Evangelicalism’s Crucifix Problem

No event in the life of Jesus, no event in the plan of God, no event in the saving work of Christ, no doctrine, no belief, no line in the creed has been more eclipsed than the resurrection. In fact, it can be said that however much Protestantism protested Catholic theology from the Reformation on, much of Protestantism, especially some forms of evangelicalism, might as well have a crucifix behind the pulpit.

But the Stone Table cracked, and without the cracked table there is no gospel.

Where is the resurrection in your theology and gospel? Why is it not as central as the gospel in the Book of Acts? What happens to ecclesiology if we reinstate resurrection? What happens to the Christian life? What happens to preaching? What happens to evangelism? missions? missional? Pneumatology?

This is why Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson, in their outstanding book The Cross is Not Enough, call the resurrection — not the cross — the lynchpin of the Christian faith. Justification is a resurrection doctrine. What happens to justification theology if it gets tied more to resurrection?

He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification (Romans 4:25).

The authors provide a litany of examples of thinkers who ignore or diminish or minimize the resurrection. More than anything else, the resurrection has been naively, routinely, and unintentionally eclipsed by the cross. Yet, without the resurrection the cross is nothing but a brutal instrument of crowd control, retributive justice, and an image-searing act of intimidation. If Jesus was raised from the dead, God turned injustice inside out and accomplished redemption. But the gospel hinges on the resurrection. How can we ignore it? Why do we ignore it?

The resurrection then is the last word of God about the life of Jesus (and resurrection leads to ascension and exaltation and Pentecost and second coming). Death is not the last word; injustice is not the last word. The last word is life and the reversal of injustice in the one act that makes us just.

Clifford and Johnson focus on John Stott who, for all their respect for him, exaggerated cross because he diminished resurrection (24-25). At Lausanne the authors implored Chris Wright and others to have more resurrection; a move was made in the right direction. Darrell Bock asks his students what theory of atonement is at work in the gospel in Acts? (Answer: None.) Notice that David Bebbington’s famous quadrilateral — Bible, cross, conversion, activism — does not have an emphasis on resurrection. As I said, evangelicalism’s theology is crucifix shaped. You may recall that John Piper urged us to read the Gospels backward, but the back end he mentioned was the cross. The back end of Luke’s Gospel, though, is not the cross but the greatest narrative of the resurrection in our Bible. To read the Gospel of Luke backward means reading the life of Jesus in light of the resurrection! I have constantly worked at this but I have not been as good at this as I would like — our default button is the crucifix too often.

An increasing number of evangelical scholars, including Paul Beasley-Murray and NT Wright, are calling attention to resurrection. But why do we not have a theology of resurrection as developed as our theology of the cross?

Join me in reading Clifford and Johnson.

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  • Give Clifford and Johnson credit for taking this on squarely.

    Regarding your question on “where is the resurrection in my theology and gospel”: I have attempted over the last 5+ years to join the empty tomb to the cross: in other words, I’ve aimed to describe the reign of God in Christ as a mission to heal and redeem the creation: all for the glory of God. It’s been a recent development to link the two for me, and it takes some effort to “keep both balls in the air.” Texts like Rm. 4:25 sure make preaching and teaching much easier!

    You’ve got so many questions that I’m going to stop here!

  • “no line in the creed has been more eclipsed than the resurrection” – not even the ascension? We’re studying the creed at my church at the moment and we remembered that we at least celebrate resurrection on Easter Sunday each year. Ascension? Not hardly ever. So it’s been really good to sit down and read the scriptures about what it means for our faith to believe that Jesus is ascended to the right hand of the Father.

  • SuperStar

    Thank you for addressing evangelicalism’s obsession with the “Cross” to the neglect of the “Resurrection.” It’s amazing how many sermons I’ve heard over the years, even on Easter, that focus nearly 95% on the Cross and barely a mention of the Resurrection. I think Christians are to be People of the Resurrection and I agree with you that “without the cracked table there is no gospel.” Maybe if we focused more on the Resurrection, we would be much more hopeful and optimistic about our faith and the gospel would indeed sound like “good news.”

