The Cruciform Gospel – Brad Jersak – Interview with Corey Jolin and Josh Hawkins
The Cruciform Gospel – Brad Jersak.
Interview with Corey Jolin and Josh Hawkins (Fremont Community Church).
Brad: In preparation for a weekend seminar (back in 2019) with Fremont Community Church in Indiana, the pastors ran the following questions by me:
Question: Discuss the word cruciform. What does the word simply mean? What are you wanting to portray when using it in your book?
Brad: Simply put, “cruciform” literally means “cross-shaped.”
When we speak of a “cruciform God” or a “cruciform gospel” or “cruciform love,” we’re reflecting on the meaning of 1 John 3:16 – “This is how we know love: he laid down his life for us.”
And again in 1 John 4:9-10 “This is how God’s love has appeared among us: God sent his only son into the world, so that we should live through him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son to be the hilasmos (related to hilasterion—“mercy seat”) for our sins.
Cruciform means this: If you want to see the nature of God in clearest focus, look to the Cross. John the Beloved is saying that the Cross shows us the nature of God: that God is love. And if you want the perfect revelation of divine love, look at the Cross. What is God’s love? It is God’s self-giving, radically forgiving, sacrificial love. That’s what cruciform or cross-shaped love looks like. That is the essential nature of God revealed in Christ.
Question: Can you give us an overview of your two books, A More Christlike God and A More Christlike Way?
Brad: A More Christlike God asks “What is God like?” A punishing judge? A doting grandfather? A deadbeat dad? A vengeful warrior? Even the Christian gospel has repeatedly lapsed into a vision of God where the wrathful King must be appeased by his victim Son.
What if God has always been and forever will be ‘cruciform’ (cross-shaped) in his character and actions? What if the New Testament authors were absolutely right: that God is exactly like Christ because Christ is God the Son Incarnate and to see him IS to see the very nature and character of his Father (cf. John 14:1-6). He is the radiance of God’s glory and exact representation of his likeness (Heb. 1:1-3). He is the image of the invisible God and in him, all the fullness of the triune God dwelled in a body (Col. 1, 2).
So, A More Christlike God was about God—the God revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ. I explored how Christ unveiled the divine nature as cruciform. Essentially, I recounted the central dogma of the New Testament and Patristic Christianity: that the true God of triune Love is completely Christlike.
A More Christlike Way is this sequel to A More Christlike Way. In it, I explore the Jesus Way of cruciform love. After recollecting the Christlike God of triune love and his Way of the Cross, I offer some alternative metaphors to “deconstruction.” Then I critique four common counterfeits to the Jesus Way. And I go on to describe seven facets of a more Christlike Way:
- Facet 1 – Radical Self-giving
- Facet 2 – Radical Hospitality
- Facet 3 – Radical Unity
- Facet 4 – Radical Recovery
- Facet 5 – Radical Peacemaking / Radical Forgiveness
- Facet 6 – Radical Surrender
- Facet 7 – Radical Compassion / Radical Justice
And finally, I close with “A More Beautiful Vision: Abba’s ‘I have a dream speech’” from the messianic kingdom prophecies of Isaiah.
So, this sequel is also a book about Jesus Christ. In A More Christlike Way,I lay out how Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in his fully human nature, forged the path for a new and true humanity. I call this path the Jesus Way.
This is literally crucial: when I refer to the Jesus Way, I am describing the life and faith of a man—the Jesus of the four Gospels—whose earthly sojourn embodied complete surrender to and trust in the God he called his Abba (the Aramaic equivalent to Papa).
Knowing that our subject matter is “the man Christ Jesus” matters greatly because I make no grandiose claims for any church or any individual disciple, alive or departed, least of all myself. In fact, Christianity’s infamy is that our way and our faith have not been very Christlike. Jesus alone created the Jesus Way and walked it perfectly.
Each of the attributes I will use to describe the Jesus Way—for example, radical forgiveness, radical hospitality, radical inclusion—describe Jesus, not me and not the church.
Here’s the problem: Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me,” which is to say, “Imitate me.” Largely, we don’t. We don’t become Christlike by willing ourselves into radical discipleship. Whatever forays we do make along the Jesus Way occur by locking our gaze, not on our performance, but on Jesus.
We must look ahead, to Jesus. He is the one who carved out the path for faith, and he’s the one who brought it to completion (Heb. 12:2).
Question: What was it that made you decide to write A More Christlike God?
Brad: It was the way in which false images of God were driving people away from Christ. In some cases, people hungry for faith had already disqualified Christ as a possibility because they held distorted, ugly images of God they associated with Christian messaging. Others had been life-long Christians but were ready to walk away for those same reasons. What I see in the Bible and in the early church Fathers is so much more beautiful than that. Here’s an example from a prayer by Augustine of Hippo.
