Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review: The Empty Cross of Jesus

It being Easter, and having got a bargain on the book in the Christian bookshop in Enniskillen, I thought this was a good seasonal book to read. Having said that, though, you don't need to wait for next Easter to get stuck into Michael Green's great book The Empty Cross of Jesus.

Green seeks to tackle the various imbalances seen across the church these days, where traditions and individuals tend to emphasise one aspect of the cross or resurrection to the detriment of the whole thing: 'This book is written in the firm conviction that we are not at liberty to divorce what God has joined together. Throughout the New Testament the cross and resurrection of Jesus are united as the prism through which we are invited to survey everything else in all creation - not the one or the other in isolation, but the cross and the resurrection together.' (p. 11)

As the book unfolds, we are treated to an excellent study of the cross, further insights into the resurrection, before coming to the application of all that has gone before, as he applies the empty cross to the theologian, the preacher, the counsellor, the disciple, and the destiny of man. While there were some things I didn't fully agree with, or at least wouldn't have said the way Green says them, over all it's a good book which seeks to understand and explain the happenings of that first Easter in a way that connects.

Early on, for example, is the remarkable statement that could easily be missed or forgotten in our academic theological settings: 'All too often the cross of Jesus is boxed away in a theological compartment, and books are written by professional theologians for and against one another on the subject. But Jesus died for human beings, not only for theologians.' (p. 14)

While this is undoubtedly true, I think there are times when this volume may fall into the same trap. You see, the version I was reading was released in 2005, shortly after The Passion of the Christ had been screened in cinemas. The cover and blurb are tied in to the film, in order to attract those asking questions having seen the film. There are times, though, in the book when it's manifestly not for the seeker, but written specifically and particularly towards the academic and professional theologian. An 'ordinary' reader may struggle with that section, or indeed be turned away from finishing the rest of the book because the theologian is addressed first in the application section.

Perhaps the book could have been slimmed down or re-formatted for the more general audience? Maybe this could happen with a further release, targetting the outsider and enquirer more particularly. If so, the classic Green incisive comments will more readily hit their target:

'The resurrection, if it is true, changes not one branch of Christian doctrine, but everything.' (p. 19)

'Calvary displays in time God's attitude to sinners from all eternity.' (p. 62)

The most impressive feature of the book (and the most memorable) is the illustration Green uses of the Cape of Storms and its name change - I'll not give it away here!

All in all, it's a good read, and well worth having if you're preparing for next Easter - there will be plenty of ideas for sermons, illustrations and applications. With the health warning over the theologians section, it would still be a useful book to give or work through with someone wanting to explore the heart of the Christian message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

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