The Cross of Christ by J. R.W. Stott
The Cross of Christ is surely one of the finest books ever written on this most central theme of the Christian faith. It provides deep insights and practical guidance at every turn and does so in very readable form. Not only is this rather large volume theologically sound but the reader will also repeatedly pause to worship the One who has done so much for us.
The book is developed around four parts beginning with an overview of church history and the early foundational role of the cross. The middle two sections systemize the scriptural teaching concerning the cross, showing both the need for Christ’s death and what it achieved. The final part applies Christ’s cross-work to our lives as Christians. What Stott endeavors to show from beginning to end is that Christ’s death was a substitutionary atonement (p. 16).
Part one introduces Stott’s great theme and concludes with this wonderful summary: the cross reinforces three truths—that our sin must be extremely horrible, that God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension and that salvation must be a free gift.
Stott launches section two by dealing head-on with why the cross was necessary for our forgiveness, for “forgiveness is to man the plainest of duties; to God it is the profoundest of problems” (p. 90). This profound problem, due to our sin and God’s holiness, leads to the necessity of the cross. But what exactly was the purpose for the cross? Chapter five stakes out the position that the cross provided satisfaction for sin. But what did Christ’s blood satisfy? The devil? The Law? God’s honor and justice? God Himself? God’s holy love? While seeing some truth in the first three, Stott believes they each have serious limitation. It is God Himself who must be satisfied (see pp. 128-129) and, more particularly, it is the only way God’s holiness and God’s love can be simultaneously maintained (p. 131).
In chapter six Stott addresses the consequences for our sin—alienation from God calling for the necessity of a sacrifice. It is in this chapter that he most thoroughly discusses penal substitution which is under heavy attack today.
Understanding the need for the cross leads naturally into the achievement of the cross, the theme of part three. Stott sums up the achievements in three words: salvation, revelation and conquest, devoting a chapter to each. Chapter seven fleshes out salvation with four biblical images: propitiation, redemption, justification and reconciliation. This chapter alone is easily worth the price of the book, and is perhaps the finest short explanation of these doctrines that I have ever read.
Stott identifies two other theories of the atonement which compete with the penal substitution view. Recognizing that there exists biblical truth in both the moral influence theory (pp. 212-222) and the Christus Victor theory (pp. 224-241), Stott carefully points out the inadequacies of these theories that lie at the center of our understanding of soteriology.
The final four chapters attempt to bridge the gap between the individualistic benefits of the cross and the corporate, which of course can never really be separated. Here such practical issues as love, evil and pain are brought under the scrutiny of the Scripture where rich insight is given.
Stott’s conclusion is no mere wrap up as he considers seven great affirmations about the cross as found in Galatians. In addition, a very helpful study guide is provided to aid teaching this material.
There is no doubt a few statements and thoughts found in The Cross of Christ in which biblically astute readers might take exception—but they would be very few. This is surely one of the best books ever written on Christ’s cross-work.