Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. Downers Grove: IVP, 2006. 380 pp. $26.00.
Review by Kyle D. Rapinchuk
In attempting to give an appraisal of the important issue of the cross of Christ, John Stott divides his book into four parts. In Part I, Stott begins his argument with three introductory chapters that lay the foundation for the rest of his discussion. After establishing the centrality of the cross for the New Testament writers (chapter 1), Stott presents the reason for Christ’s death. He concludes that in one sense, Christ did not die, but was killed; however, in another sense, he was not killed but willingly gave himself up to death to accomplish the Father’s will (65). Stott next highlights three significant points about Christ’s work on the cross: sin is horrible, God’s love is exceedingly wonderful, and Christ’s salvation must be a free gift (85-86). In Part II, Stott devotes his discussion to answering how God can forgive in light of man’s egregious sin (90) and how Christ’s sacrifice must be substitutionary (chapters 5-6). Part III moves from the event of the cross to its consequences, discussing issues such as propitiation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation. The next two chapters in Part III focus on how the cross was not only a salvific event but a revelatory word (chapter 8) and how the cross secured the conquest of evil (chapter 9). In Part IV, Stott seeks to put the previously individualistic discussion into its proper context: the community of believers who belong to God through Christ Jesus (249). In addition to the celebration of the community in God’s salvation, Stott shows how the community of believers also aids in self-understanding (chapter 11) and proper relationship with one’s enemies (chapter 12). In chapter 13, Stott explores the relationship between the suffering of believers and the suffering of Christ. Finally, Stott concludes with seven affirmations from the book of Galatians that summarize his main argument and demonstrate the pervasiveness of the cross.
Stott’s work is an enduring classic for good reason. Stott communicates both his theology and application with clarity and precision. One of the greatest strengths is his ability to draw wide-ranging application from this topic while remaining within the confines of his lucid exegesis. For example, in discussing how one is to love his enemies, Stott explains that peace-making “degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored” (289). He then illustrates his point with reference to the biblical discussion of discipline in parenting. After noting the teaching in Ephesians 3 and Hebrews 12, Stott notes that “justice without mercy is too strict, while mercy without justice too lenient (290). Consequently, Stott not only illustrates his previous point but provides the reader with a helpful application in the process. Similarly, Stott’s discussion on the Christian’s appropriate submission to the authority of the state gives strong biblical evidence and thoughtful reasoning before concluding that Christians “have a duty to criticize and protest, agitate and demonstrate, and even (in extreme situations) resist to the point of law-breaking disobedience” (300). His conclusion here has similarly valuable application, as it gives strong biblical support for the ongoing work of missions in closed countries.
While Stott has numerous other strengths, there are a few minor weaknesses, most notably in his discussion of redemption. Stott uses the image of the marketplace in order to explain God’s act of redemption (174), yet he is not convincing in establishing the relationship between the marketplace imagery and the act of redemption. He suggests that the Old Testament picture of the marketplace depicts somebody paying “the price necessary to free property from mortgage, animals from slaughter and persons from slavery, even death” (174). The reason this relationship is unconvincing is that he fails to establish to what or to whom the sinner is in captivity when he writes, “The imagery implies that we are held in a captivity from which only the payment of a ransom can set us free, and that the ransom is nothing less than the Messiah’s own life” (175). Additionally, though proposing the necessity of a ransom, Stott gives no indication as to the recipient of the ransom payment. Since he does not establish the captor or the recipient of the ransom payment, Stott perhaps stretches the marketplace image too far.
Nevertheless, the overwhelming majority of this book is a thoughtful, evangelical portrayal of the cross of Christ and its significance. There is little that Stott does not cover that is pertinent to this issue and he lacks nearly nothing in his presentation. Consequently, one would have a difficult time improving upon Stott’s work on this subject (perhaps this is why few books of this nature have been written since). One area where one could supplement upon Stott’s work is in the area of justification. Stott gives an excellent presentation on justification, but with the recent debates in evangelical circles on this issue, Stott’s work does not quite have the scope to address this issue as fully as one might like. Apart from updating the justification discussion to address modern debates, Stott’s work remains as pertinent and helpful as its initial publication, and is a book that every Christian would benefit from reading.