“God our Father, we find it difficult to come to you, because our knowledge of you is imperfect. In our ignorance of you, we have imagined you to be our enemy; we have wrongly thought that you take pleasure in punishing our sins; and we have foolishly conceived you to be a tyrant over human life. But since Jesus came among us, he has shown that you are loving, that you are on our side against all that stunts life, and that our resentments against you are groundless.” —Augustine of Hippo
Question: What prompted you to right the follow-up book,A More Christlike Way?
Brad: A lot of it had to do with seeing unChristlike versions of Christianity, where the world had distorted the church and its gospel. I wanted to hold up Christ, not only as the true image of God but also the true pattern for what it is to be Christian and to be human. We have these counterfeit ways – moralism (purity culture Christianity), partisan amoralism (political Christianity), spectrum factionalism (culture wars Christianity) and nationalism (including Christian nationalism). These weren’t just in competition with Christianity—they co-opted it.
The Jesus Way is a much more beautiful way to live and be … but it’s also very demanding. Who, after all, wants to live a life of daily surrender? Who wants to forgive and even love their enemies? Who wants to let go of ego and its demands? Well, there are those who’ve finally come to know that a life of self-will and malice and egoism is actually slavery. They might be ready for another way—the Cross Way—the Jesus Way of life.
Question: Is there a major critique that gets leveled at you? And how do you respond?
Brad: First I’ll give the backdrop to the critique, then the critique and my response. The backdrop is the modern Christianity is profoundly committed to transactional religion and an emotional need for retribution that it projects onto God. They consider this “traditional conservative” Christianity. So when they hear me saying something unfamiliar to that model, they think I may be leading people astray from “the faith once delivered.” In truth, they’ve so badly mistaken modern Christianity for “the real deal” that when I recount the dogmas of the ancient faith, it sounds unfamiliar and unfaithful.
With this backdrop, here’s the critique: “Yeeeees, God is love BUT. God is love but he’s ALSO. God is love but he’s also holy, just, righteous and wrathful. You’re overemphasizing love and making Christianity wishy-washy.”
My response is always along these lines:
- You can’t over-emphasize infinite love. It’s infinite, always wider, higher, deeper and longer than you can imagine.
- There’s nothing wishy-washy about cruciform love. To call the sacrificial love of Christ poured out for us “wishy-washy” (as if you could supplement it?) denigrates the Cross.
- The nature and essence of God—that which God is plus nothing—as love ONLY. Not love BUT ALSO. Like a pure diamond, God is love and every other attribute of God can only ever be a facet of that love. God is holy love, just love, righteous love and even the wrathful love you’d see in my wife when I try to sabotage our relationship. In Hebrews 12, we read that all of God’s judgments reflect the Father’s love and his agenda for restoration.
- The righteousness, justice, holiness and wrath that is not love is NOT divine. It is wicked. It is what crucified Jesus Christ.
- When the early church arrived at the full deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity (4thcentury), they regarded any “God is Love BUT ALSO” theology as idolatrous and blasphemous. In the West, we’re just starting to remember that.
Question: Those who are deconstructing have already sensed a ‘falseness’ in the faith we’ve been practicing. How do we address those who’ve not yet sensed that falseness?
Brad: My wife used to be a banker and she shares an analogy that has frequently been used in the path. Counterfeits become more evident once we’ve experienced the genuine. So, while I will directly address problems with the counterfeit ways, I think the best way to discern falseness will be by highlighting the true facets of the Jesus Way. As we think about Christ’s radical challenges toward surrender, inclusion or peacemaking, for example, I imagine that some will recognize he’s pushing at their assumptions and calling them out. Other’s may not be ready for that and need to project their falseness onto me.
But my approach to falseness is not finger-pointing so much as confession. My biggest concern about falseness is my own and so I think confession is the best way to teach it. If the shoe fits on anyone else, they’re welcome to join me in repentance.
Question: Are there any teasers or cliffhangers you can give us for what you will be teaching?
Brad: Two come to immediately to mind.
First, many are in the throes of what we call deconstruction. I get that. But I also happen to find the word a bit too trendy and too violent. Do we really want to take dynamite to the gospel or a sledgehammer to our faith? I’m going to suggest what I believe are healthier alternative metaphors because our metaphors for transition form how we perceive and process our journey.
Second, if the attendees are up to it, I’ll also explore Christ’s radical inclusion. In other words, how do we simultaneously hold the uniqueness of Christ as the only Way and also the all-inclusive love of Abba. We may chat about the Cornelius story and its implications for how we dialogue with other faiths. That should be fun!
Interview with Brad Jersak from August 2019.