In a recent comment exchange regarding a post I wrote about the supremacist elements in Christian missions Tom Yoder Neufeld made a familiar Anabaptist move gesturing towards the particularity of Christ when he states,
“I think the mission of the church is about being the body of the one who made peace not with no-name healing and hope, or a generic just peace, but by the specific act of creating in himself a new human, destroying the hostility between us and our enemies and between us and God through the cross. That mystery is supreme over any and all of our efforts to articulate and live it; and it stands in perpetual judgment on our profound betrayals of it.” [emphasis mine]
I want to start by addressing the first half of that statement while hopefully coming to comment on the second half. By and large I agree with the move to particularity when it comes to talking about the content of our faith and thought. What I think Neufeld is critiquing is the notion that we can arrive a neutral or even secular criteria for ‘healing’ or ‘justice’ when it fact such notions come loaded with their own sets of assumptions and values that often go unnoticed. So for instance the liberal western notion of individual freedom often does not take into account indigenous claims to the land on behalf of an entire people group. These two notions of justice are at odds and one must, consciously or not, side with one particular notion or the other. I acknowledge and support such a critique.
Neufeld, however, wants to move this particularity under the category of ‘the cross’. The cross, however, was not a theological abstraction but a particular event from which particular believers were formed in their thinking and acting. I want to suggest, though, that perhaps the Gospel is actually much more generic, actually does arrive as one with no-name. That, and I hope I will understood here, for the cross to be the cross sometimes it will not be the cross. It seems that, according to the Gospels anyway, Jesus was not really concerned about the name under which ‘messianic’ or ‘kingdom’ elements were brought under. When asked by John’s disciples if he was the messiah Jesus asks them to simply tell John what they see. Jesus tells the disciples that they will be serving the king when they attend to the realities of the nameless marginalized. And most specifically Jesus clarifies that naming our lives and actions under the title ‘Lord, Lord’ gives no special place of status.
I know Neufeld is aware of all these things. I expect that his expression is at least somewhat in agreement with them. However, I still wonder if the ‘mystery’ in the second half of his statement should actually offer more judgement over the way we recuperate any possible notions of mission or gospel within our existing theological categories, even if those categories are as broad as ‘the cross’.
There is no question that the image of ‘the cross’ has been appropriated in all sorts of ways. Many expressions of the cross have been easily taken up into dominant cultural modes whether in outright superstition or just gaudy consumerism. So I want to suggest that for ‘the cross’ to have any integrity in theology or missions it will of course remain particular to the Gospel accounts but the Gospel itself should actually be much more generic. The Gospel has no-name other than the ones that emerge from those testifying to their encounter with it. This is its power and its vulnerability. And it is precisely at those intersections of deliverance, testimony, fellowship, and discernment that we all must be open to having our thoughts and actions laid bare for the unmaking and remaking of our lives.