Lord have mercy
For . . .(names of women you feel led to pray for) Lord have mercy
For all those who call on you from their hearts. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy
Last week I was in the airport when I posted my prayer for week 4. I had low internet connectivity and completely lost the post. But trust me, it was amazing.
Physician who would not heal yourself,
you came proclaiming good news to the poor,
freedom, healing and sight.
You proclaimed that those who were oppressed
would be free.
By your life,
by your death,
by your resurrection,
it was so.
Thank you for proclaiming
and never withdrawing the claim
but bringing us into the inner life of God.
are not our priorities.
Were we would bring salvation,
it would be to our own house
and to people like us,
But Your Father sent Elijah
to a foreign widow
and through Elisha, healed
an enemy of His people.
Let us too,
in the strength of the resurrection
be bold in love
for those on the margins,
those we exclude,
those we fear,
those we hate.
Let us as followers of the Great Physician,
also be ready to lay our lives down,
and live with out honor in our hometown.