Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Where's the cross?

Roger Olson asks where the cross has gone:

Why this trend over the past 50 years away from preaching and singing about the cross of Jesus? Why do we no longer sing “What can wash away my sin (nothing but the blood of Jesus)?” or “There is a fountain filled with blood” or “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light”? Or at least similar hymns and songs about the cross?
What can explain this? Given the centrality of the cross and atonement in the New Testament and in evangelical tradition, the only explanation I can think of is accommodation to culture. We know talk about “the blood” is offensive to many people and maybe it is to us as well. It doesn’t fit very well with our shiny new sanctuaries and all the shiny new cars in the parking lots. We’re educated and upwardly mobile now. We’re affluent and sophisticated. The imagery of the cross just doesn’t sit very well with us.

Another possible reason for the dearth of language about the cross (especially blood, wrath of God, etc.) is that churches that consider themselves moderate and non-fundamentalist don’t want to do anything that smacks of fundamentalism. But I ask why give the rich New Testament and historical evangelical emphasis on the cross over to the fundamentalists? We are so often ruled by what we’re against or afraid of. We need to overcome that.

I would go so far as to say that crossless Christianity is not real Christianity. Or at least it is seriously defective, accommodated, negotiated, shallow Christianity. (Of course, most evangelical churches are not quite totally “crossless” yet, but my fear is they may be on that path.)

<idle musing>
He's right. I was at an evangelical church building recently that didn't have a cross anywhere. I asked about it, and they said they wanted to be able to make the building available to the community and that the cross would be a stumbling block. Amen! It's supposed to be a stumbling block! What does Paul say? "but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." (I Cor. 1:23-25 TNIV)

John Fischer wrote a book On a Hill Too Far Away that looks at the disappearance of the cross from Christianity. Great book; still true—even more true—10 years later. In fact, I think that book is a new edition of something he wrote back in the early 1990s, but I might be wrong.

Maybe we should put the cross back in Christmas?
</idle musing>

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