Are Evangelical Churches Neglecting the Cross of Christ?

Roger E. Olson, a well-known Arminian theologian, has written a blog post that has me wondering. The post is titled “Whatever Became of the Cross?” and may be found here.

Olson gets lots of opportunities to attend evangelical church services throughout the United States (and elsewhere). He says (1) the cross of Christ — as a physical symbol — is disappearing from evangelical churches, (2) the cross of Christ and the atonement of Christ for our sins are disappearing from “Worship and Praise” music, and (3) the cross of Christ is disappearing from evangelical preaching and is being replaced by practical solutions to life problems and an emphasis on the love of God. If true, this situation is serious!

Hey, I lead a sheltered life! I attend one church (Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas) and have not been in another church in three years. We have a large cross that hangs over the general area where our pastor stands to preach. Our pastor, Bruce B. Miller, presents the gospel in some form during every sermon. Our worship and praise music may or may not mention the cross, but we have the other areas covered so well that I have not noticed. Also, I really like our music and singing; it neatly bypasses my analytical tendencies.

So, tell me — are other evangelical churches trying so hard to blend in with the culture that the cross is getting lesser emphasis? What about Olson’s observation about “worship and praise” music failing to mention the cross or the death of Christ for our sins? I would like to hear some opinions about whether the cross of Christ is getting less emphasis over time.

One thing is sure: just mentioning “Jesus” in song or sermon is not enough. The Jesus Seminar mentions Jesus all the time, but they certainly do not believe in him or his atonement for our sins on the cross! If the trend Olson sees is real, then I condemn any decreased focus on the cross. The cross of Christ and his substitutionary atonement for our sins are central to Christian faith (1 Cor. 1:18–24 and 15:3–4).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Books: Love Wins by Rob Bell is reviewed by Darrell Bock

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is getting lots of attention out in the evangelical blogosphere. I have not read the book, and I don’t intend to do so after reading the extended reviews by Darrell L. Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary faculty. Bock has posted seven long blog entries so far, and they are available [link deleted due to malware report at site]. If Hell and judgment are issues that trouble you, make sure to read Bock’s analysis.

The title Love Wins probably gives you the big idea. Bell emphasizes God’s love and mercy in Christ and generally presents a minimal picture of Hell or divine judgment. That is certainly what a lot of people would prefer to believe. Of course, the only problem is that God’s Word says otherwise!

While I don’t always agree with Bock on progressive dispensationalism or on philosophy of Bible translation — it’s like a gnat bothering a bull elephant — I really admire his ability to do biblical and theological analysis of a book like Bell’s.  Bock skillfully expresses his ideas in a way that reaches a non-seminary audience and does so using the Bible as his basis for disagreement or agreement.

In short, read Darrell Bock (both blog and books) but not Rob Bell.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Upside Down (Luke 18:9–14)

Anyone who spent time with Jesus soon found out that he could flip things around in an instant. That did not make him a comfortable companion, especially for those who were self-satisfied.

Once Jesus found himself in the presence of “some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else” (Luke 18:9, NET), so he told them a parable.

Two men ascended the hill to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. What an odd pair! The Pharisees had taken rigorous religious vows and so were considered by the people to be among God’s favorites. On the other hand, the tax collectors made their living by bidding on tax-collection contracts whose terms were secret. A tax collector made his living on the difference between what he collected and the (secret) amount he actually had to pay to the government. They were widely hated for a reason!

As you might imagine, the prayers of these two men were very different too.

The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.”
(Luke 18:12–13).

Well, I would not want to be the second one to pray after that auspicious start! Those standing near waited to hear what the tax collector could possibly say to a holy God.

The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!”
(Luke 18:13)

Remember that those listening to Jesus were confident of their righteousness, and you can guess whose prayer enjoyed their approval. But, in a flash, Jesus declared:

I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.
(Luke 18:14)

With that unexpected bombshell, Jesus not only shattered the self-serving expectations of his listeners, but also humbled them in fulfillment of his words.

A Final Word

At times believers wonder how a person achieved salvation in times before Jesus’ death and resurrection. The answer is that salvation has always been by God’s grace through faith. No one has ever been saved apart from God’s mercy. How ironic it is that the sinful tax collector understood the truth better than the mock-pious Pharisee. The tax collector knew that his works could never save him. Only his repentant admission of sin and cry for God’s mercy stood any chance. He descended Temple Mount a justified man.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.

Are you holding on tight?

Are you holding onto your salvation with a firm grip? If you are, there will come a day when your hand gets tired. Or perhaps that day has already arrived.

You had an iron grip on eternal life the day you trusted in Jesus to pay the penalty for your sins. But as time went on there was the incident of cheating on the exam, the casual sex with someone you just met, the cash payment on which no taxes were paid. We both know God rejects all that as sin, so maybe your grip on heaven is not as firm as you thought. In place of confidence, a secret sense of foreboding about your salvation has seeped into your heart. Are you — again — lost?

Jesus foresaw that fear would steal into your heart, he understood that your grip on salvation was only that of human strength. He knew someone had to watch over us in the dark of night when human hands must lay their burdens down, someone to shepherd the vulnerable flock. “I am the good shepherd,” he said. “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

As wonderful as that promise is, it is a one-time protection, for a dead shepherd protects no sheep. Jesus knew that too, so he added, “I lay down my life only to take it up again” (John 10:18). Our resurrected shepherd keeps unending watch over his flock!

Yet our fear again takes voice to wonder whether we are still part of his flock. Might it be that our sin has banished us from his care? Jesus answers No! in the most emphatic possible words:

27 My sheep listen to my voice; and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. (John 10:27–28, NET Bible)

The context makes clear that those who listen to Jesus’ voice are those who have put their faith in him. At the moment of salvation, Jesus gives them eternal life, and they will absolutely not — the negative forms of the New Testament Greek are the strongest possible — spiritually die forever! Jesus goes further to say that “no one will snatch them from my hand.” But that is not the end of the assurance he gave about our salvation, for he said:  ”My Father who has given them to me is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand” (John 10:29, NET Bible).

You may rest now and relax your grip. Your hand has never been the one that mattered in holding your salvation eternally secure. No one will snatch it from the hand of Jesus. No one can take it from the hand of the Father. No one will, no one can. Not even you.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.