  • EricW

    Don’t the “deeper life” and “in Christ” and “exchanged life” schools and preachers and teachers focus on resurrection life and the fact that Christ in you (I.e., the resurrected and ascended and indwelling Christ) is the believer’s life and hope of glory? That the believer has died with Christ and no longer lives, but Christ lives in him, and he has been raised up with Christ to sit with Him in the heavenlies? That the One who is in the believer is greater than the antichrists and false prophets and spirits of the world? That the believer has clothed himself with Christ? That it is on the basis of Resurrection Life that the believer lives in newness of life and walks by the Spirit?

    This is all based on the Resurrected Christ and what the resurrection accomplished and demonstrates. And it was because of his resurrection that Christ received and sent the promised Holy Spirit, Who is not simply a worker and distributor of gifts, but is the Spirit of Christ, Who is in the believer.

  • Rick

    I do think there is a visible element to this. We see the cross in our art. We don’t see the resurrection. We don’t even have a detailed description of it in the gospels. Out of sight, out of mind.

    That being said, Paul sure thought it was critical in 1 Cor. 15, but I guess we skip over that part.

  • scotmcknight


    Most Protestant/evangelical art is the cross, but it is not a crucifix, right? Mostly an empty cross — which ought to lead to more resurrection theology.

  • A couple of years ago a prominent church in my area advertised their Easter Sunday message as “The Power of the Cross”!

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thanks so much for this Scot. Another book to read! 

    EricW makes a good point. All of the following of Christ that we talk about, and even sometimes get right, is possible as a direct result of the Resurrection. If there had been no resurrection…………..

    To this should be added the Ascension and the sending of the Holy Spirit. As with the Resurrection, we could ask, If the Holy Spirit had not been sent…………..

    Even in our seemingly interminable disagreements over how to think about creation itself, we first need the Resurrection to give us the Christian perspective. The risen Lord is the human being that God’s love brings into existence in the absence of spiritual opposition. Human and divine perfectly at peace, matter and spirit united as God wants them to be. We need to understand and teach often that Satan was defeated before the Resurrection occurred, and that the resurrected Lord is the first born from among the dead. 

    Given all of this, it is truly amazing that we don’t shout the Good News of the Resurrection from the rooftops every day. Since the Resurrection, every morning is Easter.

  • Shannon

    Just a stream-of-consciousness response, here, but it seems to me that we, as human beings, are constantly dealing with the sin-issue in our lives, so the cross is always before us. We are in moment-by-moment need of that forgiveness that the cross provides. Unfortunately, I think we have become so sin-focused (of self-focused) that we have neglected to embrace the fact that our eternal life, which hangs on the resurrection, starts the moment we begin the grafted-in life… not when we get to heaven. We live in hope of eternal life in the future, forgetting that, because of the resurrection, we forget that eternal life is ours now.

  • Rodney Reeves

    I rarely hear talk of the resurrection during funerals for Christ believers of evangelical churches.

  • Rick


    Of course, as you know, you are correct- the empty cross does represent the resurrection, and I have heard criticisms in the past of the crucifix for that reason. However, we consciously, or subconsciously, focus on what is there- not Who is not there. I think this has a direct relation to the soterian gospel emphasis that you are concerned about. The cross is center. At the very least it reinforces the soterian perspective.

    That historical correlation between the artistic expression of the cross and the interpretation of the gospel would be interesting. Perhaps someone has already looked into that.

  • Matthew D

    The question that has loomed in my mind over the past few years as I’ve thought about this question: to what extent is, to borrow a phrase from Stendahl, the “introspective conscience of the West” at work in our obsession with the Cross?

    If the correlation on which most of our evangelism is focused is between sin and death, then it might follow that our referent would be the cross. It sure was important for Luther and for his theology of the cross. We hear the evangelists focus on our sin and how Christ paid our debt, showing us how much he loved us by dying for our sins. We hear a particular telling of atonement (PSA, versus, say, CV). Following in Luther’s pacing steps, we hear Luke over Matthew or Mark, “Then he said to them all, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross *daily*, and follow me” (Lk. 9.23). What flows from there is often connected to shame, “Are you ashamed to wear a cross? Do you know what Jesus did for you?!”

