Monday, January 29, 2007

Rembrandt Workshop / A. W. Tozer / Biblical Servanthood

Descent from the Cross

What is the meaning of "servanthood" in biblical theology? I have a book project on this question, far from finished, to be published eventually by Church press. As I work on the problem, I am getting some great inspiration from this painting (ca. 1651) by the Rembrandt Workshop (Probably Constantijn van Renesse), entitled "The Descent from the Cross." The painting is on display here in DC in the National Gallery (click here).

I came across a wonderful quote of A. W. Tozer in the nakedpastor blog (click here). Tozer, in "The Old and the New Cross," is reflecting on the constant temptation we experience to domesticate the Cross, to make it something more "acceptable" to us and to the public. Tozer speaks of the new, domesticated cross as something that does not slay the sinner, but merely redirects him or her. "It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive it says, ‘Come and assert yourself in Christ.’ To the egoist it says, ‘Come and do your boasting in the Lord.’"

This is a false meaning of the cross. As in the artwork, The Descent from the Cross, the crucified one is lank and spindly, totally vulnerable. The crucified one is a true "Servant" in the sense that both testaments of the Scriptures labor to flesh out the nature of "servanthood." God works most powerfully through the Servant when the Servant reveals his/her full frailty. The Servant becomes the instrument of God's power and beauty as she/he displays true vulnerability as a human being and creature of God, lets go of orientation on the self, and directs one's love totally outward toward God and neighbor. The crucified one dies to self and lives anew for the Other.

Tozer writes, "The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman-times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-bye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more."

I am teaching a VTS evening school course on "Servanthood" this term, so I shall be developing some of these themes in the near future. Stay tuned...



Blogger PamBG said...

Wow, I shall be really interested to see how you flesh this out.

I'm constantly saying "Agape love is self-giving". It would be exciting to flesh out the concept of self-giving / servanthood.

As a totally personal aside, I went on a silent retreat the summer and, rather out of the blue, God told me that he would give me four gifts for my ministry: generosity, kindness, wisdom and servanthood. I know that servanthood is not one of my natural inclinations by any means and it's the most difficult of those four things for me.

Hope you will blog your thoughts as you develop them.

Mon Jan 29, 11:02:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Pam. Thanks so much for the encouragement. I really appreciate it! ---Steve

Mon Jan 29, 09:33:00 PM GMT-5  

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