The cross is the crux (I know, bad pun, but I mean it) of Christianity. It’s the whole mechanism by which we can be saved. It’s the definitive point in history when the battle was won, where sin was dealt with, where humanity was broken out of out imprisonment to death. For any Christian, understanding the importance and mechanism of the cross is essential. And John Chapman’s “Making the Most of the Cross” is a great place to start.
I really enjoyed this book; it isn’t long, it isn’t wordy. It’s easy to read, and every time I was starting to feel like “It would be really good if he had just explained this one thing”, or “if I was unsure about this, and was considering Christ, there’s an ambiguity”, I would turn the page, and the next short chapter would not disappoint.
This was particularly noticeable between Part I (The death of the Lord Jesus) and Part II (The Resurrection of the Lord Jesus). Chapman talks about “The Cross” as 2 events which are tightly bound together, to the point of it being one event, the event of Jesus dealing with death and sin. Chapman explains in part I the concepts of substitution, of ransom, of propitiation, and the whole reason behind the death, what the deal with Jesus dying was. Just as it reached the end, however, I was thinking along these lines; “Yes, but one of the main audiences of this book [which I pick to be most for the inquiring/interested non Christian, or new Christian] is going to want the story, the facts, the history, the basic explanation, laid out clearly.” I only had to wait until the next page to get it. It may just be that he thinks in a way very similar to my own thought process, but John Chapman had me at the same stage as he was the whole way.
This was a reasonably easy read; it was casual and not filled with jargon or “Christian” language. It explained everything simply, and managed to delve into complicated or deep theological principles whilst still maintaining an easy readability. The reason this worked is because of the progression he took; every chapter was a short bite, in small steps. One of the things I loved was that if you lined up all the chapter titles, you would get a pretty solid framework of the gospel; the problem, the need for a solution, God’s love and grace, the mechanism of substitutionary atonement and so on, in simple statements. The chapter text itself was rich with biblical reference; each chapter started with an extract from the scripture, and every chapter ended with a short prayer along the lines of the content. Anecdotally and in the tone of writing, I found Chapman very helpful. He explained (as said earlier) in a way that made complex things seem simple, used examples and logic that just fit. For someone with a historical and analytical mindset and approach (I am often unsatisfied with resources that do not engage with solid fact around Jesus, or historicity, or a logical understanding of faith as centred on Christ), this book was good because it managed to deal with some issues of credibility and historicity without getting off topic. Chapman speaks in a personal manner, and I found this meant he was easy to engage with, and allowed him both authority and humility; the fact that he even says, at one stage, that he cannot answer questions around how specific events will lead to the glorification of God, actually added to the book by modelling what it means to have faith beyond our comprehension.
As you may have picked up, I have pretty much only positive things to say about this book. It’s informative and challenging; even for someone who has looked into the facts around the resurrection in reasonable historical depth and who has been a Christian for a reasonable amount of time this was highly informative. It was clear that Chapman’s extensive experience alerted him to areas where people sometimes struggle with belief, assurance, or just uncomfortable thoughts, and worked to allay such doubts. For myself, there were a few little gems pulled out, particularly about how the pattern of the cross shapes our lives, which I will take away as great pieces of wisdom for service and teaching.
Negatives? I imagine some people would find his tone (casual, personal) slightly frustrating, and that those who read it as Christians who have a reasonably sound theology of the cross would find it not to be practical enough early on. In that sense, “Making the Most of the Cross” put my expectation (something more aimed at a Christian audience, and full of practical ways to maintain passion for Christ) at odds with the reality. I was not disappointed, however, and would recommend this as a fantastic book for those who are seriously investigating Jesus, or who are struggling to understand the true significance of the Cross.