When many Christians become believers, one of the first things they do is come to the story of Jesus and the Cross. Most representations of Jesus have Him as suffering with a cross or dying on a cross. Protestants often have crosses in their churches, but at least Jesus isn’t on it. In Catholic churches, He is still hanging as if He never got off the cursed tree and is still under judgement. Catholics and most Protestant denominations focus very heavily on the Cross motif and emphasise very strongly the suffering that Christ endured (fancy theological and legal synonyms for it include poly-syllabic mouthfuls like ‘atonement’ (at-one-ment, or being made one again), ‘propoitiation’ (1 John 4:10), ‘expiation’, and so on). More common vernacular are terms like ‘reconciliation’. But very much the emphasis is on the atoning work of Jesus, where He reconciled sinner by His suffering. One of the books new Christians are urged to read is John Stott’s ‘The Cross of Christ’, a book which I dearly value myself, which explores this theme deeply to help believers apprehend and appreciate God’s work for them in reconciling God to themselves through His Big Sacrifice.
One of the big weaknesses with the over-emphasis on the atoning work of Jesus is that it tends to entirely overlook the accomplishments of Jesus’ resurrection. Tellingly, the most significant Old Testament prophecy about Jesus, Isaiah 52:13-53:12, which is replete with atonment prophecy actually includes hope of the resurrection (Isa. 53:10b-12) of the Crushed One seeing His descendants and having eternal joy as a resurrected Being. Yet the resurrection in so many ways is what some describe as the Cinderella of Christian doctrine: interesting, something people give credence and smiling nods to, but seldom think about unless it’s Easter Sunday, much like doctrines of the Trinity and God’s judgement. Not something that really shapes evangelism. Not something that enhances mission. Not something that’s easy to prov. Not something that guides anyone regarding ethics. And yet in spite of this, it is interesting that in the Biblical narrative the goal of Christ’s atoning work on the Cross- man’s justification before God- does not happen without the resurrection (Romans 4:25)!
I have attended in my lifetime no small number of solid, Bible-preaching churches that had their Protestant Reformation theology well-bedded but had underplayed (unconsciously at that) the Resurrection. Yet with all of that, I felt a gaping need to draw on the resurrection. The atonement was all good to know and it was taught because certain sub-factions of the Anglican church (lead by people like former Archbishop Peter Carnley) were denying the Cross or flaunting a version of it (like Christus Victor) that taught unhelpful things about the power of Satan being equal to the power of God. But without the resurrection being taught consistently and really well (with all its implications to draw on) I felt my theological worldview was missing something big. I’ve found this gaping hole of resurrection dis-emphasis in the charismatic churches that I attended too and is very common in most churches and evangelical tools. And I am pleased to see that I am not alone in this as even Bible lecturers have been troubled by the same trend (Why believe in the resurrection if the atonement is all a Christian needs to have faith?).
I was extremely pleased, then, to have discovered a book on this issue last week, which is co-authored by my principal at Bible college, Ross Clifford, called ‘The Cross is Not Enough’. It’s a book that looks at the significance of the resurrection not in terms of abstrct theoligcal constructs but personally, with even the authors revealing their own painful life journeys and how the hope of the resurrection has spoken to them (pp. 58-59) and how resurrection hope even applies to victims of horrendous personal abuse and even lower creation such as animals. This book in many ways is an answer to many of my long-held feelings of frustration that the resurrection was so under-sold in past church fellowships, which actually left me feeling ripped off and deprived of a life-giving joy. I am not angry at anyone for doing that: it’s just what happened and it’s not like anyone plotted it. But to see this book’s publication is very good to see. I am yet to finish it and want to review it, if I have the time and inclination, but I would recommend it to anyone wanting to tap into the deeper significance of the most life-changing event on earth and the very linchpin of the Christian faith.