THE TRUTH OF THE CROSS – R.C. Sproul (2007)

The Christian publishing industry is an odd beast.  While thousands of people choke on heresy in books like Love Wins and The Shack, other books go practically unnoticed.  The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul is one of those books that has gone largely undetected and has managed to avoid any kind of large-scale attention.

I first read The Truth of the Cross when it was released in 2007.  This week, I am re-reading Sproul’s excellent work in order to prepare for a sermon.  If you have neglected this book, you’re missing out – big time!

Dr. Sproul surveys the basics of the atonement in this little book.  He begins by discussing the necessity of an atonement.  Crucial to a an understanding of the atonement is a proper conception of the character of God and the nature of sin.  Sproul points to the apostle Paul in particular, whose “central point of importance was the cross … it was on the cross, through the cross, and by the cross that our Savior performed His work of redemption and gather His people for eternity.”

Sproul carefully urges readers to embrace a biblical understanding of God’s justice.  He rightly contends that many people overlook the justice of God – an attribute the makes the atonement necessary: “God is loving, but a major part of what He loves is His own perfect character, with a major aspect being the importance of maintaining justice and righteousness.  Though God pardons sinners and makes great provision for expressing His mercy, He will never negotiate His justice.  If we fail to understand that, the cross of Christ will be utterly meaningless to us.”  Having established the need for an atonement, rooted in the justice of God, the author proceeds to develop the remaining crucial components in Christ’s redemptive work.

Sproul skillfully guides readers on a journey, discussing the key features of the atonement.  Most important, however is the discussion that concerns substitution.  Sproul clearly articulates the importance of the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ: “In the substitution that took place at the cross, we see the glorious grace of God – the very heartbeat of the Christian faith.”  Additionally, he distinguishes expiation and propitiation, noting the importance of each.

Dr. Sproul also includes an important discussion on the extent of the atonement.  The “L” in the tulip acrostic is carefully explained in a historical and biblical context.  As most Reformed theologians, Sproul makes a distinction between the sufficiency and efficacy of the atonement.  Certainly, Christ’s redemptive work is sufficient for every person who has ever lived.  But it is effectual for the elect of God.

The Truth of the Cross offers readers a basic look at the redemptive work that Christ accomplished.  Sproul does not intend to offer the last word – which is what makes this little book so effective.  Readers interested in delving deeper are encouraged to pick up John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ.

4 stars

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SCANDALOUS:The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus – D.A. Carson (2010)

Don Carson writes good books.  His new book, Scandalous is no exception.  The essays in Scandalous are the fruit of Carson’s work at the 2008 Resurgence conference at Mars Hill in Seattle.

Carson recounts the story of the cross of Christ and his resurrection with the clarity and insightfulness that we have grown to expect from him.

The author zero’s in on the ironies of the cross.  Carson beautifully captures the subtle realities that emerge as Christ approaches the cross and dies for sinners.  Everyday realities are seen and evaluated in the shadow of the cross; grieving sinners, stinky corpses, and crushed dreams.  Carson weaves through narratives and reflects on the hope that emerges in a suffering Savior and resurrected Savior.

Carson skillfully unpacks crucial doctrines that pertain to the cross of Christ, drawing the reader closer to a better understanding of the gospel.  I recommend Scandalous to new and veteran Christians alike.

4.5 stars

THE GOSPEL AND THE CROSS

“Justification is first and foremost about the vindication of God.  God simultaneously preserves his justice while justifying the ungodly.  That is the heart of the gospel … Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the love of God?  Go to the cross.  Do you want to see the greatest evidence of the justice of God?  Go to the cross.  It is where wrath and mercy meet.  Holiness and peace kiss each other.  The climax of redemptive history is the cross.”

– D.A. Carson, Scandalous (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 67, 70)

THE CROSS OF CHRIST – John Stott (1986)

The Cross of Christ by John Stott has emerged over the years as one of the most important books that pertains to the redemptive work of our Savior. Stott’s work is a comprehensive look at the cross and its ramifications for the New Testament believer.   Without the cross there would undoubtedly be no reason to evangelize for we would have no message to proclaim.

The author divides his book into four parts.  Part one, approaching the cross argues that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus.  What dominated the mind of Jesus was not the living, but the giving of his life.  Stott discusses the reasons why Christ had to die on the cross.  Ultimately, Christ was not killed.  Rather, he died, giving himself up voluntarily to do his Father’s will.  Moreover, Stott adds, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance).”  The author concludes part one by way of application and notes that the cross enforces three truths: 1) Our sin must be extremely horrible, 2) God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension, and 3) Christ’s salvation must be a free gift.

Part two details the heart of the cross.  Here Stott covers the seriousness of sin and the necessity of forgiveness.  He contrasts the holiness and wrath of God and holds that a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God will help one understand the cross in significant ways.  The author also spends a great deal of time discussing the necessity of the substitutionary atonement.  He illustrates this great biblical truth by detailing the events of the Passover and its implications in New Testament days.

Part three, the achievement of the cross reveals the rich New Testament truths of propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation.  Each word highlights a different aspect of human need and all four indicate that the saving initiative was taken by God alone in his sovereign love.  Further, all four images teach that God’s saving work was achieved through the shedding of blood, namely, through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.

Part four is entitled living under the cross and draws practical conclusions from the first four deeply theological parts.  The author concludes that the cross makes possible a new relationship with God, what he calls the “community of celebration.”  He writes, “The whole of the Christian community should be conceived of as festival in which with love, joy and boldness we celebrate what God has done for us through Christ.”  He makes it clear that the cross should motivate disciples of Jesus to offer spiritual sacrifices on a daily basis.  Finally, Stott maintains that the cross necessarily leads to self-understanding, self-giving and a love for our enemies.

The Cross of Christ is an unbelievable book.  John Stott is a rare breed that combines the mind of a scholar with a heart of a pastor.  His insight is rich and meaningful.  His writing is precise, biblical and is always right on target.  He brilliantly diagnoses the sin problem and discusses the cure found in the power of the cross.  The section contrasting God’s love and holiness is a true masterpiece.  Finally the implications for evangelism are bold and challenging.  Stott maintains, “Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and (if left to themselves) lost, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and curse is the only available Savior.  Or we emphasize human potential and human ability, with Christ brought in only to boost them, and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God’s love and so inspire us to great endeavor.”  The majority report seems to embrace the latter approach to the great shame and chagrin of the church.

4.5 stars

THE SEVEN SAYINGS OF THE SAVIOR ON THE CROSS – A.W. Pink

The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross by A.W. Pink is a devotional look at the final words uttered by Jesus on Calvary’s tree.  But these meditations are more than mere musings.  To the contrary, Pink’s insight is theologically charged, mind altering, and heart transforming.

Pink turns the heart of the reader to the person and work of Christ.  He skillfully explains each of the seven sayings of the Savior on the cross and makes direct application to Christ-followers and calls the unregenerate to repentance.

Pink’s work is an excellent introduction to the basics of Christ’s cross work.  Readers would do well to proceed to The Cross Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney, The Cross of Christ by John Stott, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross by Leon Morris and Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach.

4  stars