The crucifixion is the touchstone of Christian authenticity, the unique feature by which everything else, including the resurrection, is given its true significance.
Not to take the easy way out, but I love it when authors provide their own Cliff’s Notes to make sure we don’t miss the main idea. The big thing here, in chapter 1, seems to be that it is absolutely, positively, vitally imperative that we keep the cross at the center of our faith, our church, and our mission. When we forget, neglect, or minimize the cross, we miss such an irremovable component of the Christ event that we render it unrecognizable.
You might agree. Then again, you might also wonder who has been neglecting it. My first thought, as a pastor, was to take a mental inventory of how often I preach Christ, and Him crucified. I felt like I needed to ask myself if my preaching made any sense without it. My prayer is that it does not.
When I preach God’s love, I hope it’s clear that I am preaching on the love as defined by Jesus on the cross. When I preach The Great Commission, I hope that I am preaching no less than the mission of the crucified and risen Christ, who tasks His ekklesia to follow His sacrificial lead and be the church in word and deed wherever they are. And when I preach of the new and abundant life we have in Christ, I hope that I am preaching that as a result of the sacrificial love shown by Jesus on the cross.
Another important question is whether my life, or my faith makes any sense without the cross. That’s a far more convicting question. I’ll always need to make sure I keep the cross as the centerpiece of ministry, but am I equally interested in making the cross the centerpiece of my life? Does my marriage make any sense without the cross? Do my parenting habits? What about my career choices? What about how I treat the poor, or how I steward God’s creation?
In the first chapter of The Crucifixion, Rutledge contrasts Gnostic Christianity with the Christianity found in the New Testament. The gnostic writers, who wrote later documents than those of the apostles, seemed to neglect the role that suffering plays in the life of a Jesus-follower. Rutledge says, “In Gnostic Christianity, the enlightenment of the mind enables the avoidance of suffering.”
As Christ followers, are we willing to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified? Or to put it another way, are we willing to ask ourselves what parts of our lives make sense without the cross? Where have we ignored our own power and privilege? Where have we refused the sacrificial play? Where have we opted for comfort over mission?
Often, our church prays for God to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable; a quote from Rob Bell. It’s a good tension. It’s important to remember that the cross is both the instrument of our salvation and the shape of our mission. What does that mean for the day to day? My hope is that it means that we consistently look for new ways to love others.