    Its symbolic power, however, must be joined together with the resurrection.

  • Bev Mitchell

    From a Jewish perspective, Jon D. Levenson has this to say in his excellent “Creation and the Persistence if Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence”.

    “God’s rule will become complete only when the human heart, upon which it partly depends, will be enabled to to embrace his commands with wholeness and integrity. The utterly benevolent God of creation will be himself only when humanity, male and female, created in his image, is able to be itself, without the interference of the malign forces. In this theology divine and human integrity are neither identical nor separable. Both are ultimately real, but proximally frustrated.”

    To which a Christian could add: When we yield to Christ, when we are obedient to the Holy Spirit, something changes in us, at least for that moment. Put together, these moments can create a vital spiritual formation in us. When we observe this in its fullest extent in someone’s life, we could ask, in what sense can we say God changes when a saint is born?

  • allthecommonthings

    I agree with this, but if I was making a counter argument, I would say that the complex of Jesus’s life-death-resurrection is something that can be appropriately emphasized disproportionately in different contexts. I think of 1 Cor. 11 where Paul, dealing with a church whose members treat one another unequally: eating before everyone came together, getting drunk while waiting for everyone else to get there (both indicative perhaps of class differences), emphasizes the death (cross) of Christ in the formula “for whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The resurrection (I think suggested by “until he comes”) is tucked behind the cross (“the Lord’s death”) to challenge the church in this instance to be like Christ in a particular way.

    In the same way, if I were defending a heavy emphasis on cross and “taking up one’s cross,” I would say (at least in America): “Given the proportionate wealth and power of the average western Christian (compared to the remainder of the globe) we, like the Corinthian church, need to hear more cross in this moment, than resurrection.”

    I suspect there are far better ways to synthesize these things, but that would be my counterpoint. If I were to make it.

    But I agree for the need of a shift especially given how much influence (rightly so or not) the western church has on the world.

  • Fred Harrell

    Good word Scot. I think the cross is transformed by the resurrection, and becomes not merely a reminder of “what He did for our sin”, but rather a pattern and lifestyle we take up as we die to ourselves and plant seeds of resurrection and experience foretastes of resurrection and new creation now. The only reason to take up this cruciform life is because of the resurrection…otherwise, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians, self medicate!

  • Reminds me of Dallas Willard’s line which goes something like, “The church is filled with a lot of vampire Christians: people who are only interested in Jesus for his blood.”

  • Kenton

    Is this the most important post I’ve read on this blog? I think it is. I think the church most lost its way by choosing Good Friday over Easter Sunday, and the best way to move forward is to put that to right.

    Where is the resurrection in my theology and gospel? At the center. Christ is Risen. Death does not have the last word. It slaps the face of “You only go around once in life, might as well grab all the ‘gusto’ you can.” No, now we can truly have the “life of all time” (aionios zoe) not because Christ has died, but because he arose and we know that we will participate in the resurrection too! It truly is “good news.”

    What happens to justification theology if it gets tied more to resurrection? I take the N.T. Wright understanding that justification means being “declared in the right.” In other words, our understanding of life beyond the grave is not just some wishful thinking without basis in reality. No, since Christ is raised, our understanding of life beyond the grave that we can participate in is now “justified/declared right.” We don’t have to worry about death, we’re free to live without its cloud hanging over us.

  • Jerry Sather

    This is a fine topic for Holy Cross Day!

  • I totally agree with the lack of emphasis/attention on resurrection.

    Is it fair to say, however, that for some to reference “the cross” is to use the term as a sort-of shorthand for the whole Easter account – death and resurrection?

