The following is a new forward for the new edition of The Cruciform Church (2016) by C. Leonard Allen. This new edition includes essays in response to each chapter from key Christian leaders.
by Mike Cope
For the 2016 Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I wanted to center on a theme that points to the central story of the gospel. We settled on “Cruciformed: Living in Light of the Jesus Story.”
It should be no mystery where I turned for the theme. For many years I’ve told people that in my humble opinion, Leonard Allen’s The Cruciform Church is the most important book written about Christian faith and discipleship from within Churches of Christ in my lifetime.
When I first read the book, it felt like Leonard 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.
Thanks to this book, the word “cruciform” entered the central vocabulary of Churches of Christ—and beyond! 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 said, “in hope that this image might become the dominant image by which Churches of Christ speak of identifying the New Testament Church.”
The Apostle Paul was obsessed with a concern that people would preach about and seek to follow “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached” (2 Corinthians 11:4).
That concern is still timely! There is the Jesus of Christian nationalism. The Jesus of the prosperity gospel. So many Jesuses! “In the image of humans have we made him.”
So who was the Jesus Paul encountered and announced? He was the Jesus of self-giving love. e one who served and laid down his life even for enemies.
He was the cruciform Jesus. Any “gospel” that doesn’t start there isn’t the gospel that Paul preached (Galatians 1:6-9).
Leonard suggested over a quarter century ago that the Bible is less a series of facts and propositions and more an overarching story: of a faithful, loving, giving God who is setting his world right through his faithful, loving, giving Son—empowered by the faithful, loving, giving Spirit.
Since the publication of this book, many ministers in Churches of Christ have been blessed by the guiding works of N. T. Wright Richard Hays, Luke Timothy Johnson, Scot McKnight—and so many others. But much of what we’ve learned was anticipated in the 191 pages of Cruciform. I’m so thankful to know that this new edition complete with fresh responses—is coming out to challenge a whole new generation of readers.
On a personal note, I write from a very different vantage point now than I would have in 1990. At that time, Leonard was a respected professor and author—a scholar in every sense—whom I didn’t know well. Since then he’s become one of those few friends with whom you can trust your life. I knew long ago the wisdom that came from his head; I now know that it comes from his heart.