“Cynics, thieves, soldiers”, Servant, and Herald

As I mentioned in my earlier post on this MacLeod quote, one of our final exam questions was to write a commentary on this quote from the perspective of one of the theologians we studied this semester. I chose to analyze the quote in terms of two of Dulles’ models of the church, the Servant and the Herald.

Here’s the quote again, for convenience:

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves, on the town garbage heap, at a crossroad so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. It was the kind of place where cynics talk smut, thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. That’s where he died. And that’s where Christians ought to be and what Christians ought to be about.

— George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community in Scotland, 1938

And here’s my commentary. (Parenthetical page numbers refer to Dulles’ Models of the Church.)

The emphasis on the world outside the church in this quote is consistent with the Servant model, that de-centers the church from the discussion and takes the world as a “properly theological locus” (Dulles, 84) — exactly what MacLeod is suggesting here. In the Servant model, the church is the servant of the world, and must therefore, first of all, go out into the places where the world is: as Robinson put it, “The house of God is not the Church but the world.” (Dulles, 88)

MacLeod’s position is compatible with the Servant model at its best, calling the church to go out into the marketplace and respond to the needs of the cynic, the thief, and the soldier. “That’s what Christians ought to be about” — by this he surely does not mean that Christians ought to be about smut, profanity, and gambling. This potential ambiguity is the weakness of the Servant model: the servant church should serve the world, but not according to the world’s values: its service must be according to the values of God (Dulles, 91).

One might also read MacLeod’s quote as compatible with the Herald model. MacLeod’s emphasis on “raising the cross” in the marketplace as well as the church is consistent with the Herald’s emphasis on proclaiming the kerygma to the whole world, in the public square (Dulles, 69). In this reading, the proclamation of the salvific word (Dulles, 76) in the marketplace corresponds to the salvific death of Christ on the cross. As MacLeod states, “That’s where he died.” Then that’s where we should preach his death, and thus enact the church in the saving power of the word.

The two readings taken together allow the two models to compensate for each other’s weaknesses: the Servant focus compensates for the Herald’s tendency to emphasize witness at the expense of action (Dulles, 79), and the Herald’s clarity of message compensates for the potential ambiguity of the Servant model discussed above.

Finally, it is worth noting that MacLeod’s injunction to raise the cross in the marketplace “as well as” on the church steeple indicates that he is not advocating the abandonment of the institutional church or the inward-directed elements of church life and worship, but rather engaging in a praiseworthy attempt to redress the current imbalance.

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