    My own thought is that this would depend on how much attention resurrection gets when this shorthand – “the cross” – is explained more thoroughly, be it through sermons, books, articles, etc…

  • Rodney (10.): Yes. It’s remarkable for it’s omission, no? And the lack of comfort for the bereaved is astonishing when the resurrection is so starkly absent in the homily. ;(

  • scotmcknight

    David, I would agree with you. For some, cross means resurrection too… for some. Regardless, the tell-tale sign of this is how few of resurrection theology books we have (Paul Beasley-Murray’s comes to mind) and how abundant cross books are present. There is a serious imbalance.

  • Rodney Reeves

    MikeK (20): I recently attended a funeral where the entire “hope” of our faith was expressed in terms of Jesus’ death. Not one word about the resurrection of the Body of Christ (his and ours). I’m at a loss for words trying to explain why such eulogies leave me cold.

    As an aside, some of the comments (melding of cross and resurrection) remind me of the discussion of the SBL Pauline Theology Group several years ago: even the greatest scholarly minds at the time couldn’t decide which took preeminence for Paul: cross or resurrection.

  • EricW

    22. Rodney Reeves wrote:

    “even the greatest scholarly minds at the time couldn’t decide which took preeminence for Paul: cross or resurrection.”

    I don’t have a great scholarly mind, but it seems to me that Paul’s instructions and exhortations to the Christians and churches were based on the fact that through their baptism into Christ and reception of the Spirit they were to live as members of the New Man Body of Christ (Who has been raised) by the New Life that was in them, for the Spirit had made them a New Creation, adopted Children of God, and present partakers/sharers of the life and powers of the Age to Come.

    “Therefore being justified by faith, we have….” I.e., Paul’s Christianity was built upon what the Cross did, but it was lived and empowered by what the Resurrection did and does.

    I.e., the resurrection took preeminence. (IMO)

  • Rodney Reeves

    EricW (23),

    I like your description, but it still sounds like a collapsing of two worlds (rather apocalyptic!). In negotiating the nexus of these ideas, I’ve found Alexandra Brown’s approach to be very helpful: Paul found resurrection power in the cross of Jesus.

  • EricW

    Rodney Reeves:

    Though I haven’t read Alexandra Brown, I would probably say that the cross made the power of the resurrection possible in Paul’s life because through the cross he was crucified with Christ so that he no longer lived and the power of sin was consequently broken.

    But I would say that he found resurrection life and power through the Spirit and faith in (or of) the Living Resurrected Son of God. Walk by the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. It is the Spirit of Christ in the believer, sent after and because of Christ’s resurrection, that empowers the Christian’s resurrection life, which is Christ’s Resurrection Life manifested through each of the members of His Body.

    It would be interesting to read those scholars’ arguments. At some point we’re probably arguing semantics, but if I had to choose, I’d still go with the resurrection for preeminence.

  • Dana Ames

    Scot asks, “Why do we not have a theology of resurrection as developed as our theology of the cross?”

    (Apologize for the length. I understand if there is sighing and rolling of eyes with me saying this stuff yet again… and it’s a serious question and I’m trying to answer it seriously.)

    Because the western church, because of various reasons and influences and points of view, came to see the major problem of humanity as “sin management” – lack of morality, which evolved into the concept of “merit” and how to get the kind of merit that gets us to a “place” called “Heaven” after we die. On the other hand, the eastern church saw the major problem of humanity as death, because the first humans turned away from union with the Creator God, the source of life – not ignoring sin, which feeds and is bred by death, but that our problem is not legal, but existential: What good does “being moral” do if we’re still going to die and face non-existence? How do we stop being driven by preservation of self – to the detriment of others as we act toward them in un-love – because of the fear of death? It’s right there, staring us in the face in Heb 2:13-14. This is why the dominant understanding of the Christ Event for the first perhaps 700 years of Christianity, east and west, and continuously up until this very day in the east – with the highest point of the Resurrection amidst all the other high points of Incarnation, Baptism, Life, Crucifixion, Ascension, Sending of the Spirit – was God destroying the power of death and taking away its sting.

