A church on a busy corner I drive past at least four times a week has had this posted on its sign for quite awhile now: “The cross was enough.”

As with the slogan I commented on in my last post, I’m puzzled. With whom is the congregation arguing or whom is it trying to convince? Why is it important to post such a theologically dense statement? How is it supposed to help any of the people who pass the sign going back and forth to the university and town everday?

Maybe the church is arguing with a Roman Catholic straw man and trying to contradict any notion that Christ is sacrificed again and again in the Eucharist. Or perhaps the target of the comment is some Christian who believes that we need to add our good works to what Jesus did in order to have salvation. But I have to wonder in what world are such questions really relevant to the day to day lives of people who pass by the sign, folks who struggle with studies and relationships and whether or not their jobs are secure or their kids are going to make the soccer team or how they’re going to take care of their aging parents. Why not post something uplifting and encouraging instead of fighting battles with imaginary theological enemies via a church sign? Why give the impression with such slogans that Christians of all sorts are only interested in esoteric questions with no application to the average person?

The sign assumes a whole theological universe, and thus proves how insulated from the real world the church (or at least the sign poster) must be. Yes, people know what “the cross” is. But then the statement calls for a follow-up: enough for what? I suspect it’s referring to an act of God in Christ for all time, but it also assumes knowledge, and asks for acceptance, of a particular theory of atonement, namely, that Jesus died to satisfy the wrath of God and took our punishment for sin.  His death was “enough” to slake a wrathful God’s thirst for bloody sacrifice.

But if that is the intent of the sign, again, how does that help real people in the real world we live in, where besides everyday suffering and worry, we once again are dealing with a terrorist attack, this time in Boston by a couple of guys or maybe more whose story is still unfolding as I write on this Friday morning? How does such a slogan possibly help us make sense of such horrific events? How would it bring comfort to a child whose leg is blown off, whose brother is dead, whose mother is seriously injured?

My point is that the church—any church—needs to be addressing not straw men and made-up problems, but the questions people ask. The theologian Paul Tillich called this the “method of correlation’,” in which Christian revelation is “correlated” with issues raised by human existence. For him, the question and the answer were not separated.

So what we need to figure out in these days is not whether the cross was enough, whatever that means, but how the cross—the suffering, the passion, the gift—of Christ touches and helps victims of terror and abuse and assault and oppression and bullying and whatever other hurts we perpetrate on each other. Perhaps hymn writer Brian Wren has an insight worth meditating on: “In every insult, rift, and war, where color, scorn or wealth divide, Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, wherever hope has died” (“Christ is Alive,” 1968).

When a church speaks in a public way, such as on its sign, it ought to do so with a clear, encouraging, and helpful voice. I only hope the church on the busy corner learns that lesson.

© 2013 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.