All unannounced and mostly undetected there has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross but different; the likenesses are superficial, the differences fundamental.
From this cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new method of evangelism, a new type of church, and a new type of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same, and its emphasis not as before.
The old cross would have no truck with the world. For Adam’s proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather it is a friendly pal, and if understood aright it is the means of every prosperity, wellness, enjoyment, and successful life now. It lets Adam live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.
The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before the new life can be received. He preaches not contrast but similarities. He seeks to key into public interest by showing that Christianity makes no unpleasant demands: rather it offers the same things the world does, only on a higher level. Whatever the sin-made world happens to be clamouring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers; only, the religious product is better.
The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. To the self-assertive, it says, “Come and do your boasting in the Lord.” To the thrill-seeker, it says, “Come and enjoy the thrill of Christian fellowship.” The modern message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue, thereby catering to human taste and reasoning.
The philosophy at the back of this kind of thing may be sincere, but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely all the meaning of the cross.
The old cross is a symbol of death. It stands for the abrupt violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected; he was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with it’s victim. It struck swift and hard, and when it had finished its work the man was no more.
The race of Adam is under a death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any of the fruits of sin however innocent they may appear or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him, and then raising him again to newness of life.
That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of the hearers. The faith of Christ does not parallel the world; it intersects it. In coming to Christ, we do not bring our old life on to a higher plane; we leave it at the cross. The corn of wheat must fall into the ground and die.
We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish goodwill between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big businessmen, or the press, or the world of sports, or modern education. We are not diplomats, but prophets, and our message is not a compromise, but an ultimatum.
God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross. Whoever would possess it must pass under the rod. He must repudiate himself and concur in God’s just sentence against him.
What does this mean to the individual, the condemned man who would find life in Christ Jesus? How can this theology be translated into life? Simply he must repent and believe. He must forsake his sins and then go on to forsake himself. Let him cover nothing, excuse nothing. Let him not seek to make terms with God, but let him a bow his head before the stroke of God’s stern displeasure.
Having done this, let him gaze with simple trust upon the risen Saviour, and from Him will come life and rebirth and cleansing and power. The cross that ended the earthly life of Jesus now puts an end to the sinner, and the power that raised Christ from the dead now raises him to a new life along with Christ.
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who troubled you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I was still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-10)