    In the east, the Cross is not viewed as any kind of payment to or punishment by the Father. Rather, it is the involvement of the whole Trinity, with the focus on the Son, in finally taking away the sin/s of the world – read that as the Lamb of God simply “taking away” the sin of the world like the scapegoat took away the sins of the people to somewhere in the desert where they could no longer find it/them. Sin was “condemned in the flesh” of Jesus – but there is not a whiff of Jesus taking on “the wrath of God” in our place. The Crucifixion also enabled him, as Divinity united with Humanity, to die – to enter into and recapitulate that part of being human as well. The Cross is the love, humility and forgiveness of God on public display for all time, across the ages. It is precisely the place where the King came into his Kingdom, the place where Christ “suffered these things even coming into his glory” Lk 24:26. Jesus said this was **necessary** and therefore the Cross is never downplayed, but rather seen in the fullness of its meaning, which is so far above and deeper than simply Jesus dying because of the wrong moral acts I as an individual have committed.

    So when the Deathless One entered into death, he shattered it from the inside out. Because of the Incarnation, the real union of the immaterial God with the material Creation in the Person of Christ (scandalous!), human nature (ousia – all that makes us human) is forever changed by the Resurrection, and each distinct human Person (hypostasis) is invited to confirm that fact and enter into the reality of freedom from fear of death, and then live like that’s true. As Willard wrote, God’s universe is a safe place for us to be. This is exactly what enables us to live as Levenson, quoted above, expresses (which would make complete sense if Christianity, as it actually did, arose out of Judaism):

    “God’s rule will become complete only when the human heart, upon which it partly depends, will be enabled to to embrace his commands with wholeness and integrity. (We can embrace God’s commands, summarized in the Jesus Creed, because we no longer need to fear death and act on the basis of that fear.)

    “The utterly benevolent God of creation will be himself only when humanity, male and female, created in his image, is able to be itself, without the interference of the malign forces. (Humanity was able to be its true self in the Truly Human Being, our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.)

    “In this theology divine and human integrity are neither identical nor separable. (Everybody understands down deep what it means to live in love for others – it will involve facing death of various kinds.)

    “Both are ultimately real, but proximally frustrated.” (Frustrated no more – not since the Incarnation and God’s accomplishments through the Cross and Resurrection, with an actual Human Person – of course not human alone, but nonetheless human – now on the Throne with the Father, and with the Spirit bestowed upon humanity…)

    God has thrown open every door, taking away every hindrance, making it possible for each person to enter into humanity as he created it to be in all its glory, and ultimately into union with himself. He did it all – no room in any of that for “works righteousness.” Jesus said being “like your heavenly Father” consisted in loving and forgiving everyone, without qualification. Since God made me a being with agency, I do have to keep turning toward him to be able to live like that, on the basis of life, not of death – at once the easiest and most difficult aspect of existence. But there is absolutely no barrier from God’s side. God is good and loves mankind, and the Resurrection of Christ is the proof, with the Cross seen alongside it. Look up “Orthodox Paschal Canon” on the ‘Net and read what the eastern church proclaims every year at the end of the Paschal Liturgy – for my “tribe” this occurs between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m. 🙂

    Please forgive me, I have to say it: This is probably the biggest reason I went to my local Orthodox Church pounding on the doors to be let in.


  • EricW

    “Please forgive me, I have to say it: This is probably the biggest reason I went to my local Orthodox Church pounding on the doors to be let in.”


  • Dana Ames

    This is from an interview with Kevin Miller, the maker of the movie “Hellbound?” Not as long-winded as me 🙂

