Too much cross of Christ?


Is it possible to be focused too on the cross of Christ?

The answer has to be no. In fact, the nastiest pieces of theological misguidance that I’ve come across have lost any sense that the cross of Christ is where we find everything—our sin, God’s love, his judgement, our salvation, and the mystery of Trinitarian theology working itself out in a place beyond our comprehension.

However John Stott brought me up short with this:

… if we dare to call our Judge our Father we must beware of presuming on him. It must even be said that our evangelical emphasis on the atonement is dangerous if we come to it too quickly. We learn to appreciate the access to God which Christ has won for us only after we have first seen God’s inaccessibility to sinners. We can cry ‘Hallelujah’ with authenticity only after we have first cried ‘Woe is me, for I am lost’.

That’s from The Cross of Christ (p. 109). After Basic Christianity, it is Stott’s most useful book.

Translated into English from the English, Stott is saying, “Preach the cross as much as you like. But it is just a piece of stupidity in a distant historical context unless we understand why it is there. It’s as ridiculous as taking a pill the doctor offers, without understanding that I’m sick—no, really sick.”

Until I understand that I am a sinner, that God really hates me for it, and that I really am going to the place where the fire burns without being extinguished and the worm does not die, I can’t begin understand the love he showed me when his Son died in my place for my sins, bearing the full weight of his Father’s wrath against me.

5 thoughts on “Too much cross of Christ?

  1. I happened to see this via Tim Challies. A few comments (with the disclaimer that I haven’t read the book you are commenting about) –

    I agree that preaching the gospel without preaching the law ends up producing a meaningless message – evangelicals have been doing this for a while, and with disastrous results. I think this is how you are understanding and using Stott.

    However I find your interpretation of Stott interesting light of a couple of facts.

    Stott has denied your “place where the fire burns without being extinguished” (see )

    Stott’s book on preaching, “Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today” has been used as a defense by evangelical speakers for ‘practical’ sermons in place of preaching law and gospel.


  2. A new and more powerful proclamation of law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law.—J. Gresham Machen

  3. Our sinfulness is important, but surely more so is seeing why this God is worth knowing -why do I want the access that the cross makes possible, why the relationship, why the adoption etc. If we don’t portray the glories of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then why would anyone want to know… and you can do that from the law, you can do that as you preach the cross, you can do that from any of Scripture.

  4. Bernie, I am sorry that Stott has gone down the annihilationist route and I think it’s a grave mistake. I believe it is a position he has come to late in life; I don’t at any rate see evidence of this mistake in his Cross of Christ.

    As for the preaching of practical sermons as a <i>substitute</i> for preaching law and gospel, that is a mistake that I believe Stott neither falls into nor endorses.

    Bill, great stuff. Gresham Machen da man.

    Dave Bish I don’t for a moment deny that portraying the glory of God is more important than depicting our sinfulness. But we have to start somewhere, and it seems to me that Stott’s point is about starting where we are—mired in sin, needing divine assistance and radically unaware that we are in any trouble whatsoever.

    Of course, a right portrayal of the glory of God may reveal exactly our predicament; Isaiah 6:1-5 springs to mind as a perfect exmple.

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