Alister McGrath’s What Was God Doing on the Cross?

What Was God Doing on the Cross? was originally presented as a lecture, in a shorter form, at the Princeton Theological Seminary on October 22, 1990. Perhaps owing to this fact, what we have in this book is a highly conversational, “nuts and bolts” approach to the cross. While this keeps the book from becoming highly technical, it makes it an ideal introduction to the issues surrounding the cross of Christ.

The first two chapters of the book are presented from the perspective of an onlooker at Calvary. This is an interesting approach which allows McGrath to take the reader into the mind and possible thoughts of an original witness to the cross. These chapters serve as a foundation to the rest of the book which presents McGrath’s own perspective on the cross.

A rather refreshing aspect of this book is McGrath’s criticism of the tendency of many theologians to lose touch with the common person. McGrath (himself one of the most influential evangelical theologians in the world today) reminds us all that if our theological concepts cannot be communicated to the common man, then they are essentially worthless. He then goes on to back up what he says by presenting his discussion of the cross in terms that are highly readable and highly effective.

The book covers a wide range of topics: the act of crucifixion, the nature of Jesus, the idea of sin, the atonement, and the resurrection. McGrath does not fear to posit these traditional Christian concepts in new language, and, in fact, he seems intent on doing so. The result is that both Christians and non-Christians alike will be challenged to rethink what they know or think they know about traditional Chritian categories.

I would more than heartily recommend this book as I would more than heartily recommend anything Alister McGrath writes. There is a sincerity that comes through these pages that the reader will not miss. His aim is to have his audience grapple anew with the cross. In this, he succeeds wonderfully.

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