THE CROSSINGS METHOD: Crossing Life with the Promise of Christ
A Thumbnail Explanation of the Crossings Method
The Crossings Method is a specific process for examining Scripture and ourselves through the prism of distinguishing law and gospel. Once we have listened to the Word of God in the biblical narrative, we set our lives, our narratives, next to it and connect them, “cross” them, to understand how faith in that Word and daily life are interwoven.
We study the Bible by:
- Looking for the text’s own diagnosis of our human problem; then
- Checking the text once more for “Good News” sufficient to solve that problem; and then
- Examining how the text actually brings the Good News to “cross” the problem and solve it.
We study ourselves by:
- Honestly telling the stories of our life.
- Retelling those stories through the diagnosis of the biblical text.
- Crossing those stories with the “Good News” of the biblical text.
The Crossings Template is a visual/conceptual tool we have developed to guide our thinking and remind us what to look for as we read the biblical text and think about our lives from the point of view of the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
An Expanded Explanation of the Crossings Method
The Crossings Method is process for helping people connect (cross) their life stories and experiences (tracking) with the Christian story (grounding) as it is told through biblical texts. In a nutshell, it consists of three interacting stages we call Grounding, Tracking, and Crossing. The practice of modern medicine serves as a useful illustration for understanding the relationship between these three stages. Grounding is analogous to the source of the physician’s medical insight; Tracking is analogous to the physician’s process of gathering patient information and history; and Crossing is analogous to the application of that medical insight to the situation of a particular patient to provide a full diagnosis of what is wrong and a corresponding prognosis to make things well. What follows is a more elaborate description of the three stages of the Crossings Method and their relationship.
Grounding, Stage One, refers to a process of biblical study intent on interpreting every biblical text as a bearer of the Christian story, the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ. The key for doing this rests in reading the biblical text through the prism of distinguishing law and gospel, that is, by distinguishing the word that tells us what is wrong (the law as diagnosis) from the word that tells us how it can be fixed (the gospel as prognosis).
Several assumptions about the biblical text as a bearer of the gospel underlie the idea of Grounding.
First, Grounding presupposes that every biblical text is itself what we call a Crossing: an example of a human experience or story (Tracking) that has been both, critically examined through the lens of God’s law to show what is amiss (the law as diagnosis) and mercifully offered the promise of the gospel to make things right again (the gospel as prognosis).
Second, Grounding treats every biblical text as a particular (personally applied) illustration of the universal truth of the gospel. Therefore, the biblical record is a collection of case studies illustrating the relationship of law and gospel to numerous personal stories and situations.
Third, the idea of Grounding presupposes that the meaning of any particular biblical text is fully grasped only when it is interpreted in a way that is consistent with the overall theological structure of the Christian story. That structure entails three progressively deeper levels of diagnosis (as revealed by the law of God) and three corresponding levels of the prognosis (as offered in the gospel of Christ). These levels also correspond to the fundamental relations that comprise our personal stories: our relationship to the outer world, to our inner self, and to God.
The Crossings Template is a visual/conceptual tool we developed to help us systematically interpret the biblical text in a way that is honest to the structure of human experience and faithful to the biblical accent of distinguishing law and gospel. In general, the method for turning a biblical text into a useful Grounding works like this:
We begin reading the text by looking for who has the problem and how that problem is described. The diagnosis will show that the problem exhibits itself on three progressively deeper levels we call D-1, D-2, and D-3. Briefly…
+ D-1 asks about the most obvious outward symptoms of the problem.
+ D-2 asks about the wayward inward affections that spawn those symptoms.
+ D-3, asks about the problematic relation with God that underlies those affections.
Then we read the text again, this time looking for who has the solution to these problems and how that solution is described. The prognosis, therefore, also has three levels (P-4, P-5, P-6) that correspond to the three levels of the diagnosis. Briefly…
+ P-4 is about how Christ comes to resolve our relationship problem with God.
+ P-5 is about how faith in Christ resolves our wayward inward affections.
+ P-6 is about how faith initiates new impulses of love in our engagement with the outward symptoms.
To read the biblical text in this way – as problem solving literature, as a message that contains both God’s critical word of diagnosis that reveals our problem and God’s merciful Word of prognosis that solves our problem – is the way to read it as the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.
