One of the things that I love about my job is that my Church gives me time to study and prepare. It is a real blessing that I try to not take for granted. Not everyone gets paid to go off every year to pray and study, and I believe God gives me that time not just to write sermons, but to equip the priesthood of all believers for ministry.
So when people ask me if there are any books I recommend I would like to be as helpful as possible. So on my personal blog yesterday I gave my annual list of book suggestions.
There are a lot of good books that I read this year, but if they have made this list it is because I have found myself recommending them to friends over lunches or coffee on multiple occasions.
There are several of those books that I plan to review on Scot’s blog here in the next few weeks, but on Jesus Creed today I want to give my favorite book of 2016.
The Crucifixion by Fleming Rutledge
It is expensive, but it is worth every penny. If there is a single book that I have recommended more than any other this year, this is the one. It is rare for a theology book to be such a gripping page-turner like this one. But Rutledge, a preacher/theologian, is one of my new favorite writers.
In fact, after reading this book, I went out and bought everything else she had written. The Crucifixion is her take on the meaning of the Cross of Christ, and the practical difference it makes in every believer’s life.
Now for most of us reading this, that probably sounds like the church version of background noise.
Of course we all know that the Cross matters and we are supposed to act like it matters in our lives, but honestly how often do any of us step back and ask how?
Rutledge, in a missive that deals with all the various theories of the work of God on the Cross, i.e. Atonement theories, Cristus Victor, etc. and takes on a variety of scholarly work from Augustine to John Calvin to Tom Wright, delivers an incredibly pastorally helpful, and insightful word about the death of God. It is a great theological book (one of the best I have read in years) but it will also preach.
Christianity is unique. The world’s religions have certain traits in common, but until the gospel of Jesus Christ burst upon the Mediterranean world, no one in the history of human imagination had conceived of such a thing as the worship of a crucified man…The peculiarity of this beginning for a world-transforming faith is not sufficiently acknowledged. Too often, today’s Christians are lulled into thinking of their own faith as one of the religions, without realizing that the central claim of Christianity is oddly irreligious at its core. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the weakness and suffering of Christ was and remains “a reversal of what the religious man expects from God”.
For those of us who grew up in the Western world, we take the Cross for granted, and we forget the sheer strangeness of the Cross.
We read passages like Paul saying, “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel” and forget to ask ourselves, “why would Paul ever need to say that?” And for the first part of her book, Rutledge brings a tour de force of making the Cross odd and irreverent to us again.
She wants to help us make sense again of Christian history. She wants us to ask ourselves, ‘how did this happen?’ How did Rome, the best, most progressive, most powerful society that had ever existed in the world, collude with Israel, the best, most moral, religious society, to kill an innocent man?
And why did they have to kill him like that?
Unlike all the other noble deaths of history, Jesus didn’t die with dignity, he wasn’t revered by anyone, and his death wasn’t interpreted immediately as redeemable. Unlike Bonhoeffer being hanged from the gallows, Dr. King’s assassination after seeing the mountaintop, or Socrates’ dignified fading into darkness on his principles. Jesus was killed by the very best of the best in horrific ways, and with impunity.
He was degraded and shamed, killed with a slave’s death in a way that was forbidden to speak of in polite company.
When Jesus died no one would have imagined it possible that this could become a symbol of triumph used by billions, let alone adorn a necklace. It was the most irreligious, irreverent moment of human history and today billions of people see it as the turning point of the universe.
For those of us who believe Jesus is Lord, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
There were several different points in reading it when I had to put the book down and worship, because in the words of Flannery O’Conner it reminded me again of “the price of Restoration.”