The Larger View of the Bible and the Cross

Continuing chapter one of Conversations About God, by Graham Maxwell, edited from the oral text by Jon Paulien.

Conversations About God 1:4

Not all Christians have understood the Plan of Salvation in this larger view of a cosmic conflict over the character and government of God. Even the great theologians of the Reformation did not see things in this way. Luther, for example, was preoccupied with God’s gracious provisions to save you and me. One reason Luther does not emphasize the larger view is that he was unable to make much use of the book of Revelation. Luther correctly insisted that we should use “the Bible and the Bible only” (Sola Scriptura), but he himself was not able to use all sixty-six books. He particularly regarded Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation as inferior to the other books in the New Testament. In the book of Revelation he said he found “too little about Christ, and too much no one could understand.” And then he summarized, “there’s no way the Holy Spirit could have inspired this book!” But as a result of not being able to use the book of Revelation, he missed the larger view, as do many of his admirers today.

Some of us though, have been greatly helped by Luther in placing the Bible as the highest of all authorities. We have done what Luther recommended and we’ve studied the Bible seriously, not just sixty-two books or fewer, but all sixty-six. We have learned to read the Bible as a whole, and relate all its parts to the one central theme, the revelation of the truth about God in the great controversy. I have had the privilege of leading groups through all sixty-six Bible books more than a hundred times. Every time I do this it becomes even clearer to me that the Bible is an inspired record of how God handled the crisis in His family. I think if Luther were alive today, he too might rejoice in the larger view.

There are no shortcuts to trust, or the Bible would be a much briefer book. Claims prove nothing. Even when a person has been falsely accused of being untrustworthy, it is only by the demonstration of trustworthiness over a long period of time, and under a great variety of circumstances, especially difficult ones, that trust can be re-established and confirmed.

The Bible records just such a demonstration, beginning with the entrance of sin into the universe and climaxing with the death of Christ on the cross. My understanding is that Christ died to re-establish peace in God’s family. The apostle Paul explained the purpose of the cross, and why Jesus had to die, in a number of passages. Look at Colossians 1:19-20, for example:
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (RSV)

The word “reconcile” here means to atone, to bring to unity. Note also where peace is made. It is at the cross. Let’s look at the same text in another version:

For it was by God’s own decision that the Son has in himself the full nature of God. Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself. God made peace through his Son’s death on the cross, and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven. (TEV)

Notice two other passages in Ephesians that make the same point. Ephesians 1:9, 10 reads:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (RSV)

Here we have a glimpse of the ending of the war, when God’s purpose is fulfilled and the whole universe will be united. Uniting all things is the opposite of war; when you have unity you also have peace. Now the other text, Ephesians 3:9, 10:

. . . and to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things; that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. (RSV)

According to Ephesians, the way God is demonstrating the truth about Himself and winning the war is through His church, through His people. This is explained in a dramatic way in another of Paul’s letters, in 1 Corinthians 4:9: “. . . we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and to men.” (RSV) The Greek word for spectacle is theatron, from which we get “theater.” Some saints might be reluctant to attend the theater, but Paul tells us we live in a theater all the time. God’s stage. And on this stage He is demonstrating the truth about Himself by the way He is dealing with His church.

God includes the whole family in the results of this demonstration. Look at John 12:32:
“When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me.” (TEV) The TEV here expresses the real meaning of the original. The word for “all men” is not limited to human beings. It is the word for the entire universe; everyone and everything. Not just people on this planet, but even the loyal angels, I believe, were drawn closer to God by this costly demonstration. These verses say to me that Christ died for sinless angels too. And they certainly needed no forgiveness or adjustment of their legal standing. Yet the Bible says they needed the message of the cross as well.

2 thoughts on “The Larger View of the Bible and the Cross

  1. Owen Bandy

    I appreciate these. I don’t know if I mentioned it or not but I listened to Graham’s tapes on the picture of God in all 66 books in the first year of my ministry. It was transformative to my ministry. I have heard people say that Graham denied the legal aspect to Christ’s sacrifice but I never got that from his tapes or his writings. I even had a discussion with his brother Mervin who claimed that Graham denied it as well. I would be interested in your thoughts on this John. But maybe this is not the forum to discuss this.

    Reply
    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      You are right, he disrespects the legal model at times to the degree that he seems to discard it, but most of the time he doesn’t go over the line. I think all biblical models serve a purpose, meeting people where they are. The common element in all models of the atonement is: “What we couldn’t do, God did.”

      Reply

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