missing the point of the cross
This letter is my reply to Jeffrey John, (the Dean of St. Albans), who gave a Lent talk on BBC Radio 4. It appeared in the Welwyn Hatfield Review. A transcript of the talk can be found here.

Thank you for reviewing Jeffrey John’s Easter comments and thank you John, for making them. There is nothing worse than not knowing where an ordained minister really stands on their understanding of the Gospel, and he has clearly demonstrated more of his position.

He said that, “those who preach that Christ came to earth to die, to make atonement for mankind’s sins, make God sound like a psychopath.” But I think that his comments tell us more about him, and his view of God than the other way around. For him to rise to such an influential position in the Church, you would hope that he would have a clearer grasp of Biblical theology. But for someone so HIGH in the Church, he demonstrates a very LOW opinion of the Scripture, the character of God and the purpose of Christ’s mission. 

First, the Bible clearly states that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1Cor. 15:3). In context, this verse speaks about what the basics of the Gospel are. It also refers to the Old Testament as the authority. Passages such as Isaiah 53 come to mind, which foretell the promised Messiah’s suffering and God’s satisfaction. Indeed the whole Old Testament ceremonial law establishes the fact that sinful man cannot be right with God without atonement (Leviticus 17:11). The sacrifices looked forward to the Man who would offer Himself as “one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10:12). What he casually dismisses, Jesus tells us is very important (Matthew 5:17,18; Luke 24:25-27).

Secondly, the sacrifice of Christ does not make God out to be a psychopath at all, but demonstrates by the cruel brutality of it, the awfulness of our sin and the holiness of God. It is precisely because God is so just, holy and pure, that He will not just wave His hand and dismiss our sins as nothing. No, our sinfulness is an offence to God, a transgression of His holy law and an affront to His glory. The just penalty is death, and so Christ, the Son of God, died as a fitting substitute (for us, not God), bearing our penalty, and not just experiencing our pain (Romans 3:25,26). God is not ‘an angry God’ any more than a magistrate on earth who uses the law to impose a just penalty on a convicted criminal. God’s wrath is certainly revealed “against ungodliness” (ie sinfulness, Romans 1:18ff), but thankfully, God’s love is revealed towards sinners (Romans 5:6-11; 1John 4:10). It is precisely because “the sting of death is sin” (and not the other way around) that God has acted in Christ to deliver us from the consequences of our sin (1Corinthians 15:56), if we would repent and believe.

Jesus was clearly in no doubt about His mission. After all, in His own words He said “for the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He knew His life-blood was the payment price to ransom sinful people from the God’s justice upon sin (John 3:14-18).

Your newspaper reported how some 15,000 Christians took part in a pilgrimage from local towns in the St. Albans Diocese to visit the Abbey over Easter. They, and your readers, would do well to reflect upon the Dean’s–dare I say it–heresy, and where it may lead him–and them, should they follow. The Apostle Peter warns us that “there were false prophets among the people even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their pernicious ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2Peter 2:1ff). At least the Dean has declared his apostasy openly for all to see and know, so be warned, recognise it and don’t follow it!

Contrary to what the Very Revd Jeffrey John says, God chose to spill the blood of His Son on the cross. What is “repulsive, nonsensical and insane” to him, is in fact revealed as the wisdom of God, and the glory of God, to the people of God (1Corinthians 1&2). Jeffrey John’s misunderstanding of this vital truth reveals that despite his office, he remains sadly ‘a natural man’ (ie not spiritual, not yet saved, 1Cor. 1:18; 2:14). God is not embarrassed at all by the cross, but yet again, the true Church is deeply embarrassed by his high profile error. 

I suspect for a number of reasons, the book of Romans is not one of his favourite Bible passages to read. Yet the cross of Christ, the reason for it, and the consequences of it, can hardly be understood properly without it. Perhaps that’s a good passage for all of us to read again and again and again.
Wednesday, 18 April 2007