Monday, December 05, 2005

Repugnant Christianity?

Narnia continues to provoke press-coverage. Polly Toynbee today:
"Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?"
I'm not going to criticise Ms Toynbee for writing this. Its exactly what I'd expect. She has a secular mindset and its amusing to see her comment on how Narnia invades children's minds whilst Phillip Pullman's secular agenda is marvellous... But what really caught my eye was the way that she singles out the Cross of Christ as the most repugnant part of Christianity. She's seen the very centre of the message.

And why is it so repugnant? She protests that we never asked for this to happen.... what right has God got to offer rescue to us? The underlying issue I think is human self-reliance which doesn't want someone else to sort out our problem.
  • John Stott - “Far from offering us flattery the cross under-mines our selfrighteousness”
  • John Owen - “fill your affections with the cross of Christ that there may be no room for sin” - including pride.
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones - “Nothing but the cross can give us this Spirit of humility”
  • Carl Henry - “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?”
Toynbee has clearly encountered church through her life and speaks in her article of her encounter with Norman Vincent Peale - writer of the power of positive thinking (hardly the bastion of biblical perspective). It seems she's frustrated at bullish powerplaying christianity which she associates with American republicanism. That's probably something of a different breed to biblical christianity, and indeed to british christianity. Toynbee rejects what she has experience, and would rather redeem herself than be redeemed by a man on a cross.

The wisdom and power of God are so far removed from the wisdom of humanity. Secularism raises its voice as a self-proclaimed norm. But the wisdom of God remains. Meanwhile the Guardian has an editorial commenting on its increasing religious coverage... this it says is because of a raised religious profile in politics. I'm happy to hear the perspectives of secularism and I hope to hear more of Cross-ism. Whether in the debate on civil partnerships, faith schools or adaptations of C.S. Lewis' novels - I'd like to hear of the Cross.

Yes, the cross is offensive, repugnant to human pride. We presume so easily that the cross is the problem, perhaps we should look in the mirror. This message demands humility. We Christians must be cross-centred, and thus less proud and bullish, rather humbled. When I worked at Natwest, a Sikh colleague saw this implication of grace... strangely I often forget it. Its time to stand beside the Cross again.


  1. Having just read the article myself I entirely agree with your points.
    Keep up the blogging.

  2. Absolutely right, Dave. We should not be suprised by the thinking of the world regarding the cross. It's not a new problem... the apostle Paul told us all about the cross being both folly and a stumbling block to those who are perishing in his well known passage, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25.

    Indeed the very heights of man's wisdom are as nothing, for God's foolishness is infinitely greater. Man, even in his clearest moment, will never understand the cross without the work of the Holy Spirit. As Dave says, Ms Toynbee has seen the very centre of the message but she can't grasp God's grace. Indeed this should spur us on to pray that God would do the work that only He can do and open blind eyes.

  3. Hey Doc! Thanks registering to comment :)

    Oh, that her eyes would be opened to the stunning wonder of the Cross.

  4. Her comment strikes me as remarkably arrogane - "Thanks God, but no thanks, we're fine by ourselves" - and I suppose that should be no surprise, given the problem we humans have with pride!
    As somebody who is utterly thankful for God's gift of grace, it seems strange to me that somebody could understand that message yet find it repugnant. Would she rather pay for her own sins?

  5. I think thats the secular arguement.... they presume sin is trivial, and if it needs to be paid for they can cover it...

  6. Ah, Polly Toynbee. I don't read her column because last time I did she seemed to be arguing that the conjoined twins (Jodie and Mary) who were in the news should be allowed to die. She called them a a fascinatingly horrible freak of nature, if I remember correctly. Ew. I think it's nice, at least, that she finds the central message repugnant rather than believing that Christianity is somehow about ostracising gay people.

    (Just wanted to thank you for the comment in my blog. When you say "our mutual friend" do you mean our UCCF worker? She's great :) )

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  8. BF: I take it you're British, but I hope you'll appreciate a baseball metaphor: Your post is a 500-foot, bases-loaded drive over the centerfield fence. Excellent work.

    Thought you might like to know, too, that I linked to this and year earlier post at my blog this morning. Peace.

  9. Hey Milton,
    Yeah British indeed.
    Whilst I might miss some of the detailed contours of your metaphor I get the point. Thank you.