Labor of God
The Agony of the Cross as the Birth of the Church
155 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: August 2017
It is hard to imagine just how startling the Christian message must have sounded to those who first heard it. The story of a crucified messiah was absurd. The death of Jesus as a ransom, a punishment, or a sacrifice was an offense and an affront. Yet, by making the death of Jesus central to its preaching and worship, Christianity took a scandal, the cross, and called it a gospel.
In Labor of God, author Tom Bennett revisits the church’s speech about the cross. He recovers an equally shocking, but often overlooked, metaphor from Scripture and tradition: the cross as an act of divine labor, the travail through which God gives birth to the church. This ancient understanding of the cross enables a fresh theology of Christian atonement, one better able to answer questions of sin, suffering, and divine violence. As Bennett argues, this understanding of the cross can also reshape the classical systematic doctrines of creation, election, soteriology, and the church.
Developed through close readings of biblical texts and interaction with voices from theology and the sciences, Labor of God shows how the Christian message of the cross can once again prick the ears and trouble the hearts of those who hear it. To a church immune to the radical character of its own message, Bennett resists the temptation to sanitize and relishes the offense—an offense that gives birth to a scandalous gospel for a secular age.
Chapter 1. Retrieving the Forgotten Root: The Scandal of the Cross as the Labor of God
Chapter 2. Speaking the Labor of God: Metaphor and the Truth of Religious Language
Chapter 3. Converting the Cross: How Torture Becomes Childbirth
Chapter 4. Birthing the Church: How the Cross Addresses Sin
Chapter 5. Transcending Exchange: How the Family of God Gives Up the Gift
Chapter 6. Expanding the Agony of the Cross: How Labor Opens Fresh Theological Frontiers
This beautifully produced, learned, and readable book retrieves and develops a theme espoused by St Anselm of Canterbury, Julian of Norwich, and other medieval authors: the crucified Jesus, in his atoning death, gave birth to God’s spiritual children.~Gerald O’Collins, SJ, The Journal of Theological Studies
It is one thing to argue for the importance of reinvigorating atonement theology, something else to actually do so. Bennett succeeds at both. The theology is so rich and alive that the book will undoubtedly inspire many sermons~Mark D. Baker, Interpretation: Journal of Bible and Theology
It is a long time since a book on atonement theology has surprised me. In an area where much of our thinking has become stale, Bennett offers us a fresh image of the ‘work’ of Christ as the ‘labor’ of childbirth. More familiar themes then fell into a provocative new shape around it.~Richard Bauckham, Professor Emeritus at the University of St Andrews, Scotland
Bennett’s Labor of God makes a fascinating case for understanding the cross in terms of divine labor, even as it provides fresh language once again to capture the cross’s 'hideous splendor' (p. 89). I am grateful for his work.~Wil Rogan, Biblical Theology Bulletin
In the end, Bennett proffers a provocative argument. Its focus on a maternal metaphor definitely has possibilities to reinvigorate the stale arguments of much of contemporary atonement theologies...I strongly recommend this book for upper-level undergraduate and graduate level theology courses.~Mark S. Medley, Reading Religion
In this wonderfully creative and astute work Tom Bennett recovers and extends a minority strand of Christian tradition in which the cross of Christ is understood as the labor of God. Bennett’s account of the metaphor of divine labor offers rich insight into what it means to confess that Christ’s death is a death for us and will surely help to reinvigorate the Church’s proclamation of the atonement and of the new life it brings.~Murray Rae, Professor of Theology, University of Otago
This is an extraordinarily well-crafted work of theology, biblically informed in conversation with historical theology with an eye toward pastoral and practical implication and helps us understand the work of the cross in a biblical but refreshing way.~Aaron Kink, Religious Studies Review
In this insightful, eloquent work, Thomas Bennett expounds a significant but often overlooked interpretation of the atonement as divine labor: the violent cross paradoxically births children of God who together share the divine DNA. Bennett enriches our appreciation of the ultimate telos of the cross and its wonderfully shocking generativity. An important contribution in its own right, this volume will also engender ongoing conversation as well as new but faithful ways of proclaiming the gospel.~Michael J. Gorman, Raymond E. Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology, St. Mary’s Seminary & University