(This blog has been gone for a little bit while I’ve had rather a lot too much on – moved city and university, broke my ankle, handed in an MA dissertation, and had quite a bit of man-flu. It should be back fairly steadily from now on.)
Martin Luther said that “the cross alone is our theology”, and it seems clear that it belongs at the absolute center of our understanding of God (and thus the whole realm of creation). One cannot understand anything without understanding who God is; God reveals himself primarily through Jesus, and the key to understanding Jesus is to understand his death on the cross – that’s what the New Testament keeps on talking about all the time. That’s why Paul “resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). The cross should be at the centre of all true Christianity.
A lot of Christian organisations tend to have the culture that the cross is for non-Christians, even if they wouldn’t say that. That’s wrong, and very damaging… but I wonder whether it’s partly a reaction against an oversimplistic approach to teaching the cross in some churches.
My feeling is that some churches is that they simply try to get across the bare fact that “God the Son loved us enough to take God’s wrath on the cross” again and again, rather than apply more deeply the cross in the way the New Testament does. Instead of just repeating that fact (though I do think it’s so important we need to remember it and the wonder of the grace revealed there all the time), I think we ought to regularly preach how the cross fits into the Christian life and the world – “Jesus died out of love – that shows us how much God loves us, and completely deals with our sin and makes us worthy of God by God’s grace, which should be the source of our self esteem” or “Jesus died to propitiate God’s wrath against sin – this should help us realise how terrible sin is and help us see it as being as unattractive as it is” or “Jesus died to remake humanity, and restore the whole creation to it’s pre-fall state and indeed a greater state – therefore we should work to help the natural environment.”
There’s a few examples of how that kind of teaching might work in practise. It obviously was limited by the single sentence nature. It didn’t offer me much chance to work through how our theology of the cross might be more complex and deep than a single sentence (or that thought about other stuff might be more complex) but you probably get the general idea. We should make the cross central by connecting it to the whole of life. This will make our ideas about the cross bigger, not smaller, and help us to understand ever increasingly large parts of it.
It’s much harder for people to take seriously constant cross-preaching when it doesn’t make connections with the whole of reality. Perhaps at least part of the solution to people dis-emphasising the cross is simply to talk more about the cross in a better way.
In fact, this seems to me to be how the Bible emphasises the cross. For example, Paul uses the cross as an illustration for all sorts of topics in his teaching (e.g. Romans 6 uses the cross to explain why christians should not continue to sin; Philippians 2 uses the cross to explain humility).
The reason it is hard to preach the cross day after day is never because the world is too big for it, but only because our view of the cross is too small.