Monday, June 28, 2010

The Cross, Jurgen Moltmann, & Jesus Camp

Several months ago I read a book by German Theologian Jurgen Moltmann called “The Crucified God.” Around the same time I rented the controversial film called “Jesus Camp” from Family Video. As I was watching these two theologies (or ways of life) unfold in front of me I couldn’t help but be astounded by the extreme differences of the two.

For those of you unfamiliar with the film:

“‘Jesus Camp’ is about the ‘Kids On Fire School of Ministry,’ a charismatic Christian summer camp located just outside Devils Lake, North Dakota and run by Becky Fischer and her ministry, Kids in Ministry International… At the camp, Fischer stresses the need for children to purify themselves in order to be part of the "army of God". She strongly believes that children need to be in the forefront of turning America toward conservative Christian values. She also feels that Christians need to focus on training kids since "the enemy" (Islam) is focused on training theirs.” (

What struck me as I watched this film was how ‘un’Christian much of the theology professed by Fischer was. Numerous times throughout the film her version of Christianity seemed more like that of Radical Islam than that of the Crucified Messiah. What also struck me was the fact that although Fischer’s version of Christianity was a rather extreme example, I often see her type of theology played out in mainline evangelicalism in much subtler ways. This got me to beg the question, how is it that a religion who believes in a Crucified Messiah can morph into what is being professed in “Kids on Fire School of Ministry” and the like?

This is where Moltmann’s work “The Crucified God,” offered an answer. He writes:
The crisis of the church in present-day (I would argue throughout history) society is not merely the critical choice between assimilation (Liberal Theology) or retreat into the ghetto (Jesus Camp), but the crisis of its own existence as the church of the crucified Christ. (2)
Why is this? Moltmann writes:
In Christianity the cross is the test of everything which deserves to be called Christian. One might add that the cross alone, and nothing else, is its test, since the cross refutes everything, and excludes the syncretistic elements in Christianity. (7)
In short, Moltmann believes that when Christianity loses its identification with the cross it ceases to be Christianity and becomes a combination of different religious ideas and ideals. That’s why Fischer’s Christianity looks more like radical Islam than that founded by Jesus Christ. It is also true (and I know this is somewhat oversimplifying things) that throughout Church history when the cross is ignored that’s when all hell breaks loose. For example, look what happened in the Catholic Church around the time of Luther when it had lost sight of the cross. Or how about when Pentecostal movements smoother the cross with the ecstasy of the spiritual high and Christianity is no longer about what God did through Christ; but rather how I can get more of a charge from the Holy Ghost. Think about the Prosperity Gospel. When the cross is removed their Christianity is no longer about God’s love for sinners in the midst of their pain, but rather achieving your best life now.

These are some of the more fringe examples, but the same rings true even in the more mainline evangelical churches as well. When good things like worship, mission, gifts, and discipleship get put in front of; rather than birthed from the cross; everything gets out of balance. Michael Horton puts it this way, “When even good, holy, and proper things become confused with the gospel, it is only a matter of time before we end up with Christless Christianity" (109).

This is because when Christianity loses its identity in the cross its faith begins to decay and according to Moltmann this kind of faith is:
Fearful and defensive when it begins to die inwardly, struggling to maintain itself and reaching out for security and guarantees. In so doing, it removes itself from the hand of the One who has promised to maintain it, and its own manipulations bring it to ruin.

When the “religion of fear” finds its way into the Christian Church, those who regard themselves as the most vigilant guardians of the faith do violence to faith and smoother it. (19)
These two quotes rang most true as I watched “Jesus Camp.” The “religion of fear” that Moltmann talks about is pictured throughout the whole film. I believe this same “religion of fear” is prevalent in much of our own churches and lives when we forego the cross. Because of this we must remember that at its core, “Christianity is not Judaism and it is not western European secularism, and it is not Islam. What it is, is weakness not strength, Grace not Law, Gospel not church” (Zahl 301). When Christianity loses sight of the cross it loses sight of what is unique to it and thus becomes one more human endeavor to reach God. It becomes what we can do to change others minds, rather than what God has already done in our midst through Jesus. This is why Martin Luther said, “The Cross alone is our theology” (Forde 3).


Forde, Gehard. “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”
Horton, Michael. “Christless Christianity”
Moltmann, Jurgen. “The Crucified God”
Zahl, Paul. “The Christianity Primer: 2000 Years of Amazing Grace”


JED HED said...

really good stuff - to paraphrase Luke 9:23 'if you want to follow Christ, you must get up and preach the gospel to yourself daily'

JW said...

I just watched the movie Jesus Camp and did a google search on the film and your blog came up. I agree wholeheartedly. Fischer's camp seemed to guilt children into fighting in a culture war against liberals. It was Christocentric in any way. I could not believe when they brought out the cut out of Bush and began to pray for it and lay hands on it.

Theology dictates practice. It's obvious there theology is way off.