Tracking, Stage Two, refers to a conversational process of hearing and constructing our personal life stories around particular themes or episodes that make up those stories. In general, it entails something like what the human sciences call a “thick description” of human behavior: a description that goes beyond a “thin,” merely factual, superficial description of a person’s story. This it does 1) by placing the facts of a person’s story in as large a context as humanly possible and 2) by exploring the possible meanings, motivations, feelings, contradictions, and valuations that accompany and underlie those facts. Therefore, just as the Grounding is a deep inquiry into the meaning of the biblical text, so the Tracking is a deep inquiry into the meaning of lived daily human experience looked at from a human point of view. Central to Tracking is the use of an interview process designed, first, to identify the types and quality of activities and relationships that comprise our personal stories and, second, to give expression to the concerns and feelings, the worries and anxieties, the hopes and aspirations, the successes and failures that accompany them. Of course, the near infinite number of variables that give form and texture to our personal stories make it impossible to give a discursive presentation of Tracking here. In lieu of that, let the following series of questions suffice to give you some sense of how an interview process might help us to hear and construct aspects of our personal story useful for Crossings purposes. The questions here are constructed around the theme of daily work.
- What title/label best describes your daily work? When people ask about our daily work, what do you say? I am a(n) _________________________________
- What do you actually do all day in your daily work? Use verbs to answer this question.
- What do you get for what you do all day?
- What do you do with what you get?
- Where does all that get you finally? In your own version of the “story of my life” where are you now by virtue of your daily work? (Answer this as you think about your current daily work or what you’ve been doing all your adult life.)
- If you could get just one work-related problem solved, which one would you pick to get solved? Describe it briefly. Then, in one sentence, say just what the problem is.
- What would it take to solve the problem just described?
- Why hasn’t that happened yet?
- Is there anything about that problem that needs a Crucified and Risen Messiah in order to solve it (fix it, trump it)? If so, what? If not, why not (why is such a Messiah no real help to solve this problem?)
Crossing, Stage Three, refers to the deliberative process of bringing together the Grounding and the Tracking in a personal and salutary way. As noted earlier, it is analogous to the way physicians use the insights of modern medicine to arrive at the ultimate diagnosis and prognosis of their patients.
In general, Crossing is a matter of looking at our personal stories, no longer from a “human point of view,” but from the point of view of Christ crucified and raised, the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:16-221). While Tracking our personal stories may be an interesting and helpful exercise in and of itself, Crossing is about looking at those stories anew through the lens of the Grounding with the goal of gaining both 1) a deeper insight into life’s problem as revealed through lens of God’s law and 2) uncommon help in overcoming that problem through the healing solution of the good news of Jesus Christ. While studying the biblical text through the prism of distinguishing law and gospel to create the Grounding is a rich and rewarding learning experience in and of itself, the fruits of that study remain unclaimed and unused until they become rewritten or re-Worded into the lived narratives of our personal stories making our stories part of the Christian story, the good news of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Crossing ultimately entails what Robert Bertram called a “theological transaction.” It involves me and my story in a divine (Holy Spirit) interaction with Christ and the Christian story through the biblical text that is intent on deepening not only my understanding of who “I” am apart from Christ’s story, but who “I” am becoming as part of Christ’s story. Crossing our personal stories with Christ’s story is what Paul is talking about in Galatians when he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20) or when he describes the person in Christ as a “new creation” (Gal. 6:15).
Just as the Crossings Template provided the interpretive outline for the Grounding, it also provides the interpretive outline for Crossing the Tracking with the Grounding. In general, the Crossing stage of the Crossings Method is a conversational process similar to the Tracking, only now with the Grounding taking the lead in shaping the discussion. Its goal is to fit the Tracking into the categorical concerns of the Grounding. Given the near infinite variety of angles a Crossing’s conversation might take, it is impossible to give a single, discursive description of it. Learning from examples works best. Here are several of the many examples from the Crossings website. Some explicitly cast in the Crossings Template outline, others are more fluid in form.
- National Repentance #6: Proclaiming Repentance in the Public Square
- West Point Cadets, Obama’s Speeches and Jeremiah 33
- A Crossing from Psalm 118: What Makes Those Rejects Sing?
- The Folk Religion of “God Bless America” [FROGBA] – A Crossings-style Analysis
- On Being Special, or Not: A Double Crossing
- The Crossings Six-Steps and World Religions
Finally, suffice it to say that the process of Crossing is best thought of as a theological and pastoral art that entails analogical reasoning as opposed to simply following mechanical procedures. It consists in asking how the diagnosis and prognosis of the Grounding, at all three levels of human existence, might be expressed in the language and story line of the Tracking. “Crossings Life with the Promise of Christ” is our shorthand way for describing this.