Monday, February 22, 2010

Cross or Crucified - does it really matter?

My thoughts have been caught up with the cross, the resurrection - all aspects of the gospel at the moment. I suppose there couldn't be a much better topic! Before I get onto what provoked this post, I have been reading quite a few books and blog posts specifically on the resurrection. I like the way Adrian Warnock put it in writing here;

"We must remember that the cross is just as empty as the tomb, and Christ is now glorified, having completed his work. The truth is, we cannot be truly cross-centered without also being empty grave-centered! Jesus was not just our prophet and priest—he is our reigning King. At the cross we learn true humility, our hopeless sinfulness, and our need of God. At the empty tomb we fully appreciate what Christ has achieved for us and receive power to live for him. A deeper, fuller insight into the truth of Jesus’ resurrection will cause our lives to be radically transformed".

So I wrote a post called; "A Truncated Gospel?" and the friend I learn so much from (and sometimes disagree with!) - Janelle - made a very valid comment. She said;

"Paul said that he preaches nothing else but Christ crucified, but we also know that when he says that he was talking about the whole gospel, not just literally the cross".

What got me thinking was her choice of words. She quite rightly said that Paul says he preaches nothing but "Christ crucified" (verb) and then said; "The cross" (noun). Paul was declaring that he would preach nothing but the action - the verb - what Christ did on the Cross. Was Paul saying that he would preach nothing but describing the historical event, time, date and detail of what happened there? I wonder ...

To change tack slightly - the popstar Madonna (who I like by the way) - caused great controversy in one of her recent tours; "Confessions on a Dancefloor". During the show the popstar appeared on a sparkling and glittering cross as though she was being crucified. Here she is;

So the question I have is:

Was that performance blasphemous? Or beautiful?

The bulk of the controversy was among Catholics - to whom of course the icon of the Cross is seen as sacred. Madonna achieved her goal - she wanted people to talk about the song and her passion for bringing awareness to the orphans dying in Africa and religious people argued and disapproved of her (something she doesn't care very much about). But what about the song? Is there anything sacred about the actual "cross" itself?

I would argue not.

Crucifixion was a well-known practice of execution designed not simply to kill the condemned but to mutiliate and dishonour them in the worst possible way. It was such that the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:23) actually said; "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree". The thousands upon thousands who were crucified by the Romans died in shame - but none of them achieved anything for us. Only one crucifixion (verb) achieved salvation for all mankind - and that was of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Son of God was prepared to literally die the worst death - so we could experience the best life!

"He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race".

He took love to Calvary! People often wonder what drives and motivates martyrs to walk with their heads held high to their deaths. I really believe it is nothing but love. Again I am prepared to fully conceed here that this is a too particular a discussion. Much of my concern lies with those (such as SGM) who to me over-emphasise the Cross at the expense of other aspects of the Gospel. But I fully admit that I am not privy to the preaching day-to-day that goes in in the USA churches and maybe the balance there is fully corrected. In which case - praise God!

The gospel is so completely gloriously wonderful in all its facets - why on earth would we want to single out one part? The life of Christ is indeed awesome. He lived and walked this very earth and experienced and suffered and was tempted in all points like as we - yet He sinned not. His death was unspeakably awful (and one that we could never and should never think we can imagine or grasp) - but love compelled Him there. His resurrection was glorious and triumphant as the powers of hell groaned in defeat. His ascension was something we can only dream of as He took His seat at the right hand of God and poured forth the Holy Spirit - "this which you now see and hear".

For us!


jul said...

Dan, out of curiosity, do you know why she's up on a cross? I'm failing to get her point, which very well might be a good one.

I for one HATE detailed emotional accounts of the crucifiction with dramatic physical detail. Aaron on the other hand has aways gravitated toward that kind of thing and still argues that it could be useful. I can't for the life of me see the point in it, and Gibson's movie gave me a splitting headache, I think I had my teeth clenched through the whole movie at which point the story of the Jesus must not have seemed like good news!

So if we preach the cross and crucifiction of Jesus in a way that is not utterly amazing and the best most wonderful good news ever, than I suggest it is still not the gospel.

What do you think?

janelle said...

Dan, love it. For the record I can see why you would think that we are too cross-centered. But in our thinking, there is no way to be too cross-centered, unless, of course, its at the expense of the rest of the Gospel. As always, you manage to remain gracious while at the same time challenging. Sooo good.

I'm Sheila Atchley. said...

Rich posts, my friend! (waving to you, across the Atlantic...)

Dan Bowen said...


To be honest, knowing Madonna - she's on a crosss because she knew it would cause controversy and make people talk. Madonna's good at doing that (anyone seen the video; "Like a prayer"? That got condemned by the Pope too! ... the pope in the Vatican, not C J Mahaney I mean!)

I agree - I think vivid and graphic descriptions of Christ on the Cross don't do any good or at least not very much. The reason for that is that I think the bulk of the horror of the Cross was what happened spiritually - the Father turning His back on Jesus Christ. And we can never even begin to imagine the horror of that.

Thanks Janelle, I was thinking this the other day. I was raised in a church where to disagree on a point of theology was just awful and shocking. I've heard church members shouted down in family meetings by the elders for daring to disagree! It's such a blessing to be able to think through these gospel related issues, disagree but love and respect those we are talking with.

For the record - I DO think SGM are too cross-centred IF it is the two planks of wood that you are centred around and "won't move on from". BUT if previous comments about the Cross being "code" for gospel are right, then I agree wholeheartedly - you can't be too "cross"/gospel centered enough!

And I must admit I like the emphasis of "Together for the Gospel" - the sessions from Duncan, Dever, et al are really good at striking the balance.

Dan Bowen said...

Waving back Sheila!! How I wish I could hop on a plane and be with you guys!