The Cross of Christ by John Stott has emerged over the years as one of the most important books that pertains to the redemptive work of our Savior. Stott’s work is a comprehensive look at the cross and its ramifications for the New Testament believer. Without the cross there would undoubtedly be no reason to evangelize for we would have no message to proclaim.
The author divides his book into four parts. Part one, approaching the cross argues that the centrality of the cross originated in the mind of Jesus. What dominated the mind of Jesus was not the living, but the giving of his life. Stott discusses the reasons why Christ had to die on the cross. Ultimately, Christ was not killed. Rather, he died, giving himself up voluntarily to do his Father’s will. Moreover, Stott adds, “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us (leading us to faith and worship), we have to see it as something done by us (leading us to repentance).” The author concludes part one by way of application and notes that the cross enforces three truths: 1) Our sin must be extremely horrible, 2) God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension, and 3) Christ’s salvation must be a free gift.
Part two details the heart of the cross. Here Stott covers the seriousness of sin and the necessity of forgiveness. He contrasts the holiness and wrath of God and holds that a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God will help one understand the cross in significant ways. The author also spends a great deal of time discussing the necessity of the substitutionary atonement. He illustrates this great biblical truth by detailing the events of the Passover and its implications in New Testament days.
Part three, the achievement of the cross reveals the rich New Testament truths of propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. Each word highlights a different aspect of human need and all four indicate that the saving initiative was taken by God alone in his sovereign love. Further, all four images teach that God’s saving work was achieved through the shedding of blood, namely, through the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.
Part four is entitled living under the cross and draws practical conclusions from the first four deeply theological parts. The author concludes that the cross makes possible a new relationship with God, what he calls the “community of celebration.” He writes, “The whole of the Christian community should be conceived of as festival in which with love, joy and boldness we celebrate what God has done for us through Christ.” He makes it clear that the cross should motivate disciples of Jesus to offer spiritual sacrifices on a daily basis. Finally, Stott maintains that the cross necessarily leads to self-understanding, self-giving and a love for our enemies.
The Cross of Christ is an unbelievable book. John Stott is a rare breed that combines the mind of a scholar with a heart of a pastor. His insight is rich and meaningful. His writing is precise, biblical and is always right on target. He brilliantly diagnoses the sin problem and discusses the cure found in the power of the cross. The section contrasting God’s love and holiness is a true masterpiece. Finally the implications for evangelism are bold and challenging. Stott maintains, “Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and (if left to themselves) lost, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and curse is the only available Savior. Or we emphasize human potential and human ability, with Christ brought in only to boost them, and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God’s love and so inspire us to great endeavor.” The majority report seems to embrace the latter approach to the great shame and chagrin of the church.