The Cruciform Church
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.
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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.