For many people, the cross is simply a means to an end, that end being the opportunity to go to heaven. However, the cross represents so much more and we do Christianity a disservice when we overlook that grandeur of the cross, both in its intensity and in its significance. Several years ago respected scholar D.A. Carson gave a series of talks about such a topic and those talks were later published under the title The Cross and Christian Ministry. The year, that book is being rereleased, and its certainly still relevant today.
D.A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and if you are not familiar with him, he has some excellent teachings and writings that would be worthy of your time (consider starting off with The Intolerance of Tolerance). Personally, I have come to appreciate Carson as I have become familiar with him for the testimony he maintains, his deep concern about the state of Christianity, and for his humility in which he conveys (sometimes difficult) points of truth. Therefore, expectations for The Cross and Christian Ministry are high.
Carson does something we don’t often see in books today . . . in fact, he does something we often don’t even see in the pulpit today. He follows a very expositional approach. Each of the five chapters simply focuses on a passage in 1 Corinthians (primarily between 1 Corinthians 1-4, but chapter five jumps to 1 Corinthians 9:19-27), however his goal is not merely to establish the point of the cross for Christianity, but for those in leadership noting from the beginning, “The cross not only establishes what we are to preach, but how we are to preach” and therefore the cross, for Carson, is the standard of all vital ministry.
The expositional style most likely comes from the fact that originally, these were sermons that he preached as a guest speaker. Therefore, each chapter has been adapted from those sermons. Unfortunately, I must confess that in terms of readability, I did not care much for the style and it probably has to do with this fact. However, that does not take away from the profundity of the information that Carson draws out.
Carson works his way through each text simply explaining the significance of terms, concepts, and teachings while consulting their significance for today. Therefore, readers will not struggle to understand the author’s points, as he is very clear and succinct. At 140 pages then, you can expect this to be a short read. Some of the greatest value will come if readers put forth the time and effort to contemplate what is being taught by utilizing the questions placed at the end of each chapter.
With that said, reading this book will leave readers amazed at how profound the cross really is. Carson elevates the cross, but not as a symbol of idolatry. He is quick to say that “whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the center, we are not far from idolatry.” Therefore, his emphasis is always on Christ. However, he indicates not just the need for the gospel in terms of salvation, but the reality of its accomplishment in all that we do.
The Cross and Christian Ministry will probably not be a book that establishes itself as required reading throughout the centuries, but its an important conversational piece. It will cause Christians to contemplate the cross at a deeper level and when they are finished reading it they will see something how Carson does something very important: he sets the Christian apart from the world.
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Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost to me for the purposes of review. However, my review was not influenced in any way by the publisher, author, or anyone else associated with the book and is the result of my own reading of the book.