The Cross is Not Enough
(and neither is accuracy)
There are basically three kinds of books in the world: good, bad, and mediocre. By contrast, there are an almost infinite number of experiences of books, for the experience is not merely shaped by the quality of the text, but also one’s expectations. To come to a book of which one expects poor quality and find it mediocre is pleasant; to find a book in which one expected poor argument or bad theology and discover instead real quality is a delight. By contrast, to come to a book that seemed really excellent and find it instead merely mediocre is terribly frustrating – more so, in many ways, than finding a book truly terrible, whatever one expected. With a terrible book, the reader at least can have the satisfaction of hatred. Mediocrity, however, leaves one with nothing but vague disappointment and a sense of a missed opportunity.
Unfortunately, I had high hopes for The Cross is Not Enough: Living as Witnesses to the Resurrection, and it proved entirely mediocre. Ross Clifford and Philip Johnson have what is perhaps the most theologically provocative while still orthodox title I can think of, a thesis that is not only interesting but indeed essential for the church to hear, and the backing of substantial academic work over the last few years to shore up this popular book. This could have – should have – been a home run. By the back matter and supportive blurbs, I expected it would be.1 If only it had lived up to its promise.
Clifford and Philips rightly point out that the cross is not enough for the Christian faith. As 1 Corinthians 15 makes perfectly clear, Christ’s work is finished in the resurrection, and without it there is no justification, no sanctification, no hope at all for Christians whatsoever. All our faith – present and future – finds its sure foundation in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
The pair are right to note the myriad ways in which the resurrection permeates the New Testament. The apostolic preaching in Acts emphasizes it; the epistles reflect on it as foundation and future hope; the gospels drive inexorably toward it. A church that has forgotten or misplaced the resurrection, then, is a church gone very much astray. Our crucicentric emphasis is not wholly wrong, but it is incomplete.
The first chapter of the book, then, is great. The authors lay out this thesis and suggest that the church needs to recover a view of the centrality of the resurrection. We need to see how the resurrection affects every part of our faith: our congregational life, our witness to the world, our approach to work and our understanding of the shape of our lives.
From there, though, the book went sadly downhill. Rather than making a strong argument for a resurrection-centered faith, the authors left that for the end of the book and spent the interval attempting to apply the argument they had yet to make. This left the book filled with statements that started, “As we argue throughout this book…” – but without the authors having made any such argument! Their attempts to look at evangelism and culture through the lens of resurrection felt hollow because of this major structural failure.
Worse, their content on evangelism and culture was both badly written and inchoate. They flit from topic to topic and from example to example, never spending enough time on any individual point to drive the point home effectively or explore its ramifications carefully. A few, well-chosen examples considered in some detail would go much further than the sort of skimming across the surface the authors chose instead.
When, at long last, the authors do get to their argument for the centrality of the resurrection in the Christian life, their argument is just as scattershot as their applications. I was hoping for some careful exegesis – not academic in tone, but careful interpretation of the Scriptures. What I found instead was essentially assertion coupled with proof-texting. I found this all the more frustrating because the Scriptures do in fact give us a great deal of ground to stand on in seeing the resurrection as central to our faith.
In both the too-early application section and the too-late argument section, the book is markedly uneven in tone, switching back and forth from light discussions of pop culture to attempts to engage with academic arguments. It is as if the authors couldn’t quite make up their mind what book they wanted to write. Perhaps Clifford and Johnson differed between themselves about their aims; at the least their editor failed to sufficiently smooth out the differences in their approach to make for a consistent tone.
The book as a whole comes across as scattered. The authors are onto something big here, but they simply lack the authorial skill to make the point well. As noted, the book has the major structural weakness of placing its most important section – the foundation on which the rest stands or falls – at the end. While this structure can work in some contexts (it can be positively brilliant to close a long-form essay with the thesis, having build to it carefully throughout), it’s woefully out of place in a book hundreds of pages long that spends its time applying an idea that has never been fully traced out. That the authors then spend too little time tracing that idea out when they do get there only makes it worse.
The theology is here is solid. You’re not going to be led astray by reading The Cross is Not Enough; you might even get a little push in a good direction. But you’re probably going to be bored or frustrated along the way. The church needs a shot of resurrection faith to jolt it in the best way possible. Unfortunately, this is not that book.
As good as the authors’ point is, I’d skip this one. The Cross is Not Enough is an unfortunate demonstration of the reality that, in writing, accuracy is not enough. Those who seek to change the world through our writing must recognize that skill and the quality of our works will have just as great an impact on its reception as the veracity of our arguments.
I have rarely found the glowing reviews and description to fall so short of a book’s actual contents. We are often reminded not to judge a book by its cover; this book is a good example of why: a great cover may hide garbage – and this book has a great cover: it’s well-designed and sells the book perfectly. Many better books have had far worse covers. Would-be authors: don’t forget this lesson. Readers, don’t be deceived by the pretty face that greets you.↩