Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. --Psalm 86:11

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chris Wright on A Holistic Theology of the Cross

I’m on a bit of a Chris Wright kick right now. He’s been one of my most valued scholar-mentors, through his writing, for some years now. Last week I finished his The Mission of God’s People, and I also recently dipped back in to his outstanding larger work, The Mission of God, while preparing to teach on the Jubilee. I came across a compelling passage that gives a savory taste of his skill and passion as a biblical scholar and missional author. See what you think.

A full biblical understanding of the atoning work of Christ on the cross goes far beyond (though of course it includes) the matter of personal guilt and individual forgiveness. That Jesus died in my place, bearing the guilt of my sin, as my voluntary substitute, is the most gloriously liberating truth to which we cling in glad and grateful worship with tears of wonder. That I should long for others to know this truth and be saved and forgiven by casting their sins on the crucified savior in repentance and faith is the most energizing motive for evangelism. All of this must be maintained with total commitment and personal conviction.

But there is more in the biblical theology of the cross than individual salvation, and there is more to biblical mission than evangelism. The gospel is good news for the whole creation (to whom, according to the longer ending of Mark, it is to be preached [Mk 16:15; cf. Eph 3:10]). To point out these wider dimensions of God’s redemptive mission (and therefore of our committed participation in God’s mission) is not watering down the gospel of personal salvation (as is sometimes alleged). Rather, we set that most precious personal good news for the individual firmly and affirmatively within its full biblical context of all that God has achieved and will finally complete through the cross of Christ.

The fact is that sin and evil constitute bad news in every area of life on this planet. The redemptive work of God through the cross of Christ is good news for every area of life on earth that has been touched by sin, which means every area of life. Bluntly, we need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess. And by God’s incredible grace we have a gospel big enough to redeem all that sin and evil has touched. And every dimension of that good news is good news utterly and only because of the blood of Christ on the cross.

Ultimately, all that will be there in the new, redeemed creation will be there because of the cross. And conversely, all that will not be there (suffering, tears, sin, Satan, sickness, oppression, corruption, decay and death) will not be there because they will have been defeated and destroyed by the cross. That is the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s idea of redemption. It is exceedingly good news. It is the font of all our mission.

So it is my passionate conviction that holistic mission must have a holistic theology of the cross. That includes the conviction that the cross must be as central to our social engagement as it is to our evangelism. There is no other power, no other resource and no other name through which we can offer the whole Gospel to the whole person and the whole world than Jesus Christ crucified and risen.
-- Chris Wright,  The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 314-16.

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