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Reading Classics Together

October 27, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we draw one week closer to completing John Stott’s The Cross of Christ.  After this week’s reading, we’ve got just two remaining before we’ve finished the book and wrapped up another reading project. Thank you for bearing with me last week when I just wasn’t able to get things done on time. 

Self-Understanding and Self-Giving

You remember that last week’s chapter was about the community of the cross being a community of celebration. This week Stott shows that the community of the cross is also a community of self-understanding. “This may sound like a reversion to individualism. But it should not be so, since self-understanding is with a view to self-giving. How can one give what one does not know one has? That is why the quest for one’s own identity is essential.” That makes good sense to me!

October 21, 2011

Reading Classics Together
This week’s reading from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ for Reading Classics Together comes courtesy of Rebecca Stark. My week happened in such a way that I wasn’t able to write up my summary post, so I gladly borrowed Rebecca’s (with her permission of course). This week’s chapter was titled “The Community of Celebration” and here is how Rebecca summarizes it…

The Community of Celebration.

Stott starts by pointing out that Jesus didn’t die simply to save individuals but to make a new community of his own people, people from every nation who “live by and under the cross.” First of all, those in the new community of people have a new relationship to God, a relationship marked by

October 13, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue our project of reading through John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. Stott has been writing about the achievements of the cross. He has already spoken of the salvation of sinners and the revelation of God.  This week he looks to “The Conquest of Evil.” Now there’s a great title for a chapter. The conquest of evil is such a prominent theme in books and movies and stories—we love to see evil vanquished. And maybe the cross of Christ offers us an idea of why this is such an important theme among not just Christians but all human beings.

The Conquest of Evil

Stott begins the chapter in this way:

It is impossible to read the New Testament without being impressed by the atmosphere of joyful confidence which pervades it, and which stands out in relief against the rather jejeune religion that often passes for Christianity today. There was no defeatism about the early Christians; they spoke rather of victory. … Victory, conquest, triumph, overcoming—this was the vocabulary of those first followers of the risen Lord. For if they spoke of victory, they knew they owed it to the victorious Jesus.

We love to speak of the victory of Jesus, but let’s not lose sight of the context. The early church was celebrating the victory of a man that their contemporaries had seen slaughtered.

Of course any contemporary observer who saw Christ die would have listened with astonished credulity to the claim that the Crucified was a Conquerer. Had he not been rejected by his own nation, betrayed, denied and deserted by his own disciples, and executed by authority of the Roman procurator? Look at him there, spread-eagled and skewered on a cross, robbed of all freedom of movement, strung up with nails or ropes or both, pinned there and powerless. It appears to be total defeat. If there is victory, it is the victory of pride, prejudice, jealousy, hatred, cowardice and brutality. Yet the Christian claim is that the reality is the opposite of the appearance. What looks like (and indeed was) the defeat of goodness by evil is also, and more certainly, the defeat of evil by goodness. Overcome there, he was himself overcoming. Crushed by the ruthless power of Rome, he was himself crushing the serpent’s head (Gen 3:15). The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.

There is a sentence worth repeating: “The victim was the victor, and the cross is still the throne from which he rules the world.”

October 06, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue our project of reading through John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. We’ve come now to chapter 8, “The Revelation of God,” where Stott explains that the achievement of Christ’s cross must be seen in terms of revelation as well as salvation. “To borrow some current jargon, it was a ‘relevatory’ as well as a ‘salvific’ event. For through what God did there for the world he was also speaking to the world. Just as human beings disclose their character in their actions, so God has showed himself to us in the death of his Son.” The purpose of this chapter is to show how the cross was a word as well as a work, and then to listen attentively.

The Revelation of God

Let me share a just few choice quotes from this chapter:

No one can now accuse God of condoning evil and so of moral indifference or injustice. The cross demonstrates with equal vividness both his justice in judging sin and his mercy in justifying the sinner. For now, as a result of the propitatory death of his Son, God can be ‘just and the justifier’ of those who believe in him. He is able to bestow a righteous status on the unrighteous, without compromising his own righteousness.

The value of a love-gift is assessed both by what it costs the giver and by the degree to which the recipient may be held to deserve it. A young man who is in love, for example, will give his beloved expensive presents, often beyond what he can afford, as symbols of his self-giving love, because he believes she deserves them, and more. Jacob served seven years for Rachel because of his love for her. But God in giving his Son gave himself to die for his enemies. He gave everything for those who deserved nothing from him. “And that is God’s own proof of his love toward us” (Rom. 5:8).

