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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik


Belousek, Darrin W. Snyder


Atonement, Justice, and Peace. The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church.


Grand Rapids u. a.: Wm. B. Eerdmans 2012. XV, 668 S. Kart. US$ 55,00. ISBN 978-0-8028-6642-4.


Eric E. Hall

The trajectory of this book as a whole could at first be described in terms of a theological ethic. The author, Darrin W. Snyder Belousek, seeks to find a way to define a cross-shaped moral in terms clearer than the vague and generic command to »love« often cited by Church authorities. What, in other words, does the cross tell us about the ways that Christians ought specifically to live their lives? How does the cross call into question Christians’ current and his­-torical modes and manners of thinking through ethical ideas? And how ought these answers guide the actions of the Church? These questions are ones that B. will attempt to answer both in-depth and systematically throughout the book, giving a basis for applying his answers to socio-political questions such as how Christians ought to stand on the issues of, say, the death penalty and the war on terror. He will tend to argue – and argue well – for a pacifist interpretation of the Christian faith and its ensuing ethic, pointing espe-cially to both Biblical and early-Church witnesses who used such an approach. In other words, the cross will call us to specific modes of living peacefully and propagating that peace from within our communities outward.
To delimit this book, however to such a trajectory would be a mistake, however rightly one sees such ethical themes emerging. What the cross tells us about the Church’s goals and how to achieve them is only as good as its interpretation of the cross. B. sees a problem in the contemporary, American-Evangelical (that form of Christian faith he’s most concerned with) modes of viewing the cross. Evangelical forms of the Christian faith depend on a specific atonement theory, namely, penal-substitution. Such an interpretation of the cross, however, seems at odds with the Biblical witness, depending wrongly (as B. will argue) on Greco-Roman conceptions of retributive justice and the violence that stems from such ideals. Thus, B. seeks not merely to determine what it would mean to think ethically through the cross, but what it would mean to think correctly about the cross itself. Indeed, one finds out quickly that precisely this last statement forms the crux of the book, and B.’s true goal for this book is to offer a proper and well-defended hermeneutic of the cross.
What, then, is this hermeneutic? The outlines of such have al­-ready been defined. It is, as said, certainly pacifistic in orientation. More specifically, B. provides a hermeneutic of the cross that grounds an ethic of forgiveness (to vastly oversimplify this work), which is why an atonement theory of the cross is no good. When God’s redemptive plan is bound to a need for retribution, as in atone­ment theories of the cross, how could one ever derive an ethic corresponding to that provided in the Gospels? (»Turn your other cheek«, »Go an extra mile«, »Take up your cross« are not commands of retribution.) Rather, B. looks at the site of the cross as a »crime scene« in which God, in the man Jesus, suffers innocently and will­ingly at the hands of the powers (373); that God does so not in condemnation but in forgiveness.
The end results of this systematic development are as well-thought as they are inspiring. The last major section of the book is entitled, »Redeemed for Good Works.« It is B.’s ethic as drawn out empirically – as ready for action – and that to which Belousek be­-lieves the Church ought to adhere. Interestingly, B. first applies this ethic to the sins of the Church itself, calling for the Church to, so to say, »repent« of its own sins found by way of schism and the intra-Christian hatred stemming from it. The logic for this move is simple: how could one expect the Church to act as an image and pro­-vider of God’s love to the world when so much hate exists within it? However, the Church is not made for itself. And B. (rightly) believes the Church to be an institution dedicated to, and in service of, cruciform peace for the world at large, which he develops in great detail.
All said, this book is ambitious, and ambition does not always translate into success. However, this book is quite successful and presents something of a refreshing throwback (if that is the right term) to a time when writing a serious systematic theology was the norm. If this statement is not recommendation enough, one should note that B. manages to write this volume with a verve not generally found in this literary genre. This truth stems from that fact that one will not find a critical distance between B. and this book. Rather, the book presents B. himself as he struggles with his religious and theological past. He is the book, and the book is an open one. Such an approach invites the reader – beyond all the specifics of B.’s Evan­-gelical history – into an interesting and important conversation.
I have no critique of the book neither materially nor formally. It is simply well-done and highly recommended. Rather, I enter, now, only into the aforementioned conversations that B. has invited all his readers. One of the themes that echoes throughout the book is that the cross, in its proper interpretation, is a skandalon. It utterly calls us into question our ways of living and modes of justifying them. If this statement stands true – and I believe that it does – one will always run into problems of interpretation as related to the cross, especially whether the cross’ truth could ever be fully interpreted, much less ethically achieved. As such, I merely add to this conversation the following: even such beautiful interpretations as the pacifistic ideas offered by B. not only are, but have to be, called into question by the cross itself. The cross demands it. As Adorno properly recognizes in his critique of Kierkegaard, the love demanded of the cross is impossible to achieve. Still, as Kierkegaard rightly sees, such is precisely the cross’ function: to remain unachievable by any other than God. This principle is, indeed, recognized by B., for he notes that we must indeed yield control of history to God (561). However, this very insight always yields to what seems to him the more important idea: that there remains definitive possibilities within our control – cruciform peace-making, as he calls it. My initial reaction, then, is to ask him to choose which is his priority.
Perhaps, however, B. merely openly displays a tension inherent to the Christian faith itself, the honesty of which provides all the more reason to read this book.