There Is No Such Thing as “The” Cruciform Hermeneutic

There is no such thing as “The” cruciform hermeneutic. Throughout church history many individuals and groups have sought to do theology and biblical interpretation through the lens of Christ and through the lens of the cross of Christ. This has often been referred to as a Christocentric hermeneutic or as a crucicentric hermeneutic. Martin Luther, for just one example, is well known for having emphasized a theology of the cross versus a theology of glory, i.e., a theology of humility versus a theology of triumphalism. That the entirety of Scripture should be read Christologically and cruciformly has been maintained throughout church history by a various and diverse array of individuals: Irenaeus, Augustine, Bernard of Clairvaux, St. John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Stott, J. I. Packer, to name only a few of many thousands. Indeed, the vast majority of Evangelical biblical theologians in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries would wholeheartedly endorse a Christological and crucicentric hermeneutic.

The movement which is currently masquerading as “The” cruciform hermeneutic has actually abandoned reading the entirety of Scripture through a Christocentric and cruciform lens. Two of its main tenets are that (1) God is completely nonviolent, and (2) the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement is untrue because that would imply there is violence in God. However, unlike previous Christological and crucicentric readers, it fails to deal with the entirety of Scripture, and it fails to deal with the whole Christ, the totus Christus. It claims to be reading Scripture through the lens of Christ and through the cross of Christ, but it fails on both counts, because it does not deal with the entirety of what Christ said and did, or with the entirety of what Scripture says this Christ will do. It fails to deal in any responsible way with the many places in which Christ himself talks about the retributive judgment of God, and eliminates any reference in Christ’s words to any kind of violent action by God, only by employing special pleading, bizarre and highly implausible readings, and twisting Christ’s words beyond the bounds of any proper responsible hermeneutic. Furthermore, it seriously truncates the meaning of the cross of Christ, which is not only a means of redemption, but also serves as a criterion of judgment.

For this current movement to claim that it and it alone holds to a cruciform hermeneutic can only be seen as an incredible act of arrogance, one that fails to appreciate the history of the Christian church, thus constituting an exercise in “chronological snobbery.” Indeed, taking into account Martin Luther’s formulation above, this movement can only be seen as advocating a theology of glory over that of a theology of the cross. At least in this particular respect, it has to be characterized as the opposite of Christological and crucicentric.

If this current movement wants to be in dialogue with the Evangelical church, then it must engage in an act of humility and discontinue the practice of referring to their hermeneutic as “The” cruciform hermeneutic, and must recognize that the very people they are trying to “convert” to their way of thinking also do their theologizing and biblical interpretation via a Christological and cruciform lens. It may well be that we have much to learn from each other, but the arrogant attitude has to be dropped to advance genuine and appreciative dialogue.

Jerry Shepherd
July 16, 2018