The time for the most wondrous conference – the Mockingbird NYC spring conference – has rolled around again, and the powers-that-be have condescended to let me come and do a breakout session! I’m going to talk about a book I’ve been writing for 3 years now called “The Word of the Cross.” I’m very excited about this material!
The Cross is our Solution?
The Corinthian church was a mess. There were divisions and theological quarrels and pride about obscure knowledge. Gross sexual sins were being tolerated. Church members were suing one another. There was idolatry, overeating at potlucks, and a carnal fascination with spiritual gifts. If anyone ever talks about the early church as a model of success, they certainly don’t mean this particular early church. Paul wades into this familiar-sounding morass of fleshliness and spiritual immaturity with a very unlikely message:
For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor 1:18-2:5)
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3-4)
Paul considered the cross of Christ to be so important and central to this mess of a church that he began and ended his letter to them with it. In fact, he was determined to know nothing else among them, and he delivered it to them as of first importance. The question is, how does the cross of Christ speak to these terrible (if all too familiar) problems? Is it possible that the cross of Christ, far from being some obscure point of doctrine or the subject of strange and dusty old hymns, is in fact the power of God which holds the key to addressing the very real carnality and fleshliness in the church?
The Word Made Flesh is a Crucified Word
In the first chapter of the book of John, we learn that the “Word” which was in the beginning was with God, and was God. If Jesus Christ is the very word of God made flesh, then what is He saying to us? He didn’t just speak God’s words — He actually is God’s word. What is the message of this word of flesh and bone and blood? Of all the things He taught, there was no greater word than the cross. You can be certain that every word that Jesus spoke and every action He took was done in light of His crucifixion. When He rose from the dead, He was not raised as a completely healed man as if newborn. He retained the scars. His crucifixion has become an essential part of His identity. This preserved evidence of crucifixion was proof to the disciples of His identity, that the risen Savior is the the Savior who has suffered. He describes Himself to John in the vision as the One who was dead, who is alive forevermore (Rev 1:18). It is the Lamb standing, as if slain, who is worthy apart from all creatures, to open the scroll in the Father’s right hand (Rev 5:6). He is worthy because He was slain, and purchased men for God with His blood. (Rev 5:9). He is known as a slain lamb, and His worthiness is that He was slain. All of heaven understands the centrality of the cross of Christ.
An Infinite Well of Atonement Theories
There seems to be some controversy in some circles about whether this atonement theory or that atonement theory of the cross is true. I have come to think that not only are almost all of these theories true, but they are not even exclusive. The cross is speaking virtually everything that God ever wants to say to us at once – so many important and beautiful things! Far from being exclusive, these words of the cross are like the bones and sinew and organs and nerves which together make up a human body. They are like the many facets of a single exquisite diamond. They are like many rivers which come together to fill up the ocean.
The cross speaks a powerful word of crushing law while at the same time it speaks a liberating word of lavish grace. The cross speaks forth perfect justice, and at once speaks forth a startling mercy. The cross speaks forth the wrath of God at the same time that it speaks forth an enduring declaration of the love of God.
The cross speaks that God understands our suffering, and that our worst circumstance can be turned around to become something beautiful. The cross says that we will in Christ transcend the ever-present problem of evil within ourselves and all round about us. The cross speaks forth that God understands our suffering and is able to cause even our most grief-stricken and sorrowful times and our most shameful failures to turn out for good.
The cross speaks forth a powerful grace in the form of penal substitution – for which I will give, not simply a biblical defense, but a philosophical defense. I hope everyone walks out convinced that this strange doctrine is really a very deep well of incredibly scandalous and delicious grace.
In the end, the cross speaks forth a theologically profound word, and it also speaks forth a most tender and effectual pastoral word. The word of the cross speaks forth the only true transformation available to us as humans. The cross is the truest and surest word written supernaturally by the very finger of God Himself on the fabric of human history.