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The Cruciform Church

2007 September 25
by Mike

Have you seen the movie “Jesus Camp?” Scary! It’s worth watching. Would be good for us to talk about as we seek to think through our identity as people of God.

– – – –

Here’s my foreword to the new edition of Leonard Allen’s The Cruciform Church:


The Cruciform Church is one of the most formative books of my Christian life. It’s a pleasure to write a foreword for this new edition. In some ways I feel like I’ve written many forewords over the past sixteen years (since it was first published) as I’ve encouraged many young ministers and university students to read it.

When I first read the book, it felt like Leonard Allen had just flipped through the photo albums of my spiritual family, guiding me, enlightening me, and encouraging me. He provided just what I needed: deep appreciation for the strengths of this heritage but honest description and evaluation of ways in which the “movement” got off course.

So helpful was it that I’ve been known to tell people that in my humble opinion it’s the most important book written about Christian faith and discipleship from within Churches of Christ in my lifetime.

Thanks to Leonard’s book, the word “cruciform” entered the central vocabulary in Churches of Christ. He helped us see that the death of Jesus is so much more than just the sacrifice for our sins (though, thank God, it certainly is that!). The cross of Jesus is the claiming of a new creation; it is the reconciling of all things to God; and it is the Jesus-style of living, the laying down of one’s life for the world.

In his original preface, Leonard said that some encouraged him to omit the word “cruciform” because it was too unfamiliar. But he kept it, he wrote, “in hope that this image might become the dominant image by which Churches of Christ speak of identifying the New Testament Church.”

Though sixteen years have passed, The Cruciform Church is, if anything, even more relevant today. We live in a consumeristic society – an environment that has spilled over into Western churches. We are constantly tempted to be providers of goods and services to draw the already-convinced rather than outposts for the mission of Christ.

The word I hear a lot now to describe the need to lean against this consumerism is “missional.” We are called to participate in the rule of Christ as his hands, his feet, and his voices in this world. We are to remember that we’ve been blessed to be a blessing to others. This powerful book really anticipated that perspective, calling on the church to be cross-shaped in its identity and mission.

We also need to hear again Leonard’s call to live as aliens in this world, remembering that our citizenship is in heaven. Too many Christ-followers are filled with anger, feeling snubbed by the world for not receiving privileged treatments. But we follow one who for the joy before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:1-3).

On a personal note, I write from a very different place now than I would have in 1990. At that time Leonard Allen was a respected professor and author—a scholar in every since—whom I didn’t know well. Since then he’s become my teacher, my spiritual guide, a member of the church where I preach, and, most importantly, my friend. I knew long ago the wisdom that came from his head; I now know that it comes from his heart.

34 Responses leave one →
  1. Tom permalink
    September 25, 2007

    Talk about timing: I was just suggesting we use this book as the basis for an adult study in our congregation, not knowing there was a new edition. Wonderful!

  2. September 26, 2007

    The book that first influenced me was Monroe Hawley’s The Focus of Our Faith. He uses the analogy of a wheel and spokes with Jesus being the hub, but the concept is the same. Our lives and our churches must be cross centered, Jesus centered, and conform to the life of Jesus. Other doctrines/tenets gain their importance if they are centered in Jesus and his sacrifice. Most importantly unity comes not from conforming to certain “doctrines” but to Jesus.

    Thanks for reminding us of Leonard’s book and it’s revision.

    Peace.

  3. September 26, 2007

    Great words, Mike.

  4. Cari permalink
    September 26, 2007

    Ditto. What a wordsmith.

  5. joncrosslin permalink
    September 26, 2007

    Ummm…shouldn’t “since” be “sense” in that last paragraph?

  6. September 26, 2007

    I havent yet read that book, but you sure made me want to.

    I have however seen Jesus Camp, and here is what I think about it

    http://rogueminister.wordpress.com/2007/05/11/jesus-camp-my-take/

  7. September 26, 2007

    I have not read Cruciform Church, although I remember hearing so much about it when it first came out. Yes, it does seem like Leonard’s book is extremely relevant today. We’re finally catching up with him, and now maybe even I am ready to read and embrace his thoughts.

    Very well-written foreword.

  8. Tracy permalink
    September 26, 2007

    “Since” is correct.

  9. September 26, 2007

    Amazon should pay you a commission…I just ordered the book.

  10. September 26, 2007

    Is the new addition available yet or this forward what will appear in the new edition?

  11. September 26, 2007

    Is the new edition available yet or this forward what will appear in the new edition?

  12. September 26, 2007

    Is the new edition available yet or is this forward what will appear in the new edition?

  13. September 26, 2007

    What a cool post.

    My first memories of Leonard were of that relatively quiet and thoughtful guy who set the curve in every class… Bible, English, Calculus… and did it with grace.

    Discovering Our Roots was a seminal book for me over 20 years ago.

  14. Scott permalink
    September 26, 2007

    Jesus Camp is a remarkable documentary– very scary. I will get the new edition of “Cruciform Church” but Allen’s “Seeing the Unseen” is the one that blew me away… Maybe Mike’s talked about “…Unseen” before, I don’t know. I’ll have to check the archives…

    I’d love to meet Leonard and thank him personally. His work has given courage and insight to so many! Of course, drawing us all back to what it means to conform to the cross is what all of his work is really about!

  15. September 26, 2007

    Tracy…are you funnin’ me? The phrase “in every since” is CORRECT?

    *chuckle*

    *thumbing hastily through Strunk & White for a rejoinder – alas, in vain*

    Trivially,

    qdidactb

  16. September 26, 2007

    Ooops. This is the unedited version. “Sense” is right.

  17. David U permalink
    September 26, 2007

    Sitting in Leonard’s class at the PU Lectureships was a humbling experience. He lives what he writes.

