What I’m Reading: The Cross Centered Life, with Thoughts on the Gospel’s Relevance for Christians

The Cross Centered LifeI’ve recently been reading (and planning to read) a number of books that focus on the Gospel and its impact on the Christian life. I do this both for my own spiritual edification and for the edification of those whom I pastor. I fear that we have relegated the Gospel to a message of good news for lost men. The Gospel, we assume, is basically “believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.” If the pastor is preaching on the cross, we assume there must be unsaved guests present. After all, Christians don’t need to hear the gospel again.

What a tragic, tragic error. It reveals a wrong understanding of the Christian life—probably a wrong understanding that is leading to spiritual defeat, guilt-driven sanctification and outright despair. For many Christians and churches, though the Gospel offers salvation, once you “have it” your progress in the Christian life is a matter of will power and moralistic sermons. We may as well be Mormons once we’ve entered the wicket gate.

It also reveals a wrong understanding of salvation by grace, through faith in Christ. We limit “salvation” to something that has happened (or needs to happen for lost men), neglecting the fact that salvation is still happening and finally will happen. All of that—our justification, sanctification, and glorification—is part of what the Bible describes as salvation. And all of it is by grace, through faith in Christ.

(Note: Lest I be misunderstood, though we are passive recipients in justification and glorification, grace enables us to be active participants in sanctification. That said, it is still a work of grace.)

The truth is, Scripture preaches the gospel to believers far more than to lost men. What are the epistles, after all? They’re messages of instruction for the Christian church! And they repeatedly tie Christian living to Christ’s work at Calvary. We died with Him and are thus dead to sin. We were risen with Him and are thus able to walk in newness of life. Christ’s atonement broke not only sin’s guilt and penalty, but its chains—Christ has delivered us from sin habits over which we once had no choice but to yield. When we sin, we are forgiven because of the gospel. When we are tempted to sin, we can escape because of the gospel. When we pray, we are heard because of the Gospel. When we worship, we do so because of the gospel—it allows our worship, and permeates and motivates it. When we practice separation, it should primarily be as a defense of the Gospel (a point which I tried to emphasize in this sermon). The gospel is good news, and especially so for Christians! We need to think on it much more than we do, friends. And pastors, we need to preach this. Doing so will be life-changing, church-changing, and movement- (er, idea-) changing.

Mahaney’s little book The Cross Centered Life is a helpful contribution to this Gospel meditation. It’s simple (just 88 small pages), but it’s very edifying. There are certainly more thorough books (such as Michael Barrett’s excellent book Complete In Him), but Mahaney’s short offering packs a punch. To quote the subtitle, Mahaney’s purpose is to help his readers “Keep the Gospel the Main Thing.” Mahaney does a great job showing how the Gospel impacts Christian thinking and living. And despite it’s brevity, it contains some helpful doctrinal insights. For example, the chapter on “Legalism” is excellent, and the chapter entitled “The Cross Centered Day” helps move us from theory to practical, daily application of the Gospel to every-day life. The book has been a blessing to me.

(Note: Since I’ve purchased it, I’ve learned that the second edition, Living the Cross Centered Life, is expanded. Bummer.)

Now, I can’t endorse everything C. J. does. For example, he’s a non-cessationist, so I think his understanding of spiritual gifts is flawed. And, while I love the Gospel focus of the music put out by Sovereign Grace, I disagree with their use of all sorts of music genres in worship. I think the sound often doesn’t match the message about the change the Gospel makes. (That said, you’d be surprised how many excellent songs they’ve provided to fundamental churches and institutions. If you’re squeamish about that, you may function best on a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.) Further, Mahaney doesn’t see separation the way fundamentalists do, and I think he’s mistaken.

One thing Mahaney does understand, however, is the Gospel, and I appreciate his desire to help us understand and apply it better.

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12 Responses

  1. Preach it loudly, Brother Anderson. God bless you.

    I still think you and Luther share much in common (especially re “Law and Gospel” so common in the Concordia).

  2. Awesome post…awesome.

  3. […] America, South America, and Mexico I recently posted on C. J. Mahaney’s book The Cross Centered Life. I enjoyed it. One of my favorite lines comes not from the book itself, but from bio on the back […]

  4. Hey Chris, I found Mahaney to be exceptionally shallow. I don’t get the fascination. There are much better authors with more orthodox theology to say the same things, only better… so why bother?

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. I didn’t say he was the best, Don, or that his book was the deepest. And I noted that I’m in the process of reading several books on the subject. But I think he did a good job on this little book, and the simplicity was refreshing.

    Sorry I liked it. :)

  6. I love this book because it is a clear, concise explanation of the cross-centered life. We give it out as a free gift to the visitors at our church.

    Perhaps my favorite quote of the book says, “The cross was the centerpiece of Paul’s theology. It wasn’t merely one of Paul’s messages; it was THE message. He taught about other things as well, but whatever he taught was always derived from, and related to, the foundational reality that Jesus Christ died so that sinners would be reconciled to God and forgiven by God.”

    If emphasizing the centrality of the cross is considered shallow by some, then let me strive to be as shallow as I can possibly be.

  7. Our church recently did a SS series on The Gospel and one of the resources we used was a little book called “The Gospel Primer” by Milton Vincent. The book is excellent, and he certainly echoes much about what you have said about the gospel. Google it, and you’ll be able to find a free download of the primer.

  8. Thanks, Greg. I’ve heard of the Primer, and look forward to reading it.

    You can download it here.

  9. Hey Chris, I have some notes at home on the book. I will be home on Saturday, but won’t be able to dig something up until next week. In my view, Mahaney is particularly dangerous to some. Their is always a tendency to applaud someone who takes divergent views in some areas if they happen to champion a key favorite notion of mine… The admiration that many ‘neo-Calvinists’ [the rising tide of young recently persuaded Calvinists] for Mahaney is such an example, IMO.

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. […] in Colossians I recently posted on the importance of the Gospel for every detail of the Christian life.  Even if you don’t care for the author or book I […]

  11. […] of the Gospel as good news regarding the start of the Christian life, not the basis for all of it. We’re mistaken. For another thing, we forget that “context” is more than the words, sentences and […]

  12. […] Posted on February 19, 2008 by Chris Last year I benefited from C. J. Mahaney’s little book The Cross Centered Life. Now I’m reading through the expanded version, Living the Cross Centered Life, with two men […]

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