The Cruciform Church: Becoming a Cross-Shaped People in a Secular World

Looking back over an old blog I apparently made a faux pas. I recorded the author of The Cruciform Church as Allen C. Leonard when in fact it should have been C. Leonard Allen. If I offended please accept my deepest regrets. If you’re laughing at me … stay tuned for more (as I’m sure more mistakes will occur). The following post has been edited to reflect the author’s correct name.

C. Leonard Allen’s goal in this work seems lofty indeed – to find that balance between how we read and interpret the Scriptures with the application of what is rightly considered the heart of the Christian story: the Cross. Allen begins the work with a discussion of how the traditional method of finding authority from the Scriptures has been rooted in a very scientific approach. Further, that scientific approach to biblical interpretation has taken the “Bible as a body of ‘facts,’” and “the traditional approach atomized Scripture or broke it up into disconnected doctrinal ‘facts’” (32). As a response to this Allen takes the time to reintroduce the idea of historical nature and literary genres as part of the closer examination of the Scriptures. With this as the background, Allen begins the task of examining the nature of the Church from the very Enlightenment stance that mankind can understand, explain, and categorize the truths presented in the Scriptures (as we often successfully are doing with natural phenomena). Allen argues that this reliance on hard scientific examination of the Scriptures has taken a very important part from the heart of the story, the unfathomably mysterious work of God in the lives of men – especially the sacrifice of the Messiah on the cross; i.e., “As the cross was diminished in our movement, God’s gracious and deeply personal covenant, mediated by a stunning display of suffering love, increasingly became a bare contract” (123).

What can be looked at as a theology of the Cross takes center stage as the remainder of the book seeks to inform others on the various ways in which the Church and Christians can become more cruciform.

It should be noted that this work is pointedly directed to the Church of Christ which begs two important considerations. First, the ideas included may rightly and appropriately be transferred to any denomination within Christendom and can be profitable for their growth. Second, it is highly repugnant to those of the church of Christ to think of themselves as just another denomination (and yes, that includes ME). By repeatedly pointing to and referencing the work and thoughts of Campbell and Stone early in the book, Leonard seems to present their position as pioneers in the Restoration Movement as supreme importance. This serves to distinguish the group that grew from that early work with those men as something unique to them, and not unique to the Bible from which that group of people strive to take its practice and doctrine. Of course, I also recognize the truth that everyone thinks they are in the right. So, for everyone that thinks like ME – bully! For everyone that doesn’t think like me – well, we could fix that. But surely this is one of the attitudes that Leonard is trying to expose and combat in his book (see chapter 7).

Now my head is starting to hurt … trying to think like … someone else … is … exhausting.

Of course the other point in the work is one made by other authors when discussing Biblical interpretation and application. We (the Church of Christ [see, now I’m doing it]) have never doubted that those we were seeking to convert DIDN’T believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, in fact that can no longer be taken for granted. We tended to spend more time in the evangelical trenches discussing form rather than function, doctrine rather than dedication, epistles rather than gospels. Of course the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction – which science says it always will – and people are starting to emphasize the relationship and not the praxis. In truth the heart as the seat of the spiritual person is repeatedly part of the focus in both Old Testament and New Testament, and at times taking a priority position pointing to the focus of the heart – the inner man – as the foundation of a more intimate relationship with our God. You will never find me denying the truth of this principle; yet, you will find me pointing out the fact that who we are and what we do go hand in hand.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone” (Matt. 23:23, NKJV).

Bottom line: a good book well worth the read if you’re looking for a bit of introspection regarding your relationships with others either as a group or an individual.

As it has become habit to include quotations from the work in book review posts, here are some quotes …

“With the traditional view in decline, one becomes susceptible to theological fads, to whatever seems positive and helpful at the moment” (20).

“The four gospels are not pre-Christian or pre-Pentecostal documents at all. Far from it. Rather, the four gospels were written to instruct and nurture specific Christians communities as they struggled with discipleship in the decades after Christ” (54).

“To speak, then, of the secularization of the church or of the Christian faith is to speak of the displacement, distortion, and domestication of the God revealed in the Scripture” (82).

“As the cross was diminished in our movement, God’s gracious and deeply personal covenant, mediated by a stunning display of suffering love, increasingly became a bare contract” (123).

“Following the way of the cross today, in a culture where such a way scarcely makes any sense at all, will mean creating a kind of separatist community” (143).

“I turn now to one broad phenomenon that significantly blocks truly compassionate ministry. … I purpose rather a theological factor: the widespread tendency to reduce the Christian life and message to an oversimplified, over-rationalized system devoid of paradox and mystery” (180).

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