Theological Mistakes: God Died

Celtic Cross ChurchI realize that correct theology is not much valued in the church any longer. With deep-seated biblical illiteracy having found a home in congregations and increasingly among church leaders, it is no longer surprising to find things in worship songs or sermons that are askew of what has been considered the traditional teachings of the church. We now receive our theology as “sound bites,” short statements that seem clever and edgy, but often are confusing or misleading to new Christians.

One that I have heard three times in recent months is “God died on the cross for you.” Really? If we follow this logically, it means one of two things. First, it might mean that God is dead, permanently and eternally. Death is death after all, and the only one who could raise someone from the dead (God) is dead, so there is no possibility of overcoming death, even for God. Second, it might mean that God didn’t really die on the cross. The body crucified on the cross may have ceased to function in a living manner (no pulse, breathing, or brain function), but the person (God) retained the power to bring this body back to life.

Either option denies cardinal, foundational principles of the Christian faith. If God is dead because of the crucifixion, there is no one to raise us from the dead and our faith in the resurrection of the dead is futile. If the person on the cross did not fully die, then he was not fully human. In this case, no one has actually died for our sins and we remain in them.  The doctrine of the atonement doesn’t work.

The Bible never teaches that God died on the cross. It tells the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, dying on the cross for our sins. Because he was fully human, he died completely. This is why early creedal statements always include the detail of Jesus being buried. You only bury dead people. Jesus was stone cold dead in the tomb for parts of three days. The human Jesus was dependent upon God the Father to raise him from the dead, to restore him to life. The doctrine of the Trinity is admittedly difficult, but we don’t make these difficulties disappear by abandoning a distinction between the Father and the Son. The early church did not see Jesus’ death on the cross as a negation of his divine nature.

So to say, “God loved you so much he died on the cross for you” is a distortion of biblical teaching. To say, “God loved you so much he sent his Son to die on the cross for you” reflects what the church has believed and taught for nearly 2,000 years.

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The views expressed in this blog post are solely those of its author and not necessarily those of his employer.
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4 thoughts on “Theological Mistakes: God Died

  1. Always love seeing your blog in my inbox. A great reminder that clever, tweetable statements are secondary to good theology! Thanks Dr Krause!

  2. What do you think of And Can It Be..
    That Thou my God shouldst die for me? I know we sing hymns at times that have great poetry but not the best theology.
    Just wondering.

    • Good question, Ann. I will admit that I think this statement seems to fall in the the categories I mention in the blog, but it is a little different for two reasons. First, it never says that “God died,” although this is implied. Second, the hymn seems mainly to be addressing the “Savior,” meaning Jesus Christ, who did die for us. I think this is an allusion to John 20:28 where Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God.” This is part of the tension, Jesus is fully God according to orthodox Christian faith. But “God died for you” seems to simplify this too much. As Einstein said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

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