Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Gospel Logic and Revelational Beauty: John Stott on Romans 1:16-20

Rom 1On Sunday I preached from Romans 1:16-32. Earlier this summer I preached from Romans 1:16-17. Last year, I preached from Romans 1:1-7. In each instance, I found great help from John Stott.

For those unfamiliar with Stott’s work, he was an evangelical Anglican who during the latter half of the twentieth century preached the gospel, championed missions, and published numerous books, especially commentaries on the New Testament. His commentaries are always brimming with insight and full of crisp clear exposition. Thus, I share a few of his remarks on Romans 1:16-20. They helped me unpack Paul’s opening argument about the gospel, and I trust they will help you as well. Continue reading

The Living Church

The Living Church by John Stott is an excellent book for pastors and would be a helpful read for many congregations.  It is an accessible book on the life of the church, where John Stott shows again why he has influenced evangelicalism for decades.  His writing is clear, biblical, and urges strategic risk-taking for Christ’s mission of making disciples.

His introduction begins with a survey of ’emerging churches.’  Like Jim Belcher he urges cooperation between emerging churches and tradiationalists without condoning the movement carte blanche (15).  Tongue-in-cheek, Stott calls for more “R.C.” churches, that is “radically conservative” churches which “conserve what Scripture plainly requires, but [are] ‘radical’ in relation to the combination of tradition and convention which we call ‘culture'” (15).  In this way, Stott purposes, “to bring together a number of characteristics of what [he] call[s] an authentic or living church” (15).  I appreciate Stott’s willingness to listen and be radical, while maintaining a solid grasp of Biblical truth that undergirds his book and shapes his analysis.  To that we turn.

Chapter 1 lists a number of church ‘essentials.’  Drawn out of Acts 2, Stott suggests that the church must be a learning, caring, worshiping, evangelizing body of believers.  The ebb and flow of church life is going out with the message of the gospel and then coming together to teach, love, share, and worship collectively.  Chapters 2-8 unpack these living essentials. 

In chapter 2, Stott explains that genuine worship is fourfold.  It must be biblical, congregational, Spiritual, and moral (think: pure and holy).  This is a powerful chapter and one that undoes the idea that contemporary worship revolves around competing styles and certain kinds of music.  True worship is something far more substantial (see David Peterson’s Engaging With God for more on this).  Honing in on music, Stott writes, “what is essential…is the biblical content of hymns and songs” (43).  I couldn’t agree more.

Chapter 3 follows with an every member ministry approach to evangelism that challenges the entire church to be on mission with/for Jesus.   Recognizing personal evangelism and mass evangelism as viable and biblical means of sharing the good news, Stott points to a better way, the church itself, as the venue for the most effective evangelism (49).  In theory, Stott asserts that every church must understand itself theologically, organize itself structurally, express itself verbally, and be itself morally and spiritually. (Stott unfolds these with greater precision in the chapter).  In very practical terms, Stott lists a number of evaluative questions to help assess the local mission field of any church as well as discerning the kind of resources a church has for evangelistic outreach.

Chapter 4 continues Stott’s emphasis on ‘every member ministry,’ though he turns to consider further the pastoral responsibilities in the church.  He reminds pastors that their primary focus is teaching and that pastoral leadership is a shared assignment–the church benefits from multiple pastor/elders.  (As a point of disagreement in this chapter, Stott gives permission for women to teach men (83), when the Bible explicitly teaches in 1 Timothy 2 that God has called men to be leaders and teachers in the local church.   This is not culturally conditioned; it is established in creation (1 Tim 2:11-15)  See Wayne Grudem and John Piper (eds.),  Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)

In Chapter 5, Stott unpacks his understanding of fellowship in general and small groups in particular.  Biblically, he argues that it is not good for man to be alone and it is good for the people of God to gather together in one another’s homes.  Historically, there has been tremendous fruit that has grown out of prayer groups, Sunday Schools, and other small groups.  And practically, smaller groups facilitate relationships, sharing, and caring for one another that larger settings disallow.  Simple, yes; but still this kind of ministry lacks effective application in so many churches.

Chapter 6, which is on preaching, surely draws from Stott’s larger work on the subject, Between Two WorldsStott likens preaching to bridge-building, as he does in BTW and lists five paradoxes.  The preacher must Biblical and Contemporary, Authoritative and Tentative, Prophetic and Pastoral, Gifted and Studied, Thoughtful and Passionate.  These polarities are challenging for even experienced preachers, and surely motivating for preachers who want to engage the people of God with the Word of God.  One instance worth nothing, that struck me as useful, has been Stott’s participation in a reading group since 1972.  These men read non-Christian books that help them better understand the culture.  Surely Stott’s ability to apply the Bible to the world is in part a fruit of this discipline.  He suggests that all preachers should do something similar, while not letting go of God’s Word.

Chapter 7 gives 10 priniciples about giving from the book of 2 Corinthians.  This is Stott at his finest, engaging the text in order to draw out practical examples and principles for Christian living.  This would be a great meditation for anyone considering how to think biblically about finances.  (Cf. Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle).

Finally, Chapter 8 challenges the gospel-telling church to simultaneously be salt and light in the world (Matt 5:13-16).  Stott makes it a point to show how salubrious salt and light are and how the impact of local churches benefit the communities in which they reside.  Practically speaking, he gives 6 weapons for cultural engagement: (1) prayer, (2) evangelism, (3) example, (4) [apologetic] argument, (5) action, and (6) suffering.  This is one of the areas that the neo-evangelical movement and now the emerging church is right to challenge the church.  We must be better at loving and serving our communities, and yet we cannot hide the gospel or muffle its message of salvation and judgment.

Overall, Stott’s book is a fine treatment on the local church.  Engaging, missions-minded, biblical, and wise are just a few of the adjectives I would use to describe it.  However, in the American, baptist (SBC) context in which I live and minister, I was a little disappointed; not because I devalue Stott’s Anglican heritage, in fact, I am thankful for it, but because the numerous parochial examples relating to commission reports and decisions within the Anglican church would be confusing to many in my church.  Again, I commend the book to pastors without reservation, but I would be slower to recommend it for use in every congregation.  You simply have to know your flock, and judge accordingly. 

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Holy Worldliness

John Stott, in his immensely helpful (read: biblical and practical) book, The Living Church, considers the two-fold identity of Christ’s church.  That is, he balances the need for the church (1) to be called out of the world and yet (2) to go into the world.  This kind of Christ-directed oscillation is seen in passages like John 10:1-10 where the sheep are brought into the fold but then sent out again and in Matthew 28:16-20 where the disciples are told to meet Jesus in a secluded place, but immediately commanded to go into the world.  So, this pattern should be normative in the lives of Christians and their churches.  Stott calls this ‘holy worldliness.’  The church is to worship and witness, to meet and to go on mission, and rightly he points to our Lord as the supreme example.  He writes:

Nobody has ever exhibited the meaning of ‘holy worldliness’ better than our Lord Jesus Christ himself.  His incarnation is the perfect embodiment of it.  On the one hand he came to us inou world, and ssumed the full reality of our humanness.  He made himself one with us in our frailty, and exposed himself to our tempations.  He fraternized with the common people, and they flocked around him eagerly.  He welcomed everybody and shunned nobody.  He identified himself with our sorrows, our sins and our death.  On the other hand, in mixing freely with people like us, he never sacrificed, or even for a moment compromised, his own unique identity.  His was the perfection of ‘holy worldliness’ (The Living Church: Convictions of a Lifelong Pastor [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2007], 53).

May we the body of Christ look to Jesus, our head and the author and perfector of our faith, and GO and do likewise.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss