There are two things that prompted this post.
The first is this: more than one pastor friend has admitted frustration over the holidays, feeling the pressure to “perform” well for the Easter season. The ongoing demand for novelty reaches fevered pitch during the Christmas and Easter holiday seasons, leaving many straining for newer ways of communicating the gospel.
The second is my experience in the mega-churchy culture of Dallas, TX. I can vividly remember sitting in one of the largest churches in the city, on Easter Sunday, expecting to hear a sermon on the resurrection. What I got instead was a variety show, oriented around the repeated “fact” that Jesus was “the way” (quoting selectively from John 14:6), or “HOO-doss” (mispronouncing the Greek word hodos, meaning “way”). What did it mean for Jesus to be the “hoo-doss?” It meant a better marriage. Better relationships. The pastor (a graduate of Dallas Seminary, no less) should have known better.
So, for all parties interested, I recommend three books. Not a pastor? Not a problem, as each book will be enlighten your own understanding of the cross as well as sharpen your own abilities to communciate this truth to your own culture. Mind you, these are not explicitly theological works, but instead function to better equip leaders for the proclamation of the gospel. I steal from our first selection in quoting Tozer:
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshippers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship. Social religion is perfected when private religion is purified. The body becomes stronger as its members become healthier. The whole church of God gains when the members that compose it begin to seek a better and a higher life.” (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God)
Preaching the Cross. This work contains a total of seven essays by respectable theologians and church leaders. For pastors, this is a must-have for your personal library. The book’s contents are as follows:
“A Real Minister: 1 Corinthians 4,” Mark E. Dever
“Preaching Christ from the Old Testament,” J. Ligon Duncan III
“Preaching with the Culture in View,” R. Albert Mohler Jr.
“The Center of Christian Preaching: Justification by Faith,” R.C. Sproul
“Preaching as Expository Exultation for the Glory of God,” John Piper
“The Pastor’s Priorities: Watch Your Life and Doctrine,” C.J. Mahaney
“Why I Still Preach the Bible after Forty Years of Ministry,” John MacArthur
The names alone suggest the powerhouse of experience and insight the book provides.
Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement, Mark D. Baker, ed. Baker previously released a work with Joel B. Green entitled Recovering the Scandal of the Cross. I won’t go into detail other than to say the work was theologically problematic. The present work (generally) avoids these missteps in that it is not intended to serve as a theological treatise, but is filled with stories and illustrations that give image and voice to the subject of atonement. The book features contributions from C.S. Lewis, Rowan Williams, Brian McLaren, Lucy Shaw and nearly a dozen others. The book exceeds its purpose in providing creative ways of articulating the atonement in a variety of cultural and social contexts, and to that end it may be read by a wide audience, from pastors to spiritual seekers.
Death by Love: Letters from the Cross, Mark Driscoll, Gerry Breshears. This recent book is dedicated to one subject: how the cross impacts the rough terrain of daily living. Each of the book’s chapters deals with the gospel on a deeply (almost scandalously) personal level, taking an unvarnished look at the struggles people in our culture experience.