Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Cross of Christ: Book Review

John Stott has long been regarded as one of the leaders of the British Evangelicals. Alongside his parish ministry, he has written many excellent books, pamphlets and Bible study guides which have been mightily used by God across the world. Perhaps the pinnacle of his writing was the book, The Cross of Christ.

In characteristic style, the book is very thorough, exploring all the options as he progresses, explaining why some things are inappropriate to say, as well as clearly explaining what the Scriptures teach about the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross. As is to be expected, the doctrine of penal substitution is expounded and explained. Beginning with the centrality of the cross in the Christian faith, practice, architecture and focus, he then asks why did Christ die?

Part Two centres on the heart of the cross, posing the problem of forgiveness, and wondering about satisfaction for sin. This treatment was very helpful, as he first writes about the satisfaction for justice, and goes on to point out that God must deal with us in accordance to his nature, both just and love, and that at the cross, God must satisfy himself! As he says, 'The way God chooses to forgive sinners and reconcile them to himself must, first and foremost, be fully consistent with his own character... in every aspect of his being, including both his justice and his love.' (p. 129) This can only be achieved by the self-substitution of God, the God-man Jesus Christ. The point he comes to is 'satisfaction through substitution.'

Part Three moves on to consider what the cross achieved, looking at the three broad areas of the salvation of sinners, the revelation of God, and the conquest of evil. However, as he presents the salvation of sinners, he uses various images of salvation - propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation - reminding us that 'substitution is not a further theory or image to be set alongside the others, but rather the foundation of them all, without which each lacks cogency. If God in Christ did not die in our place, there could be neither propitiation, nor redemption, not justification, nor reconciliation.' (p. 168)

Most books on the cross finish with these areas, but Stott is to be commended for his final section, in which he moves on to consider what it means to live under the cross. In other words, he moves from explanation to application. One particular aspect which struck me here (and has since been shown by another of my holiday reading books) is his contention that only the forgiven sinner truly knows joy in the community of celebration. He quotes WM Clow, who points out that singing is a unique feature of Christian worship, because:

'There is no forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, except through the cross of Christ... The religions of paganism scarcely knew the word... The great faiths of the Buddhist and the Mohammedan (Islam) give no place either to the need or the grace of reconciliation. The clearest proof of this is the simplest. It lies in the hymns of Christian worship. A Buddhist temple never resounds with a cry of praise. Mohammedan (Muslim) worshippers never sing. Their prayers are, at the highest, prayers of submission and of request. They seldom reach the gladder note of thanksgiving. They are never jubilant with the songs of the forgiven.' (pp. 257-258)

All in all, The Cross of Christ is a great, if sometimes difficult read. I had begun reading it about four years ago, and got bogged down in it, but this time, I read right through, and was richly blessed by the reading. Perhaps that says more about my concentration back then. Either way, I highly recommend this book for all thinking Christians who want to learn more about the foundation of the faith, and their ground of hope. The Cross of Christ is right at the crux of the Christian faith.


  1. I got this book when I was a student about 18 years ago and have tried several times over the years since to read it - with page 102 being as far as I have managed! It is a great book but there's sooo much in it. Anyway I think you have inspired me to give it another try. Thank you.

  2. HI Daniel! That was about as far as I had made it the first time through as well. Go for it - it's a great book, and well worth the effort to get the whole way through!