Rohr’s alternative Orthodoxy of Incarnation and the Cross


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This morning, when I opened up my email from the Center for Action and Contemplation’s daily meditation, the first sentence threw me for a loop- “Franciscan alternative orthodoxy emphasizes incarnation instead of redemption”. Maybe (and this is me being terribly picky) Father Rohr actually mean atonement in the place of redemption, as his article is titled. Maybe my ego is too wrapped up in an emphasis on redemption, so I need to take a look at that. I have only been receiving Father Rohr’s daily meditations for like two days, and I love that I have already run up against something. As I keep reading, Father Rohr does not dismiss redemption as one might expect he would from this sentence, but reframes it. Instead of downplaying redemption and Easter in favor of incarnation and Christmas, he blends the two- not to emphasize the incarnation by its merit alone, but to emphasize that the work of redemption did not start at Easter, and that God’s saving grace was not conspicuously absent before then.

From where I see it, under Father Rohr’s theology, redemption did not need the incarnation or atonement. Redemption was already at work before Christmas, and is still at work. The purpose of the incarnation was not to catalyze redemption through Christ’s atonement. It was to be with his people and be hurt by his people so they could see their guilt before them. Jesus did not die on the cross to atone for our sins, he died on the cross to show us our thirst for blood. He died on the cross because we really crucified him. He incarnated, knowing he would die because we were really that bad. So why did he do it? Love; from the very beginning and always, love.

In John 15:12-13, Jesus teaches the disciples that there is no greater love than to die for your friends. All my life I had interpreted this as a verse supporting the theology of atonement- Jesus was telling his disciples that he was going to die so they would be clean. But then why would he go on and tell them they were no longer slaves, but friends? And what of this talk about fruit? I think now it was not because of atonement, but because of incarnation. Jesus was not looking forward to the event of his death, but in the present. He is not saying “I will lay down my life for you”, but “I am laying down my life for you”. Trademark of the incarnation, he does not appeal to his power or authority as divine or good, but humbles his status, calling himself their friend, not their master. Just like poetry, he ends his teaching the same way he begins it- “my commandment is that you love each other, just like I have loved you”.

Recently I have been taking a looser stance on a lot of things theologically. After going through a period of having a fundamentalist faith, having that house burn to the ground, and now trying to rebuild my faith house, I have been hesitant to dismiss many theological stances. I believe that God is the objective truth, and as a subjective being what authority do I have to decide what is and is not truth? But as my faith economy rebuilds, I am finding that there are some very old, very widespread beliefs that simply do not fit within the logic of love. Atonement theory- that is, that Jesus died to satisfy God’s anger and thirst for blood so that we would not need to, is one of those. Father Rohr’s theology makes so much more sense to me. So, I am thinking about throwing out Atonement theory because I believe that God is love. Jesus did not die because God wanted blood, but because we wanted blood. Christ came down knowing this, and did it anyway. And looking at John, it looks like Jesus is asking us to do this too. So what might my life look like if I want to imitate Christ?

For those of you who are not in tune with the Church calendar (like me 85% of the time), this coming Sunday is Pentecost. So first of all, wear red, it’s what all the cool kids do. Secondly, in reflection of my desire to imitate Christ, I immediately run up against the problem that I am not Christ and I am so much more like those who cried “crucify him” to Pilate at his trial. Now I won’t go into the debate of whether or not the Holy Spirit was available to humans before Pentecost- but regardless the Spirit showed up grandly in a classic divine show of fire at Pentecost. Her presence reminds me that not only is God working through us, but that God’s presence necessitates purification. Her presence is fire that we enter into, live in, and are sanctified by. She is the grace we need to learn (or to unlearn) so that we can love like Christ loved.


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