WiW: The Cross and Society

Monday, July 12th, 2010 at 10:57 am

The Week in Words

I’ve been reading John Stott’s The Cross of Christ and making notes over the past few weeks. Then I found a couple of articles that seemed to go along with what I’ve been reading…

Michael Horton on The Cross in Today’s Discourse:

“In contemporary discourse on the atonement and justification, Hunsinger judges, ‘The social or horizontal aspect of reconciliation…eclipses its vertical aspect.'”

“In much of evangelicalism today, the emphasis falls on the question “What Would Jesus Do?” rather than “What Has Jesus Done?” Jesus provides the model for us to imitate for personal or social transformation.”

I can see the growing emphasis on the horizontal aspect of the cross–how the cross impacts our behavior towards others–in much of my reading, blogwise or bookwise. Boyd’s The Myth of a Christian Nation, particularly, seems to emphasize this a good deal.

And it is true that the cross impacts our relationships with others. But is this the whole story?

C.S. Lewis rightly decries the notion.

Screwtape (Lewis’s fictional older demon) on how to tempt a Christian:

The thing to do is to get a man at first to value social justice as a thing which the Enemy [=God] demands, and then work him on to the stage at which he values Christianity because it may produce social justice. For the Enemy will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of Heaven as a short cut to the nearest chemist’s shop. Fortunately it is quite easy to coax humans round this little corner.”

If the cross becomes merely a means by which society can be changed, the cross loses its power and the enemy has succeeded to a large degree.

What then is the cross’s impact?

Michael Horton (again) on the essence of the cross:

“Christ’s penal substitution is not the whole of Christ’s work, but without it nothing else matters.”

We cannot primarily look upon the cross as an example we are to follow, but as a completed work, accomplished by Christ on our behalf. We cannot primarily look upon the cross as a means by which to transform society, but as the means by which God the Father and Christ the Son transformed us from sinners to saints, from enemies to friends, from abandoned orphans to adopted sons.

Yes, we should attempt to take up our crosses and follow Christ. Yes, we should seek to follow Christ’s example in our daily lives. But unless we recognize the accomplished work of Christ on the cross, we will have lost the transformative power of the cross.

Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

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Reader Comments (4):

  1. Janet says:

    I think preoccupation with the social aspect of the cross is partly a matter of spiritual temperament. Activists are more likely to fall into Screwtape’s trap than contemplatives, who may be more focused on the vertical dimension and perhaps not aware enough of the need for justice or reconciliation. It’s one of the reasons the church with its mix of temperaments is so important.

  2. Davene says:

    Hmmm…interesting. I read this earlier and have spent some time thinking about it since then.

    The way I see it, the vertical and the horizontal go hand in hand and cannot (should not) be separated. I think your post guards against the imbalance of only emphasizing the horizontal. True, the vertical must come first as that sets the foundation for the horizontal. But like your previous commenter noted, it is possible to be so preoccupied with the vertical that the horizontal is neglected. Doesn’t a true understanding of the vertical lead by necessity to action on the horizontal level? But I see your point that trying to affect the horizontal WITHOUT the basis of the vertical is empty and ineffective.

    Balance, right? So necessary, but so hard to achieve.

  3. e-Mom says:

    Nice to meet you… and your “cast of characters!” Thanks for visiting Chrysalis.

    Blessings, e-Mom ღ

  4. Barbara H. says:

    These are all intriguing. I agree that the horizontal without the vertical is meaningless, and a right view of the vertical should rightly impact the horizontal. And I can heartily “Amen” the last couple of paragraphs especially.

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