Evangelicalism’s Crucifix Problem

Evangelicalism’s Crucifix Problem September 14, 2012

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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