We live in a world that is in many ways fractured and divided, by such things as geography, politics, nationalism, race, and culture. But the division of all divisions is religion, whether we are talking about the divide between religions, the divides within a particular religion (such as the many denominations within Christianity), or (especially in our increasingly secular society) the divide between the religious and the irreligious. Christianity, like other religions in our world, creates and sustains distinctions between people; it does not remove them.
But with the cross of Christ as a our “foundation and criticism”, these distinctions – especially religious ones – are profoundly called into question:
If his death is proclaimed and acknowledged as the death of the Son of God ‘for many’, as by that centurion, then in this death God’s Son has died for all, and the proclamation of his death is for all the world. It must undermine, remove and destroy the things which mark men out as elect and non-elect, educated and uneducated, those with possessions and those without, the free and the enslaved. The Gentile-Christian proclamation concerns all men, because confronted with the cross all men, whatever the differences between them and whatever they may assert about each other, ‘are sinners and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3.23). ‘Here there is no distinction’ (Rom. 3.23a). Gentile Christian proclamation must therefore essentially be the proclamation of the crucified Christ, i.e. the word of the cross (I Cor. I. 1 8). The proclamation of the cross is ‘Christianity for all the world’ (Blumhardt), and may not erect any new distinctions between men, say between Christians and non-Christians, the pious and the godless. Its first recognition leads to self-knowledge: to the knowledge that one is a sinner in solidarity with all men under the power of corruption. Therefore the theology of the cross is the true Christian universalism. There is no distinction here, and there cannot be any more distinctions. All are sinners without distinction, and all will be made righteous without any merit on their part by his grace which has come to pass in Christ Jesus (Rom. 3.24). As the crucified one, the risen Christ is there ‘for all’. In the cross of the Son of God, in his abandonment by God, the ‘crucified’ God is the human God of all godless men and those who have been abandoned by God.
Here we see a little bit of the universalist flavor of Moltmann, a subject about which I’ve blogged about previously (and hope to return to it in more depth one day). One of my favorite passages in all of Moltmann’s works is the section on “The Restoration of All Things” in The Coming of God, which leans heavily in the direction of universalism (but in something of a dialectic between “double outcome judgment” and universalism). When I wrote to Moltmann about this subject, he responded with an allusion to Barth’s doctrine of election: “Because Christ took the condemnation of sinners upon himself on his cross – he died for us – God gave the election of grace in Christ’s resurrection to all sinners.” We see in his response there how firmly this aspect of his thinking is grounded in the cross of Jesus.
But for Moltmann, what’s at stake isn’t just our understanding of “who is in” and “who is out” (i.e. particularism vs universalism); what is at stake is whether the God Christians worship is “the crucified God”, or something else entirely:
The cross of Jesus marks a divide between the human God who is freedom and love and the ‘counter-God’ who keeps men under his sway and dominated by fear, like demons, and sucks them up into nothingness. However, the ‘crucified God’ here cannot be interchanged with the ‘God of Christians’, for by the terms of a psychological or sociological analysis the God of the Christians is not always the ‘crucified God’. Only rarely is this the case. Even for historical Christianity the cross, if it is understood radically and down to its final consequences, is a scandal and foolishness.