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Labor of God
The Agony of the Cross as the Birth of the Church
It is hard to imagine just how startling the Christian message must have sounded to those who first heard it. The story of a crucified messiah was absurd. The death of Jesus as a ransom, a punishment, or a sacrifice was an offense and an affront. Yet, by making the death of Jesus central to its preaching and worship, Christianity took a scandal, the cross, and called it a gospel.
In Labor of God, author Tom Bennett revisits the church’s speech about the cross. He recovers an equally shocking, but often overlooked, metaphor from Scripture and tradition: the cross as an act of divine labor, the travail through which God gives birth to the church. This ancient understanding of the cross enables a fresh theology of Christian atonement, one better able to answer questions of sin, suffering, and divine violence. As Bennett argues, this understanding of the cross can also reshape the classical systematic doctrines of creation, election, soteriology, and the church.
Developed through close readings of biblical texts and interaction with voices from theology and the sciences, Labor of God shows how the Christian message of the cross can once again prick the ears and trouble the hearts of those who hear it. To a church immune to the radical character of its own message, Bennett resists the temptation to sanitize and relishes the offense—an offense that gives birth to a scandalous gospel for a secular age.
Thomas Andrew Bennett is Affiliate Assistant Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.