Review: The Cross of Christ

The Cross of Christ
The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“This is the best book we have read in this group.”

So commented a faculty member recently in a campus book group that discussed Stott’s book. And we’ve discussed some pretty significant books by the likes of Augustine, Pascal, Calvin, Kierkegaard, Barth, and others!

I think what marks this book by John Stott, that I first read when published nearly 30 years ago, is a combination of theological clarity and pastoral application that help one deeply root one’s understanding of the work of Christ on the cross not only in belief but in Christian devotion and practice.

The book consists of four sections. The first is introductory, “Approaching the Cross” and explores the centrality of the cross in Christian belief and practice and considers why such an instrument of torture would become so central that it even shapes the architecture of our great cathedrals. This leads to a focus on why Christ died, considering not only the historical events but the deeper reasons in the purposes of God and the need of human beings.

This brings us to what I think is the central section of the book, which is appropriately enough titled, “The Heart of the Cross.” It is here that Stott carefully lays the groundwork for his defense of the substitution as foundational to our understanding of how Christ atoned for sin. But this isn’t Jesus simply “taking one for the team” that leaves itself open to questions of divine child abuse. Allow me here to quote Stott at some length:

“Our substitute, then who took our place and died our death on the cross, was neither Christ alone (since that would make him a third party thrust in between God and us), nor God alone (since that would undermine the historical incarnation), but God in Christ, who was truly and fully both God and man, and who on that account was uniquely qualified to represent both God and man and to mediate between them. If we speak only of Christ suffering and dying, we overlook the initiative of the Father. If we speak only of God suffering and dying, we overlook the mediation of the Son. The New Testament authors never attribute the atonement either to Christ in such a way as to dissociate him from the Father, or to God in such a way as to dispense with Christ, but rather to God and Christ, or to God acting in and through Christ with his whole-hearted concurrence.” (p. 156 in the 1986 edition)

The third section then moves on to describe “The Achievement of the Cross” in the salvation of sinners, the revelation of God, and the conquest of evil. Particularly striking was his focus on what we see of the glory, justice, and love of God coming together in the cross. Equally wonderful is his explanation of how the victory of the cross frees us from wrath, sin, the law, and death.

The last section then considers “Living Under the Cross.” He begins with a discussion of how we are a community of celebration and how our worship and the Lord’s table indeed celebrate the work of the cross. I was surprised in this chapter with the extended discussion of differing views of the eucharist where he distinguishes Anglican from Catholic practice. He then moves to how the cross helps us understand ourselves as both sinners and redeemed and of great worth in a way that releases us for great service. This even empowers us to love our enemies and find meaning in suffering.

Stott then concludes with a summary of the pervasive influence of the cross in a chapter that summarizes the book using the letter to the Galatians as a means of review.

What John Stott gave us here, as in all of his writing is a theologically rich but evangelically orthodox account of the cross. He is gracious and pastoral and yet willing to surface theological differences and to clearly set forth arguments from the scriptures for his own positions in a way that demarcates the matters that need to be honestly faced if the Church is to be one not merely in sentiment but truth. Above all, he shows us how the work of the cross is indeed central to the message and life of the Church when we may be tempted to get caught up in moralism, activism, or speculative theology. This may be a word we need as much in our day as when Stott wrote in 1986.

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Review: The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling

The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling
The World Is Not Ours to Save: Moving from Activist Causes to a Lifelong Calling by Tyler Wigg-Stevenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We can’t save the world, and that is because in Christ, God already has, and will one day complete the job that we cannot. That sums up the main idea of this life-long activist’s book.

Wigg-Stevenson’s book is broken into two parts. The first explores the limitations of activism, which begins with his own anti-nuclear bomb activism, increasing despair and conversion both to faith and a different way of thinking about his activism. He chronicles our pretensions to heroism (‘everyone wants to be a David’), the reality that the world is broken beyond repair and that the beginning of a durable activism is the fear of the Lord and a grasp of what it meant for God to save the world (‘take these snakes’, referring to John 3).

The second part of the book explores ‘our deeper calling’, which is a call to peace, not anxious toil–peace with God, peace among the nations, and peace in community. He concludes with what it means to live out our callings which includes a personal and moving tribute to John R W Stott, whose study assistant he was in 2005-6. Stott was a model of a life of passionate commitment to Christ, to the pastoring of God’s people, and to pursuing a global ministry of peace while living as a placed person in London, a single and simple life. In these chapters he also gives us moving accounts of the Tent of the Nations farm on threatened Palestinian land and of a visit to South Africa to learn the story of his wife’s grandfather, a Colored school principle, Perceval George Rhoda, an example of peacemaking in community.

Wigg-Stevenson has not stopped being an anti-nuclear activist. He writes movingly both of his encounters with the children of those who died in Hiroshima and describes in vivid detail the devastation that would be wrought by a single nuclear bomb detonated in Washington, DC during a state of the union address. But he contends that our activism is a stewardship of gifts and call that heralds the coming kingdom of peace, sometimes succeeding in bringing a measure of that future into the present. He also has a telling word coming at the end of an era of evangelical political activism which he describes as asking How can public goods be obtained using Christianity? He advocates, instead, a “kingdom-oriented activism” that asks, What unique and authentic contribution can the Christian church make to the public square?

I hope to see more from this moving and eloquent writer!

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