I couldn’t help but wonder, reading this, if the authors had actually encountered the same kind of Christianity I had. To be sure, the abuses of Christian doctrine to pin suffering on the victims and to minimize, sacrilize, or obfuscate the suffering of the disenfranchised is itself a long and unfortunately storied history. They are without doubt right in their analysis concerning the ways Christian teaching have been used as a weapon throughout the ages, and I agree and sympathize with them on many counts in that regard.
Where I think I would depart from those readings is 1) understanding ‘the tradition’ or ‘the Church’ as a monolithic entity without much apparent complexity or redeeming value and 2) understanding the abuse of church dogma as necessarily indicative of the nature of that dogma itself. For instance, ‘the central image of Christ on the cross as the savior of the world communicates the message that suffering is redemptive’ could just as plausibly be said, within Christian tradition, to communicate the message that Jesus’s suffering is redemptive.
To what degree and in what manner Christians are to follow that act has been subject to a great diversity of opinion and interpretation; I am not aware of any dogmatic formulation that puts anyone back up on the cross with Jesus. Nor I am aware of anyone ever saying that ‘imitation of Christ is first and foremost obedient willingness to endure pain.’ It’s simply something I’ve never heard outside of a few extreme ascetics that the Church has by and large abandoned anyway. Perhaps I have not been told that because I am a man; I do not know. But it’s certainly nothing within my own experience.
What is within the realm of the Christianity I have encountered is something like ‘imitation of Christ is first and foremost obedient willingness to love.’ So much of Christianity makes no sense whatsoever outside of that cornerstone – and so much of it makes enormous sense within it. Christ’s suffering was great because it was for love. Christ’s suffering was efficacious because it was for love. To love in this life is to experience pain. That is unavoidable. That is inevitable. The modernist, just utopia free of all suffering whatsoever isn’t going to happen in this life. That’s no endorsement of suffering, that doesn’t mean it’s all okay. It just means we’re going to have to deal with it.
God was saying in Christ that we love anyway, because God loves anyway. Even God doesn’t love without pain. Even God isn’t ‘safe.’ That might not have been articulated in any atonement theology as such, and I believe this an error that tradition has indeed made. But certainly anyone who knows John 3:16 ought at least to have the principle of love in mind. Brown and Parker posit that their approach is theological, not biblical. And I’m sorry for that. So much of their concerns could be addressed simply by an ethic genuinely and steadfastly grounded in biblical love. That’s both more and less revolutionary than anything they propose, and an element that both they and their oppressors have overlooked.