The cross of Jesus Christ is utterly glorious – and inefficient. It is gloriously effective in its inefficiency, as Watkins explains.
On Good Friday, once again, we will walk from St Lawrence church to the centre of Morden, carrying a heavy wooden cross to remember the journey that Jesus made to his death. A short gospel talk outside the Civic Centre will rightly focus on the magnificent price that Jesus paid for us.
However, the cross of Jesus Christ has a depth and profundity that a thumbnail gospel sketch cannot hope to capture. Like rays from the sun, the glory of the cross touches every aspect of the Christian life.
Take one example given by Christopher Watkins in his excellent new book, Biblical Critical Theory – the cross shatters our culture’s preoccupation with efficiency.
The Idol of Efficiency
Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) was one of the great Christian thinkers on technology. One of his big ideas is that technology shapes human behaviour by focusing on ‘technique’. Unconsciously, technology makes us adopt a mechanistic mindset and methods that maximize efficiency and productivity. Technology effectively begins to mould us into its own image, injecting us with new values.
Think of the automated checkouts in our supermarkets, for example. The inconvenient conversations with the checkout girl are removed; people are processed more efficiently much like the grey cans of soup that they buy.
The humans who have the right till technique are rewarded by a swift purchase. The ineffective ones – those who place the wrong items in the bagging area, buy paracetamol, or somehow require assistance – are damned by delay and shamed by a line of glaring eyes and a red light flashing above them!
The relentless focus on efficiency is ultimately dehumanizing. But the cross of Jesus turns over the shopping cart.
The Inefficient Cross of Christ
Christ’s death for us was the ultimate act of unproductivity (at least in human terms) – a dead person can no longer work. His superabundant grace is grossly inefficient – he dies for others without receiving anything in return.
And yet, this act of love is utterly glorious. It offers us redemption from the harsh cold dehumanizing ways of the world. It treats us as individuals, not as products. And it enables us to love like him, as we turn to him and from the ways of our world.
The Inefficient Christian Way
Christopher Watkins gives a great example of what this new inefficient Christian way of living looks like in practice:
“At a church I used to attend I would often visit the parish office to find sitting alongside the pastors and apprentices, a local man with a round, red face, talking and joking. He was not there to perform or receive official ministry or to ask particular questions. I believe he suffered from certain personal problems, and I suspect he may have been lonely. I was always struck by his presence, and by the way in which the church staff had time for him, laughing at his jokes and walking with him down the winding road of conversations. I never saw them ask him to leave; nor were they too busy for him, although I know for certain that their timetables were bursting and their duties many. So what was going on? Only years later did I appreciate…the church staff, besotted with the lavish superabundance of God, were giving their time, their most precious commodity, in a way that flouted all canons of efficiency and the smooth running of the parish. They understood something marvelously…about creation and the cross, and they let it figure their day-to-day lives. (Biblical Critical Theory, pp. 421-422)
Celebrating Christ at Easter
As we celebrate Easter this year, let us give thanks for the loving ‘God of inefficiency’. Let us not think that we are too busy for God or others in church. Let us resolve again to die to the dehumanizing gods of this age, which make productivity and work our highest virtue. Let’s seek to live like our superabundant saviour, Jesus Christ, who came not be served but to give his life for others.