    “However, as I reexamined Christianity through the lens of Ernest Becker, I came to see that if the central problem of humankind is fear of death, then the Crucifixion is all about facing that fear, and the Resurrection is about overcoming it. If fear of death truly is the driving force behind our self-destructive behavior—that is, if we are “gods with the bodies of worms,” as Becker described us, where the specter of death haunts us even on the most sun-filled of days—then defeating death would be the ultimate solution to all of our problems. (This is certainly what Hebrews 2:14-15 seems to indicate: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil —and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”) This moves the Resurrection front and center in the Christian faith, which is exactly where it should be. It’s also consistent with the way the gospel is preached in the book of Acts and in Paul’s letters. You never see the Good News phrased this way: “Good news! You don’t have to go to hell when you die!” Instead, what you hear over and over again is, “Good news! Death is not the end!” See the way Paul summarizes the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15, for example. The crucifixion is mentioned of course, but it’s the Resurrection that’s central. The same goes for Romans 5, where Paul explicitly explains that Christ has reversed the pattern of death set by Adam… (T)his perspective caused me to seriously rethink the substance of the good news we are sharing. Is this all about satisfying an angry God, or it God’s way of setting us free from our own anger and violence, which we so naturally project onto God?”



  • Nick Jackson

    I’ve been feeling this way for a long time. It seems like the resurrection has no power or significance, but it’s just a byproduct. I belong to a Quaker meeting and I cringed the other week when a woman stood up and said, “there is power in the cross. The cross is alive, and it has power.” No! That’s the point! It has no power. I feel like putting so much emphasis on the crucifixion and the death of Jesus means that Empire wins.

  • Thank you Scot for your encouraging words about my co-authored text The Cross Is Not Enough. Greatly appreciated.

  • Percival

    For me, the good news of the cross, resurrection and exaltation of Christ is summarized in the metaphor (probably not the best word) of us being IN CHRIST. He identifies with us and we identify with him. In him we die, and in him we are raised. And because we are raised, we are also seated with him in heavenly places at the right hand of God. We inherit what he inherits and all God’s promises are yes in him.

    If we look at the cross, resurrection and exaltation without this uniting framework of our full identity in Christ, it is easy to see how we can become unbalanced in our theology, soteriology, and christology.

  • Tom

    I have been fortunate to study under Dr. Lyle Weiss, a man passionate about the importance of the resurrection of Jesus. He teaches a great course at The Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore: “The Resurrection of Jesus and Christian Discipleship”. I’m hoping he publishes his work on the topic in the near future.

    A nice little book already published, which readers here might enjoy, is “From Resurrection to New Creation, a first journey in Christian Theology” by Michael W. Pahl. Pahl puts it nicely in the opening pages of his book, “the resurrection of the crucified Jesus was both the ground and the center of earliest Christian theology and practice, and so should it also be for Christians today.” The order of chapters gives a clue to his approach: 1.) Resurrection 2.) Crucifixion 3.) Son 4.) Gospel 5.) Father 6.) Spirit 7.) Creation. At 108 pages (plus glossary) it is an easy and enjoyable read.

  • Steve Sherwood

    When the primary “need” at work in the atonement is the “justice” of retributive violence, what need is there for resurrection? All that’s needed is a means of inflicting pain and death. Sorry, I recognize that’s a pretty cynical statement, but I really do think this is a significant part of why PSA folks don’t go much beyond the cross at all.

  • mark273

    I agree in principle with Steve Sherwood (#33). The reason most Evangelicals don’t emphasize the resurrection is because our logic of the significance of Christ’s redeeming work does not require it. The important thing is that our sins are paid for. The best that the resurrection offers is a post-payment confirmation. But I think that the emphasize placed on the significance of the resurrection, even for justification, in the Scriptures demonstrates that our understanding of Christ’s work is inadequate. Although Evangelicals claim to have the gospel more correct than anyone else, we clearly have more work to do.

  • I agree with post, however, I would be careful to affirm that in personal experience the power of the resurrection is at work to enable us to embrace the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil 3).

  • PS I would also note that the resurrection aspect of justification is precisely what creates and maintains the link between justification and sanctification. Justification is ‘unto life’. Intrinsic to it is life and renewal; the forensic and vital are part of the one event in Christ.

