“Martyrdom is communicative action.” This is a claim that Kevin Vanhoozer expounds, following the writings of Kierkegaard (First Theology, p. 364).
This claim was brought to the table this morning as we were talking cross, kingdom, and gospel. What kind of reign is this reign of God of which we speak? What kind of power is it that exercises authority to both speak and to exorcise?
I worry about power. I worry about coercion. I worry about what sort of emissaries we are. I worry about what kind of king we think we represent.
Not all power is bad. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” claims the resurrected Jesus. That’s power.
But it’s power that comes, while on earth, in the Spirit who empowers Jesus at baptism–itself a symbol of the coming cross.
It’s an authority that is finally granted when Jesus eschews all worldly means for overthrowing his enemies, going to the cross in order to wage his “war,” receiving from God the enthronement at God’s right hand in return.
Kevin Vanhoozer riffs off of Kierkegaard, who, in turn, is riffing off of Jesus and Paul, underscoring the necessity of an act of suffering to make good on our message of a suffering messiah:
Christian witnesses are not only speakers but sufferers too… Neither orthodoxy nor “Christendom” is enough; Christian truth demands passion or inwardness. Yet subjectivity is not the whole story for Kierkegaard either… Being a Christian is recognizable “by the opposition one suffered.” (First Theology, 364)
There’s a practice that demarcates the faithful Christian, practice that is not merely doing the right things generally, but a receiving of the opposition that will inevitably come against the truth.
Placing suffering so close to the heart of the Christian identity (we are the Cross People) undermines other ways of conceiving of faithful Christian practice:
Both the form and the content of the evangelical truth claim work against the notion of “Christendom” and its imperialistic overtones of imposing truth on others. Those who stake theological truth claims, then, should expect not to oppress but rather to suffer oppression. To associate the theological truth claims with expressions of the will to power is effectively to contradict the Christian witness. The power associated with the Christian truth has little to do with force (except the force of testimony and perhaps the force of the better argument) and nothing to do with violence. The power of the cross is the weakness and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:23-25). From the perspective of an epistemology of the cross, truth–even rationality–is vulnerable.
(NB: For those of you scoring at home, Kevin Vanhoozer is a Reformed Theologian, not an Anabaptist. I think that makes what he says just a little more interesting.)
“An epistemology of the cross”: we know truly when we know what is true as that which is formed by and participates in the cross of Christ.