When we look at the cross we see the justice, love, wisdom and power of God. It is not easy to decide which is the most luminously revealed, whether the justice of God in judging sin, or the love of God in bearing the judgment in our place, or the wisdom of God in perfectly combining the two, or the power of God in saving those who believe. For the cross is equally an act, and therefore a demonstration, of God’s justice, love, wisdom and power. The cross assures us that this God is the reality within, behind and beyond the universe.

September 29, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue our project of reading through John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. We’ve now moved onto Part III which discusses “The Achievement of the Cross.” Here Stott begins to move from the event itself to the consequences, “from what happened on the cross to what was achieved by it.” The Bible sums this up in three words: salvation, revelation and conquest. First up is chapter 8, “The Salvation of Sinners.” The chapters that follow will discuss revelation and conquest.

The Salvation of Sinners

Here is how Stott introduces the ideas he wants to discuss in this chapter.

It would be hard to exaggerate the magnitude of the changes that have taken place as a result of the cross, both in God and in us, especially in God’s dealings with us and in our relations with him. Truly, when Christ died and was raised from death, a new day dawned, a new age began.

This new day is “the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2), and the blessings of “such a great salvation” (Heb 2:3) are so richly diverse that they cannot be neatly defined. Several pictures are needed to portray them. Just as the church of Christ is presented in Scripture as his bride and his body, the sheep of God’s flock and the branches of his vine, his new humanity, his household or family, the temple of the Holy Spirit and the pillar and buttress of the truth, so the salvation of Christ is illustrated by the vivid imagery of terms like propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation, which form the theme of this chapter.

Those four terms form the theme and the structure, allowing Stott to progressively reveal the salvation accomplished at the cross. “They are not alternative explanations of the cross, providing us with a range to choose from, but complementary to one another, each contributing a vital part to the whole. As for the imagery, propitiation introduces us to rituals at a shrine, redemption to transactions in a marketplace, justification to proceedings in a court of law, and reconciliation to experiences in a home or family.” Substitution is not a theory of the atonement but the foundation of all of these words and concepts.

And so Stott turns to each of them. Let me share just three great quotes.

The reason why a propitiation is necessary is that sin arouses the wrath of God. This does not mean (as animists fear) that he is likely to fly off the handle at the most trivial provocation, still less that he loses his temper for no apparent reason at all. For there is nothing capricious or arbitrary about the holy God. Nor is he ever irascible, malicious, spiteful or vindictive. His anger is neither mysterious nor irrational. It is never unpredictable, but always predictable, because it is provoked by evil and evil alone. The wrath of God … is his steady, unrelenting, unremitting, uncompromising antagonism to evil in all its forms and manifestations. In short, God’s anger is poles apart from ours. What provokes our anger (injured vanity) never provokes his; what provokes his anger (evil) seldom provokes ours.

September 22, 2011

Reading Classics Together
This morning brings us to our next reading in John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. This week I am simply going to offer up a few amazing quotes from this chapter. I hope that this will give everyone who reads this article something to chew on, whether or not you’ve read the book. At the very least read the final quote!

The Self-Substitution of God

In this chapter, titled “The Self-Substitution of God,” Stott addresses this key question: Exactly who was our substitute? Who took our place, bore our sin, became our curse, endured our penalty, died our death? Who was this Christ? How are we to think of him? In other words, he is looking at the idea of substitution and wondering who could act as substitute and what the nature of that substitution would be.

He outlines several possible answers:

Was he just a man? If so, how could one human being possibly—or justly—stand in for other human beings? Was he then simply God, seeming to be a man, but not actually being the man he seemed? If so, how could he represent humankind? Beside this, how could he have died? In that case, are we to think of Christ neither as man alone, nor as God alone, but rather as the one and only God-man who because of his uniquely constituted person was uniquely qualified to mediate between God and man? Whether the concept of substitutionary atonement is rational, moral, plausible, acceptable and above all biblical depends on our answers to these questions. The possibility of substitution rests on the identity of the substitute.

He goes on to look at the three explanations he has sketched for us, looking carefully at a long list of passages from the Bible. He arrives at this conclusion:

Our substitute, 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 disassociate 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.

September 15, 2011

Reading Classics Together
This morning brings us to our next reading in John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. We are now in chapter 5 which is titled “Satisfaction for Sin.” In this chapter Stott argues that the cross was necessary because God “must ‘satisfy himself’ in the way of salvation he devises; he cannot save us by contradicting himself.”