  • It seems an inherent tendency in evangelical circles to be punctiliar. How difficult is it to see that God chose to operate in time, and thus there are several aspects that have soteriological significance, yet come to us as a series of discrete events, because this is what time looks like. Dana above helps point out the absolutely crucial role of Incarnation which many evangelicals with a docetic view of spirit and flesh struggle with today: “Because of the Incarnation, the real union of the immaterial God with the material Creation in the Person of Christ (scandalous!)” Thanks for this reminder Dana. The resurrection continues this redemptive process where the physical is properly spiritual. Until we get past thinking that spiritual means non-physical, we’ll struggle with this overall process of redemption. In fact, we probable need, as NT Wright points out, to think beyond resurrection of Christ to our own resurrection and realize that the earth will be redeemed as well and that we will not be floating on clouds as spirits as much of our pop-christian culture writes and sings about.

  • John Piper consistently speaks of Jesus’ redeeming act as “the death and resurrection” throughout the sermon you cited. http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/this-man-went-down-to-his-house-justified

    “Every verse is meant to be read under the shadow of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Or to put it still another way, the four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—are meant to be read backward. Children, remember I said that and at lunch today say to your mommy and daddy, “Why did Pastor John say that we are supposed to read the Gospels backward?” And don’t panic, mom and dad. Here’s the answer. Tell them, he meant that when you start reading one of the Gospels you already know how it ends—the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins—and you should have that ending in mind with every verse that you read.”

  • scotmcknight

    Pete, thanks for that. The video I mentioned was the interview with Tim Keller and D.A. Carson. My first serious reading of Piper on gospel was with his God is the Gospel, but I can’t say any of his approaches is as resurrection shaped as it could be.

  • Thanks, Scot. You and I may simply disagree and still love Christ and ALL He accomplished. In sitting under Pastor John and the elders for several years now, their Biblical exposition through preaching & writing (blogs, sermons, books, tweets, seminars, etc.) seem like a Biblically-faithful reflection of Christ’s glorious sacrifice and victory over death to this sinner, saved by Grace.

    John10:14 (ESV) “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

  • EricW

    35. John Thomson wrote:

    “I agree with post, however, I would be careful to affirm that in personal experience the power of the resurrection is at work to enable us to embrace the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil 3).”

    But is knowing “the fellowship of His sufferings” about bringing to mind the cross upon which Christ died once for all – i.e., continually reiterating that Christ died for you (i.e., the PSA emphasis)? Or is it about what Paul mentions in Colossians 1:24 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-12, which while maybe related to the Cross of Calvary seems to be about something else?

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thank you Dana (26) and Mark (37). Indeed we do need to “think beyond resurrection of Christ to our own resurrection and realize that the earth will be redeemed as well and that we will not be floating on clouds as spirits as much of our pop-christian culture writes and sings about.” With this very biblical approach, we are also in a much better position to consider contentious subjects like how to fruitfully think about creation and modern science, by honoring both solid scriptural exegesis and solid science.

  • scotmcknight

    Pete, once again, I referred to the video interview where reading backward’s emphasis was the cross. Believe me, I know Piper preaches resurrection but most of us — and I include myself — have a lopsided emphasis on crucifixion without enough resurrection theology. What book/s do you refer to find a good resurrection theology? I know of very few, including now Ross-Johnson and Beasley-Murray and Tom Wright’s Surprised by Hope. What else? Since I’m assuming there’s not much more, why is this the case? We have an astronomical difference in books numbers between atonement theology (often, even almost always, with little more than a passing nod to resurrection) and very few books developing a resurrection theology. Why?

  • jerry lynch

    To make oneself a “living sacrifice”: this is dying to “self” and each day there is something to face which could free us from our protective tendencies. I find in this AA foundational expression, “principles be fore personalities,” a discipline of euthanasia, a mercy killing of those things within us that hinder or block the free movement of spirit in our lives. The importance of my story has to die.

  • Tim

    This sounds like liberalism to me. The authors stress the good (resurrection) and want less preaching on the hard (cross). The early church did focus on the resurrection because they were being killed for the faith. Hope of resurrection was in need of emphasis. Today, the church is struggling with unsaved people in the pews who have never been “crucified with Christ.” Die to self is a clear Christian teaching. Is this happening? No. This is why evangelicals stress the cross. To change and stress the resurrection is to neglect where the modern church is struggling. The health and wealth false teachers neglect the cross. I’m not saying the resurrection is not good and important, it is. I am just trying to point out that the cross (death to self) is not preached enough.

