'Why Have You Forsaken Me?'

Stanley Hauerwas on atonement theology, Mel Gibson's 'Passion,' and the 'chilling' meaning of Christ's last words.

Known for afflicting the comfortable, Duke University professor Stanley Hauerwas "has been a thorn in the side of what he takes to be Christian complacency for more than 30 years," according to his fellow theologian Jean Bethke Elshtain. Whether condemning abortion or the war in Iraq, his views challenge believers to see Jesus' message as a radical one. Hauerwas spoke with Beliefnet about his most recent book, "A Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words."

You say in beginning of "A Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words" that you don't want to explain Jesus' seven last words. Are you unsatisfied with past explanations?

Yes. There's an inclination to get on the inside of Jesus' psyche, and I think that's a deep mistake because it assumes that what you have here is someone analogous to us. Of course it

is

analogous to us-he's fully human-but it oftentimes fails to take into account that this is the Son of God. I tried to exegete the seven last words in a way that does justice to their mystery.

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You seem to critique the narcissism of today's Christians, saying "sentimentality is the urge to make the gospel conform to our needs, to make Jesus our 'personal' savior." This seems to echo what happened after the movie 'The Passion.' A lot of people were repeating the well-known profession, "Jesus died for me"-but with quite an emphasis on the 'me.'

That Protestant evangelicals would leave Gibson's movie and say "gee, I didn't know he had to suffer so much for my sins"-quite frankly, that's to make yourself more important than you are. It also underwrites satisfaction theories of the atonement, which fail to do justice to the fact that this is the second person of the Trinity who is suffering.

When you say, "someone had to suffer to reconcile me with an angry Father," you forget: it's not an angry Father who has given the Son to receive our violence. The problem with saying "I didn't know he had to suffer that much for my sins" is it fails to do justice to the Trinitarian character of the Christian faith. What is happening in the cross is a cosmic struggle.

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