The Gospel ascribes a very great importance to the termination of Christ’s earthly life; it is his death on the cross that is preeminently the saving event. Why is this death so important and how does it save?

In the current situation there are undoubtedly those who see in Christ’s death the grand archetype of the non-violent protest demonstration. To speak of Christ’s behavior in his passion as non-violent is the understatement of the ages. For he was completely non-violent while subjected to what was, in view of his nature and person, the starkest violence and outrage of all time. As for protest, Christ’s death is the sharpest possible protest against all accommodation of sin, all cheapening of grace, all humanisticizing of salvation. But in the peculiarly contemporary sense of “protest,” it was actually the ultimate in non-protest. He articulated no grievances and he was inflamed with no indignation. The best of the judges into whose courts he was hustled in the farcical processes of that doleful night and ensuing day was struck by his silence and regally supramundane aloofness. (“Answeredst thou nothing?” “My kingdom is not of this world.”) Manifestly the real happening was on a level far above Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, and the primary address of the cross was to the Father, not to the world.

Others make of the cross primarily a pedagogic posture or a hortatory stance. The great need of the world, in this view, is that men should be taught effectively to love God and one another. All other methods having failed, God, as a last resort, admonishes men through his crucified Son. Now assuredly no teaching stance could be more impressive. But if there was no objective need for the cross (by “objective” I here mean external ...

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