This Lenten season I’ve made my way through a formidable book called, “The Day the Revolution Began,” by N.T. Wright. Everyone has the handful of books that have been formative, those watershed moments, for either skill or faith. This one fits the bill for me. Surprised by Hope, another title by Wright, would be another, but the former book has redefined my approach to critical questions of our faith—why the cross, and how does it solve anything?
The typical reformed answer would be, to deliver us from our sins by taking the penalty of death on the cross. The Sunday school answer, however, only works within a context of an already churched person, someone who knows the church language and stories. I am curious to know how someone would explain the why and how of the cross without using church language.
Could you do it? Explain the value of the cross without using words like ‘sin’, ‘wrath’, ‘fallen’, ‘blood sacrifice’. It was a challenge for me, questions I was asking because my ministry tends to operate outside of the confines communities full of career Christians, and towards those who’ve never heard the stories. These people hear, ‘Easter’ and think bunnies, chocolate, and a stat holiday.
Isn’t there something more? And can I even make sense of it?
Of course, there’s an answer. Actually, let me rephrase. An ‘answer’ to the cross implies a level of formula that we try to impose to make sense of something that cannot be placed into a formula. The cross cannot be fully explained, which is part of the point, there is a mystery that one must discover on their own accord. It would be better to say, of course there’s a story, and the cross sits as the fundamental climax of that story, one where the church picks up the unfolding pieces.
The cross makes no sense if it’s taken out of God’s story for creation and shoehorned into theological preferences.
Writers are acutely aware of the formation and power of story, and the scriptures point to a grand unfolding narrative. God begins with a purpose for creation—to bear the image of the creator—and it is our return to this purpose (or ‘vocation’ as Wright uses) that God is fundamentally trying to restore. This story has remained unchanged since creation, unfolded with the nation of Israel throughout history, yet was never fully realized in their care. Jesus becomes the fulfillment of God’s promise to reconcile humanity back to the covenant made with Abraham—a blessing for a multitude—an uncountable sin-forgiven family. Jesus does this through the work on the cross, choosing to take the powers of evil, both seen and unseen, to prove they could be beaten, at the cross and at the empty tomb.
There were so many moments of, ‘oh wow’, in this year’s Lenten journey, connected with the devotions through Wright’s writing. I’ll trail off with a mere, Happy Easter to all, and a hearty encouragement to read the book! It will challenge you in the least, and change you for the best.