Satisfaction for Sin

Stott uses this chapter to explain that the cross was necessary for satisfaction. This is something most people affirm. However, the nature of that satisfaction has been debated throughout the history of the church. The question is, Who or what needed to be satisfied, thus making the cross a necessity?

Stott looks at “five ways in which theologians have expressed their sense of what is necessary before God is able to forgive sinners. One speaks of the overthrow of the devil by ‘satisfying’ his demands, others of ‘satisfying’ God’s law, honor or justice, and the last of ‘satisfying the moral order of the world.’ In differing degrees all these formulations are true.” But there is something that we need to be careful to avoid.

The limitation they share is that, unless they are very carefully stated, they represent God as being subordinate to something outside and above himself which controls his actions, to which he is accountable, and from which he cannot free himself. Satisfaction is an appropriate word, providing we realize that it is he himself in his inner being who needs to be satisfied, and not something external to himself. Talk of law, honor, justice, and the moral order is true only in so far as these are seen as expressions of God’s own character. Atonement is a ‘necessity’ because it ‘arises from within God himself.’

September 08, 2011

Reading Classics Together
This morning brings us to our next reading in John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. This week’s chapter, chapter 4, looks at “The Problem of Forgiveness.” After last week’s “look below the surface” of Christ’s life, some may have wondered why our forgiveness would have to depend on Christ’s death. That is where Stott turns this week.

The Problem of Forgiveness

Some weeks I use this post as an opportunity to provide a synopsis of the chapter. This week I am going to simply provide a list of great quotes. Even if you have not read the chapter, I think you’ll find a lot of benefit in simply reading these quotes and maybe taking a few moments to ponder some of them.

“It is when our perception of God and man, or of holiness and sin, are askew that our understanding of the atonement is bound to be askew also.”

“For us to argue ‘we forgive each other unconditionally, let God do the same to us’ betrays not sophistication but shallowness, since it overlooks the elementary fact that we are not God. We are private individuals, and other people’s misdemeanors are personal injuries. God is not a private individual, however, nor is sin just a personal injury. On the contrary, God is himself the maker of the laws we break, and sin is rebellion against him.”

September 01, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Today we continue reading through John Stott’s book The Cross of Christ. In the past 2 weeks Stott has “sought to establish two facts about the cross. First, its central importance (to Christ, to his apostles and to his worldwide church ever since), and second, its deliberate character (for, though due to human wickedness, it was also due to the set purpose of God, voluntarily accepted by Christ who gave himself up to death). This week we come to chapter 3, “Looking Below the Surface.”

Looking Below the Surface

In this week’s chapter Stott asks and answers this question: What was there about the crucifixion of Jesus which, in spite of its horror, shame and pain, makes it so important that God planned it in advance and Christ came to endure it? He offers a 4-part answer.

First, Christ died for us. “In addition to being necessary and voluntary, his death was altruistic and beneficial. He undertook it for our sake, not for his own, and he believed that through it he would secure for us a good that could be secured in no other way.”

Second, Christ died for us that he might bring us to God. “The beneficial purpose of his death focuses down on our reconciliation. … The important point is that it is in consequence of his death that he is able to confer on us the great blessing of salvation.”

August 25, 2011

Reading Classics Together
Last week we began reading through John Stott’s classic work The Cross of Christ. The book began by pointing out the centrality of the cross. This week’s reading was chapter 2 which asks and answers an all-important question: Why Did Christ Die?

Why Did Christ Die?

I enjoyed this chapter not only for what it teaches but also for its literary qualities. Stott writes in such a way that by the end, truth is cascading upon truth, and the heart is lifted in praise. It truly packs a punch.

To answer the question Why Did Christ Die?, Stott first looks to the Roman leaders, the Jewish leaders and then to Judas Iscariot, showing how each one played a role in Jesus’ death. But where the chapter begins to really pull together is toward the end where he shows that the truest and deepest answer leads us not to blame others, but to blame ourselves.

Herod and Pilate, Gentiles and Jews … had together “conspired” against Jesus (Acts 4:27). More important still, we ourselves are also guilty. If we were in their place, we would have done what they did. Indeed we have done it. For whenever we turn away from Christ, we “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace” (Heb 6:6). We too sacrifice Jesus to our greed like Judas, to our envy like the priests, to our ambition like Pilate. “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the old negro spiritual asks. And we must answer, “Yes, we were there.” Not as spectators only, but as participants, guilty participants, plotting, scheming, betraying, bargaining and handing him over to be crucified. We may try to wash our hands of responsibility like Pilate. But our attempt will be as futile as his. For there is blood on our hands.

Stott now provides one of his best-known quotes:

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