Twenty years ago, Cross-Examined came out. It was my first and, as the result of UCCF keeping the pot simmering through staffworkers’ distribution and Relay Workers’ reading lists, it has stayed in print remarkably. It even went through a slight revision and addition of discussion questions in 2005. And that was that – I’d pretty much forgotten about it.
But since it almost exactly coincided with the arrival of our second child, Zanna, the thought of an update popped into my head when we were chatting about various upcoming family anniversaries. As she approached 20, perhaps it was time to have another think about Cross-Examined for its 20th. A conversation with friends at IVP led to this new edition.
Life goes on!
I sat down with a printout (I really dislike screen-reading, don’t you?) to get myself back into the flow, anticipating only the lightest of edits being necessary. It was not to be. I’d actually started writing it in around 1999, and man! It was all just so WORDY! I could hardly bear it, such was the shame and humiliation!! Akin to the horror of watching yourself on video for the first time. Arrhghgh! Just my pride, essentially. So out came the proverbial red pen to scythe and flay. In the end, I think I cut between 8000 and 9000 words! I also replaced dated illustrations or tried to improve on others that didn’t seem to hold up.
However, the significant development is the addition of two brand new chapters. Each had rather different roots.
1. Union with Christ: A heaven-made life (new ch. 11)
My biggest insecurity about the original book didn’t arise from the writing itself but from an almost immediate awareness of a major omission: the reality of our union with Christ. I had made a few passing references to the idea in the book, but I was intimidated by the topic somehow. I suppose I’d not given it great thought nor heard it discussed much. I just knew it was both important and beyond my capacity at the time. I dipped into thinking about it on occasion. But the revision meant I had no excuse not to dive deep. And I’m so relieved and glad that I did. Because I realised its omission in 2001 was not merely unfortunate but a serious error.
What happens when we marginalise or even ignore the doctrine? For starters, it becomes much harder to see how an ancient, truly bizarre, and unsettling event has any connection to us today. We might sing and be moved by that poignant African American spiritual, ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ But I’d always kept my fingers half-crossed as I sang because the logical answer is an emphatic, ‘No.’ And that’s the problem.
Of course, the cross is fundamental. And I have clung to it for decades now (even if at times only by my fingernails). But my irrepressible scepticism kept on nagging away. ‘So what?’ I still find myself wondering. But it is the fact of our union with Christ that makes all the difference. We are bound to him for eternity. Not by merit, works, understanding, or qualification. Only by grace. So here’s something that struck me forcibly.
We do not necessarily feel anything at the first moment of union with Christ. We are not in the realms of physics or maths, remember. This is about spiritual reality. One way of imagining this is to see our conversion in the starkest terms possible. It is a death and resur- rection. Before Christ transformed me, I was Old-and-Dead-Mark, always living according to Old-and-Dead-Mark’s ways. Then he brought me from death to life; the Spirit bound me to Christ. A whole new person has been born: Mark-United-to-Christ. I have a new status; but far more precious, I have a new identity. As Paul said in Galatians, ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). I take this as a matter of trust. I live by faith in what God has revealed.
So, if I ever find myself doubting God – in particular, doubting whether or not God would ever be interested in knowing, let alone, loving me as a member of the family – I must simply ask, ‘Does the Father love his Son? Do Father and Son enjoy a profound intimacy and mutual trust? Does each long for and live for the flourishing of the other?’ The answer to each question is ‘Of course!’ Add the fact that we are now Christ’s, the same is then true of us – we have his spirit of sonship. We are ‘in’!
Cross-Examined (rev. ed. 2021, IVP) pp154-5
So… Was I there when they crucified my Lord? Emphatically, even if counter-intuitively, YES!
So let me fly a kite, but one which evangelicals have traditionally found suspect if not fundamentally contradictory. Don’t bat it away immediately! There are undoubtedly trajectories that it opens up that I think can be unhelpful and undermining. But a risk assessment seeks to identify threats in order to avoid them while proceeding nevertheless. So here it is: I wonder if one reason that the Inner Ring can be so prevalent in conservative circles is that we’ve misplaced the significance of our union with Christ? Where does it feature in our default mindset?
Instinctively, evangelicals will suspend generous trust until various hoops have been cleared, the kind of trust we might extend to others who are genuine siblings in Christ. If the correct confessions are held buttressed by the relevant liturgical (in its broadest rather than ceremonial sense) practices, then people are acceptable. It’s a very short step to defining the boundaries of the acceptable in even cruder terms (such as homogeneity, loyalty, or obedience). The fact that others different from me, arranged on a spectrum of varying degrees of theological multiplicity, might still be genuinely united to Christ and therefore to us, seems irrelevant.
But if my own union with Christ is inherently a gift of grace, predating my first conscious explorations into church life and truth as a new believer, surely my default starting point with others must shift. Of course, we can’t be naive. This is not the same as offering close working partnerships to just anybody, or being a laissez-faire approach to leadership in general. Nor is it to suggest that a church community can’t have its own distinctives. We must always trust AND verify. And as I’ve said elsewhere, once trust has been broken, forgiveness once offered cannot necessarily entail restored trust. Certainly not immediately. But it cuts in all directions. For it means we can’t just cancel people, even if (or perhaps when) they have wronged us, hard though that is to accept.
It’s just that this monumental truth surely turns so much on its head. It revolutionises our default mindset. I’m not sure we’ve really plumbed its depths and so can’t cursorily dismiss a few possible implications until we do.
2. Leading from the cross: A Cross-Shaped Ministry (new ch. 13)
The prompts for this chapter will not be hard to discern if you’ve been following this recent blog series. Questions around how leaders lead are front and centre of church life at this time. The cross must surely be the ultimate benchmark for leadership for the simple reason that Jesus commanded it after modelling it.
This was not actually an omission from the book per se, but something that could easily be overlooked. So I did feel the need to spotlight it by means of an extra chapter. The legitimate concern raised by one or two friends was that a book designed to help those younger in the faith was not perhaps the best place for this issue. But my mind was settled when considering the needs of those led in parallel to those leading or preparing to lead. We all need to be familiar with the characteristics of good leadership precisely because of the damage done by bad leadership.
Spurgeon was committed to preaching the cross. But he was also committed to pastoring through the cross. This was because he knew from his own terrible experiences of depression how necessary it was to return there continually.
I do not know how it is with you, but I lose the power to doubt when I realize Christ crucified. That crown of thorns hedges my mind around, and shuts out mistrust. His five wounds kill my suspicions and my fears. A crucified Saviour is the life of faith, and the death of unbelief. Canst thou stand and view the flowing of the Saviour’s precious blood upon the tree of doom, and not trust Him? What more can he do to prove his sincerity than to die for us? His life is the mirror of love, but in his death the sun shineth on it with a blaze of glory so that we cannot steadily look into its brightness. Behold how he loved us! Oh, believe thou in the crucified Christ, for this is no more than his right and due!
It is not a failsafe indication, to be fair, but a minister who drifts away from the importance of the cross in preaching and teaching is likely to be heading in an unhelpful direction.
Cross-Examined (rev. ed. 2021, IVP) p182