The Cross of Christ by John Stott is a deep study of the theological truths and implications of the cross and its important centrality to the Christian faith. Riveting and thought-provoking, this work helps believers connect more deeply with God and more fully grasp all that Christ has accomplished to glorify himself and to unite us to him in love. If you’re going to read only one academically challenging Christian work in your lifetime, this is the one you want to tackle.
I keep going back to this book. The first time I read it was in college in the 90’s (hence my outdated book jacket). I attended a Christian liberal arts college and The Cross of Christ by John Stott was on the reading list for one class, possibly New Testament.
Discovering the book
As a student, I began reading as I usually did, in a hurry, speed-reading through. Until I was suddenly arrested by concepts and theology that I had never considered. What is the difference between atonement, sanctification and justification? Who sent Jesus to the cross? What is propitiation? Why is the cross the identifying emblem of Christianity? I immediately screeched to a halt! This was not a book reviewing trivial fluff of the Bible, rehashing what I already knew. This book was deeper, much deeper. And I like deeper.
Although it reads like a classroom textbook, and takes a few chapters to adapt my brain to the writing style, this book is a gift and a treasure. It has taught me so much about the final days of Christ and opened my eyes more fully to what the cross accomplished and what I had often taken for granted. The Cross of Christ reveals the Passion to my heart, soul and mind the way that The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson reveals it to my emotions. The Cross of Christ by John Stott is not a light read, just as The Passion is not a light movie. It’s powerful in its convicting revelation. And it is as emotional as The Passion by Mel Gibson if you let it read you while you read it.
I return to The Cross of Christ and it has a permanent place on my bookshelf because the book does two things for me. It prepares my heart for Easter by renewing my awe at the wisdom, love and power of God. And it anchors my faith by convincing me again of the importance of Christ’s work and his all-sufficient power and grace made available to me, a sinner.
Preparing the heart for Easter
Really, the realization of our sinfulness and the knowledge of God’s rescuing plan should change our perspective every day of our lives. Being loved so greatly should heal our self-doubt. Being forgiven so much should birth forgiveness toward others. Being clothed in righteousness should affect our thoughts and actions. Being rescued should transform us into rescuers. Being saved should fill us every day with joy and gratitude.
But Easter allows us a chance to restart. It’s spring, the celebration of rebirth and a time to shake off all the burdens of our dying flesh and rejoice in the gift of eternal life. It only does this if we pause to enjoy the life that we have been given. And the truest life is found in the Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (NIV)
The Cross of Christ by John Stott is a book that helps me restart. It helps me to get back to the centrality of the Christian message which is the work of Jesus on the cross. Here, he made a way for us to be right with God. Here, he did away with the rebellion and wrong that doomed us. Here, he won his greatest victory and exhibited surprising strength in his submission to the Father’s will. Here, he forever conquered death, sin and Satan. Here, he purchased our salvation and hope.
Anchoring the Christian faith
And the book deepens my faith. John Stott considers every possible angle as he looks at events like Jesus’ agony in the garden and the cry of dereliction. He probes deeply into the cross’s effect on us, how we can now live in light of the cross – loving our enemies, living in greater self-awareness and therefore greater self-sacrifice.
The book is full of quotes from other Bibical scholars as well. Stott holds up the thoughts and conclusions of these other theologians to study, compare and challenge, his own, and our own, approaches to a biblical understanding Christ’s work of atonement, his place as a substitution, and the satisfaction of God in appeasing his wrath. And Stott’s writing helps me more fully grasp heady words like redemption, justification and sanctification. I need to review these again and again because I so easily forget all that has been done by Christ. How complete is his work! He accomplished everything that he designed to do!
In the end, this book is well-worth your time, but be sure to give it the time it deserves. Set aside space for reading this book. Maybe even be prepared to journal on your thoughts and reflections as you work your way through. Stott’s book is packed with complex thoughts and sentences and many quotes from ancient sources. Yes, the first few chapters may seem academic. You could even start with chapter three if you like. But you will thank me later after you have preserved through!
Even though I call this a “must-read”, I realize that it may be a challege for today’s average reader. It’s a challenge for me as well! I do keep returning to it because, although I feel like I might not be completely absorbing all that is written here, what I do take away blesses me richly. There are wonderfully rich nuggets of gold to reward you in each chapter. I hope you can dive in and begin to experience and appreciate Jesus and the Heavenly Father more deeply through your reading of this great work.