    DU

  18. September 26, 2007

    Tracy, like me I’ll bet, saw the second incidence of “since” in that last paragraph and responded.

    Or is it second incidense?

  19. September 26, 2007

    im not trying to sound like a smart alec here as i know black words on a white background can sometimes take a life of their own…I was just wondering…Who decides who is “on course” and who is “off course?”
    I am just getting a bit disillusioned by the organized church..do you ever find yourself in a time in your life where you just want to say why doesn’t everyone just be quiet and find their identity in Jesus and go visit the sick and the ones in prison and feed the homeless and honor Him…please know that I don’t mean all this in a mean way I’m just wondering..

  20. September 26, 2007

    Never read this book… Heard a lot of great things about it and it’s author. I’ll buy and read the revised version.

  21. September 26, 2007

    Yep, I’ve seen “Jesus Camp.” It’s pretty interesting…especially for those of us who are interested in human behavior and the power of influence over others.

  22. September 26, 2007

    qb’s just wondering why nobody’s paying much attention to the Colorado Rockies’ amazing last push toward the NL wild card. Maybe it’s because certain frequent posters are Padres fans? Better not slip up…

    qb

  23. Troy permalink
    September 27, 2007

    Good point Beverly. Although, I’m not sure it is the fault of the organized church. I think a lot of the blame rest with the inexhaustible quest for pseudo intellectual superiority that those especially close to our Christian universities have. The more removed from these three or four universities you get, the more real church gets. Maybe that’s why the Lords’ church is booming in Africa.

    I would like to see just one critical comment about a book other than the Bible.

  24. September 27, 2007

    Mike, it was good to see you on the airplane Friday morning from Abilene to DFW. Sorry for the sad occasion. However, seeing you reminded me again of my formative time in the Highland family and reminded me about your blog. Thanks for the insightful reflections.

    Leonard Allen’s book has also blessed me in my young spiritual wanderings. It is saints like Leonard who have helped me stay committed to my heritage. Kudos to him…and to you…and most of all to Jesus Christ. I pray that our new campus ministry here in South Carolina will focus on Jesus and be shaped in his image, even when it is so tempting to emphasize programs and gimmicks.

  25. September 27, 2007

    qb! LOL

    Believe me, we can see those magnificent mountains and the team they shelter from most eyes. We can feel their cold breath on our necks! But last night certainly gave a hint of how the Padres SHOULD end up. Now the challenge is, WILL they??????

    If the Padres are not to go on into post season, I’d be more than happy to see the Rockies be the team from the West Coast league….if not the Padres then anyone but the Dodgers or D’backs, please, please, please!! 🙂

  26. chris permalink
    September 27, 2007

    My sentiments exactly, Troy.

  27. September 27, 2007

    Mike your post makes me want to go and re-read the Cruciform Church all over again. The first time I read it I thought it was an incredible read. I know that the second time is going to be even better. Thanks for the is post. I haven’t seen Jesus Camp and I don’t know if I want to see it. Most of the documentaries that portary Christians a certain way, exploit Christians or abuse Christianity make me sick so, I don’t think. I will be seeing it. After reading Reading Justin’s blog I am well away of the one sided media view and attempt to continue to make Christians look Stupid.

  28. September 27, 2007

    Mike your post makes me want to go and re-read the Cruciform Church all over again. The first time I read it I thought it was an incredible read. I know that the second time is going to be even better. Thanks for the is post. I haven’t seen Jesus Camp and I don’t know if I want to see it.

    Most of the documentaries that portary Christians a certain way, exploit Christians or abuse Christianity make me sick so, I don’t think. I will be seeing it. After reading Reading Justin’s blog I am well away of the one sided media view and attempt to continue to make Christians look Stupid.

  29. September 27, 2007

    I encourage everyone to read Justin’s review. It is great!

  30. David permalink
    September 30, 2007

    “Where were you, in your spiritual life, when you first read the Cruciform Church?”

  31. Dan Smith permalink
    October 8, 2007

    I, too, was greatly blessed with Leonard’s original edition. Since (no, not sence) then, I’ve read “Brand Jesus” by Tyler Wigg Stevenson. Here’s a review from the Amazon site:

    In this groundbreaking work, Tyler Wigg Stevenson examines America’s culture of consumerism, identifying the patterns by which Americans establish meaning for their lives through their purchasing habits. Having accomplished this significant task of cultural muckraking, Wigg Stevenson successfully shows that American evangelicals have shaped their message to fit into this culture of consumption, making Jesus a commodity and rendering true discipleship next to impossible.

    The book’s chief strength is its thoroughgoing Biblicism. Structured by Romans chapters 1, 2 and 12, the book manages to offer a message drawn from the scriptures without being hijacked by either the right or the left.

    Because the offering of a “quick fix” solution to the church’s problems would be nothing but pandering to the same sense of consumerism that he laments, Wigg Stevenson does not conclude the book with a “12 step” plan that can restore the evangelical church to its apostolic state. He does, however, cast a vision of a church that, while having to compete in the early 21st century marketplace of meaning, refuses to offer Jesus as a commodity. Instead, the vision cast in this book is one in which confused seekers come to the church seeking a commodity, but are offered not a product but an invitation to Christian discipleship.

    Anyone looking to better understand the relationship between evangelicalism and American consumer culture should carefully read and digest this book. Its message could not be more timely.

    I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Get it!!!

  32. Cleibe Guerra Muniz permalink
    June 16, 2009

    Olá,sou brasileira gostei bastante dos comentários sobre o livro gostaria de saber se aqui no Brasil temos esse livro traduzido, para vender.
    Aguardo resposta e desde de já agradeço

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