Identification

Lucas writes: 'A better account of the significance of the cross is available in terms of identification.' (We have already encountered the notion of identification in discussing the work of MacKinnon and Adams. ) According to this view, the exchange at the heart of Christian soteriology is this: God identifies himself with us by incarnation, so that we may be identified with him by union with Christ. Lucas refers to the key affirmation taken up by the Eastern Orthodox tradition from the writings of Athanasius: 'for he [the divine Word] became man that we might become divine'. Of course, the eastern doctrine of divinization or deification does not mean that we lose our creaturely status, ontologically speaking. It means that, by union with Christ, we are taken into the triune God and made immortal. (This latter point is one to which we shall be returning in the next chapter.)

Lucas points out that, while in fact God's incarnation meant suffering and a cruel death, it did not have to be like that. The depth and extent of the divine self-sacrificial love is indeed revealed, with effect, in the cross of Christ, but God's forgiveness did not depend on the cross. The life of Christ was such as to make such a fate virtually inevitable, but 'it was a human inevitability, not a necessitarian one'.

A similar stress on identification as constituting the heart of Christian soteriology had already been expressed in the 1960s by Austin Farrer:

What, then, did God do for his people's redemption? He came among them, bringing his kingdom, and he let events take their human course. He set the divine life in human neighbourhood. Men discovered it in struggling with it and were captured by it in crucifying it. What could be simpler? And what more divine?43

It is important to note that this view is more than a subjective or exemplarist view. The life of Christ and the way of the cross do, of course, provide a paradigmatic and morally compelling example. But that is not the whole story. It is God's own sacrificial act of self-involvement, through incarnation to the point of crucifixion, that, as it were, transmits God's forgiveness and God's love, and enables the divine Spirit, the Spirit of both God the Father and of Christ crucified, to penetrate human hearts and human society and begin the work of sanctification. These objective transactions are what are lacking in a purely exemplarist view. Hick appeals to eastern Christianity's idea of gradual transformation of the human by the divine Spirit, and to that extent his view is objectively theistic, but having rejected eastern Christianity's incarnational Christology, he can only treat the work of Christ in exemplarist terms. And Hick is in no position to see the Spirit's work of sanctification as a matter of humanity being united with Christ crucified and risen, and taken into the triune life of God. Lucas concludes his essay with these words:

The concept of identification is itself sometimes unclear and often fuzzy-edged. But it can give us a way of expressing different explanations of the crucifixion at different levels, in a way, which reveals the force of traditional theories and metaphors without committing ourselves to their unfortunate, and often unchristian, implications.45

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