Monthly Archives: October 2015

Worldliness & the Social Scandal of the Cross

One of the many benefits of John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift is the manner in which he captures how for Paul the effects of the cross are seen in the social ordering of churches.

The cross is a world-shattering and world-creating event, refashioning the cosmos, effecting a new creation. This cosmic upheaval brings about a radically new social order among those communities that claim loyalty to Jesus Christ.

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Speaking for all those in Christ, Paul says that “the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14), creating a community in which ethnic distinctions no longer determine social capital (v. 15).

This is why Paul reacts so strongly to communities that are still ordered socially according to worldly valuations such as gender hierarchies and claims to ethnic and racial priority that privilege one group over another. These hierarchies belong to the world that has been put to death in the death of Christ (Gal. 6:14), and if they continue to shape Christian communities, then those communities are inherently worldly.

Such communities manifest a cosmic reality in which “Christ died for nothing!” (Gal. 2:21, NIV). Such churches proclaim the death of Christ as impotent to bring about the reality that Paul’s gospel declares.

The cross is not a private reality. The cross is public and political because it calls into being a visible community that enacts in its transformative social practices the gift given without any consideration of worldly measures of worth.

This is the scandal of the cross.


The Cross Shatters All Norms

I am thoroughly enjoying John Barclay’s Paul and the Gift. He has developed a unique vocabulary and grammar to articulate the shape of Paul’s theology.

Barclay, Paul and the Gift

It’s simply beautiful to read and I find myself re-reading and savoring many of his paragraphs. In his discussion of Galatians 6:11-16, he powerfully captures Paul’s argument regarding the power of the cross:

The cross of Christ shatters every ordered system of norms, however embedded in the seemingly “natural” order of “the world” (cf. 4:3). In form (as unconditioned gift), in content (as death), and in mode (the shame of crucifixion), the cross of Christ breaks believers’ allegiance to pre-constituted notions of the honorable, the superior, and the right. Whereas Philo took “the world” (ὁ κόσμος) to be the properly ordered gift of God, whose stable values were reinforced by gifts to worthy beneficiaries, Paul parades the cross as the standard by which every norm is judged and every value relativized. This single and particular event is of universal significance not because it reveals some timeless and universal principle of the cosmos, but because it is beholden to no pre-calculated system of distinction, and privileges no subset of humanity. It is the original radically unconditioned event (p. 395).