In Cross-Shattered Christ, Stanley Hauerwas wrote in his introduction that, ‘Mystery does not name a puzzle that cannot be solved. Rather, mystery names that which we know, but the more we know, the more we are forced to rethink everything we think we know.’ (pp. 15). Prior to the statement, he has pointed out that within Christian theology, there is paradoxical tension. While what Christians believe ‘does defy reason and common sense,’ what Christians also believe ‘is the most reasonable and commonsense.’ (pp. 14).
Seminarians generally often sense that tension, especially when wrestling with theological issues that mystify us. Who doesn’t wrestle with how Christ should be manifested in both the church and the world? Who doesn’t rethink or reframe a theological issue, creating a new texture? Once we have an answer, it only opens more doors to unanswered questions. What was perplexing now makes sense, relieving us. When the opposition occurs, a sigh of frustration follows. And it’s exhausting. And sometimes, the whole wrestling business exasperates us, only to reveal the smallness of our minds.
We realize more and more how small our minds are when we are changing, or to put it properly, maturing. The work of theology, Hauerwas noted, is never finished, meaning more wrestling is to be done in this life (pp. 17). We are not immune to change, not only because we live in a continual changing reality, but also because Christ is not finished with redeeming creation, including us. The change embedded in us indicates that we reckon ourselves to think and become as Christ.
The answer to the mystery, that baffled both Jews and Gentiles, is revealed in the cross of Christ (Eph. 3:9). The terms such as ‘cross-centered,’ ‘Christ-centered,’ and ‘cruciformity’ have been the buzzwords in the past years, reminding us of the preeminence of Christ. Our theology hinges upon the works of the God-man who appeared thousands of years ago. The redemption plan of God, once hidden, was now being proclaimed not through lofty wisdom or speech, but plain narration of Christ crucified (1 Cor. 2:1-2). Any theological issues, whether in church or seminary, are more clarified when our minds and hearts are set upon Christ’s redemptive role. When facing schism, injustice, favoritism, and disorderly worship in the Corinthian church, not only did Paul direct them to seek Christ, but also that they would to seek Him together. It is not a one-man show, but a one-church show. We are not meant to wrestle alone, but together. Paul wrote that we have the power by the Spirit to comprehend the ‘breath and length, and height, and depth’ of Christ’s love only with all the saints (Eph. 3:17-19).
In Hauerwas’ recent memoir Hannah’s Child, he comments that he is not even sure what he believes about particular doctrinal issues, which renders him ecclesiologically homeless in a sense, but he is interested in what the church believes. His theological influences include those who are Methodists, Episcopalians, Mennonites, and Catholics. Many of these influences were also his companions, praying and spending time together. This was how Hauerwas learned about how Christ has taken care of him during his wrestling bouts—through brothers and sisters.
With Christmas approaching soon, we seminarians celebrate the incarnation with our brothers and sisters, whether they are parents, elders, teenagers, or immigrants. They too wrestle to learn and grow to love the story of incarnation; so let us wrestle together to grasp the beauty of Christ cooing in a manger.