Because I didn’t have a lot of church background, I struggled for a long time to understand certain phrases common in the evangelical community. First and foremost is this idea about Jesus being the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).
PROBLEMS WITH THE CROSS
The suffering, this brutal slaughter of Jesus, stands now as the hallmark and message of our faith, and many people have massive problems with it. Some scholars and writers assert that the problem with assigning the slaughter of Jesus to God’s sovereign and atoning work is that it amounts to a kind of divine child abuse.
The problem with this view, though, is that it’s not like God the Father was whipping God the Son without God the Son obliging. If you’ll remember, Jesus says, “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down” (John 10:18). The critics of a cross-centered atonement challenge the priority of the view of penal substitution (or deny its validity altogether), but this creates the problem of all the bloody sacrifices throughout the Old Testament, which Christ’s clearly stands in line with. To deny penal substitution is to say that all that sacrificing was incidental.
“If we don’t understand the bad news, we will never grasp the good news.
JESUS’ DEATH IS EXPLICIT
There are others who approach the issue from a more visceral place. They want to say the cross is simply too gross. It’s too horrific. Certainly not a pleasant topic for polite company. “I sawThe Passion of the Christ,” they might say. “It’s pornographic.” The bloodiness of the cross makes them too uncomfortable. Instead of thinking that maybe that’s part of the point, they want to make something else central to the Christian faith besides the cross of Christ. If you don’t talk about sin, if you don’t talk about blood, if you don’t talk about the cross in those ways, then don’t talk about the gospel, because the gospel is bloody and horrific.
First Corinthians 1:18 says that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing.” This is a dire warning to those who find the cross too silly of a doctrine or who seek to diminish its place in the Christian faith to make their calling sure. Those who see the message of the cross as foolishness are perishing.
BEING GOOD WON’T CUT IT
If we don’t understand the bad news, we will never grasp the good news. The bad news is not just that we don’t measure up to the law but that by the works of the law none of us will be justified before God (Gal. 2:16). What alternatives to the cross are there? Be a good man? Be a good woman? Be a good Boy Scout or Girl Scout for Jesus?
This is what it boils down to for many in the church: replacing the centrality of the cross with something more appealing, something we think is more weighty. In fact, all across the evangelical landscape, people want to get away from the shame and the blood and the guts and the horrific slaughter of Jesus Christ and focus on something else with the cross out on the margins. What will we do with this?