  • Bill Hocter

    As a Catholic, I found this article confusing. Although we do emphasize Christ’s suffering and death to redeem us from our sins (hence the crucifix), Easter (the Resurrection) is our highest Holy Day. From childhood (and mind you this was a 1960’s -70’s make a banner and all you need is love catechesis) our priests and teachers emphasized that without the Resurrection, Good Friday was pointless. There would have been no redemption. How can one have a theology of crucifixion without an even more robust theology of the Resurrection? It would be as lopsided as dating without a view toward eventual marriage or cooking without eating.

  • Adrian Warnock’s Raised with Christ is another one in this genre.

    I like this genre and I think it’s needed (I had Bock for Acts last Spring and got a good does of this). But I also dislike the title of this particular book because one could just as easily say “the resurrection is not enough.” Resurrection-minus-death is no more saving than death-minus-resurrection. Several people were brought back from death, but because their death’s weren’t “for sin,” their resurrections turned out to be mere resuscitations.

  • Should be *dose not does. 😉

  • Rodney Reeves

    Another book on resurrection–more on the spiritual formation side of things–is Eugene Peterson’s, “Practice Resurrection” (a very clever reading of Ephesians).

  • I appreciate Dana’s comment about the role of the Incarnation.

  • Fr. John W. Morris

    It is worth noting that the doctrine of the cross as penal substitution only surfaced in the writings of Anselm of Canterbury who died in 1109. Through the first 1,000 years of Christian history the emphasis was on the Incarnation. Through the Incarnation Christ took on and perfected human nature. He then assumed all that we are including sin and death to deliver us from sin and death through His glorious Resurrection. As St. Gregory of Nazianzus wrote “That which is not assumed is not healed.” St. Paul wrote, ” For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” II Cor. 5;21. An over emphasis on the cross without recognizing the importance of the Incarnation distorts the Gospel. Salvation is not a legal event, salvation is much more. To paraphrase St.Athanasius, salvation is becoming like God because God became like us.

    Fr. John W. Morris.

  • Lonni

    Without the Cross there would be no resurrection. God put the Cross right where He intended it to be and those who skip over it to get to the Resurrection, according to God, leads to neglecting so great a sacrifice being that those who “make the Cross of none effect” because, to them, “the preaching of the Cross is foolishness but unto us who are saved it is the power of God”. “But God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ….”. To deny the centrality of the Cross in the salvation and justification of man before God is to not follow Gods plan of salvation. The Cross comes before resurrection and should, in no wise, be cast aside. The Writers of the Gospel still looked back to the Cross even as they preached the Resurrection. We should do the same.

  • Patrick


    To me it’s simple, notwithstanding Jesus on the cross, IF He is not resurrected, He is not the Christ. He predicted He would help raise Himself after all.

    As such, I agree with you Catholics that the resurrection is the highest holy day. That was The Father telling the universe and not just a small gathering, ” This is MY beloved Son, in whom I am very well pleased, listen to HIM”.

  • Ross Clifford

    It has been good reading the comments, and thanks Scot for your blog as I am one of the co-authors. With respect to previous comments on the title of the book ‘The Cross Is Not Enough’, it may be provocative but I believe it is Biblically accurate. The essential cross is not an end in itself, as it has often been portrayed, but actually leads through the resurrection to a new day, new order, a new community, a new empowerment. Jesus didn’t just come to die for our sin (which Paul says requires the resurrection), but for this new order. That is why the early church in Acts would never open its mouth without speaking of one topic – its lynchpin – the resurrection. As the book points out that is part of our human longing as seen in Shakespeare, Lewis’ Aslan, and by gosh Harry Potter. Thanks Scot for preaching in my seminary’s chapel a few months ago, I really appreciate your support of resurrection theology.