Cross-Examined

Dave Martin | Jul 3rd, 2009

The Life-Changing Power of the Death of Jesus

Written by Mark Meynell

London, England: IVP, 2001

(repr. London, England: IVP, 2005)

We're told never to judge a book by its cover but I can't help myself. I reason that if publishers can’t put time and effort into the cover they probably haven't put time and effort into the content between the front and back covers either.

So let me tell you a bit about the cover first. It is mainly bright orange with some fancy shading that only graphic artists can do. The main two images are a rustic old nail angled across which has a small coil of barbed wire over the top of the nail representing the crown of thorns. I like it. Not only is it quite eye-catching but it captures the essence of the book. It's about understanding the death of Jesus. I also love the title. It has that clever double meaning of cross-examining God as to why the cross was so necessary plus an examination of the cross. Like all good things, I have stolen it for a title of our annual student conference in the middle of the year.

An overview

The book provides the reader with the big picture of Christianity in four main parts. Firstly he considers humanity cross-examining God because of the suffering and injustice in the world, indeed Jesus was cross-examined before he was handed over to be crucified. But with the 'power and wisdom' of the cross event the tables get turned because God has important questions to put to us. Secondly, he explores the fact that sin is so hard to accept but hard to hide. Sin is a universal reality and its effect on humanity is to leave us guilty, alienated, enslaved and defiled. Here Meynell explores God’s response of anger and judgement towards humanity. The third section explores the good news of the cross. This is the heart of the book and full of wonderful gospel truths. He does this under the following chapter headings: Messiah Promised; Messiah Executed; Messiah’s Blood (what his death achieved – justification, reconciliation, redemption, cleansing – which exactly reverses the effects of sin); Messiah's Triumph. The final section takes the reader all the way to consider a new life now made possible because of Jesus' death. It explores how his death should shape our life forever.

Each chapter of the book starts with suggested bible readings of between one and two chapters in length. These were a good selection to assist in the purpose of the book. The chapters concluded with either a bullet point summary or a tabulation of the teaching from that chapter. This was a very helpful tool for review and later referencing (i.e. writing this review!).

Good stuff

I found the explanations of Christian truths to be very clear. For example, about the fact that sin is 'hard to accept but hard to hide' he says, "We are all happy to take credit for our achievements; how then can we deny responsibility for our failings (by appealing to 'nature' or 'nurture' or anything else)?" "Good point," I scribbled in the margin of page 42. I was relieved to read that the author was accepting of the biblical notions of God’s wrath and justice against sin and supports the view of the atonement as 'penal substitution'. With the flood of writers now questioning this great doctrinal truth I did not know which side of the divide Meynell would stand on. It was heartening to read a book that was so thoroughly biblical.

The author also applied these truths to me personally. The comments on page 37 about 'the evil you see within you' and that if every thought I ever had were written down I would be described as a 'monster of depravity' did not allow me to escape under the guise that I was only writing a book review.

The book was peppered with good illustrations throughout which evidenced thorough research by the author and made the book easy to read. Many are drawn from literature and from world history. There are too many to mention but a few of the best were the guilt of a convicted war criminal in the novel The Reader (p. 46), the adoption of an orphaned boy (p. 113) and the conversation of friends about the possibility of self-improvement in Girlfriend in a Coma (p. 135-6). All this is evidence of thorough research and thoughtful writing.

Some authors have a great way with words or an eye for spotting insightful words by others. On several occasions Meynell writes or quotes things that are extremely profound and made me reach for the pencil once more and underlining or marking vigorously in the margin. Surgeon is quoted to have said "There are no crown-wearers in heaven who were not cross-bearers here below" (p. 159). He quotes John Stott's often repeated suggestion to "daily bewail our sin and daily adore our Saviour" (p. 150). Again it is evidence of a thoroughly researched and carefully written book.

Minor issues

My attention was first drawn to the book by a comment that the author from his many years of experience in university ministry. Being in that ministry myself I thought I should read the book. Unfortunately there was little or none of this in the book. However, that did not at all diminish the value of the book. The book is a little bit 'English' in its choice of examples but certainly not too much.

My only real concern with the book was that at times I did not know whether the target audience was Christian or non-Christian. Sometimes it spoke to me as a Christian while other times it seemed to be addressing the non-Christian. Although it doesn’t matter that much in the end I think it would help to decide between one or the other. My preference would be the non-Christian because Christians can understand that as they read. It would also mean that Christians could be confident that the book was solely written for the non-Christian in mind.

So, in short, this book has a great cover, a great title and is a great read. Its explanation of the necessity and achievement of the cross is crystal clear.