Book Reviews

Book Review: The Cross and Christian Ministry (D. A. Carson)

The Cross and Christian Ministry

Why is the cross foolishness for the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews? What’s so foolish and stumbling about it? For those of us living in the 21st century, we are far too removed from the times of Roman crucifixion to realize the brutality enacted on those criminals who hung on the cross. They are sights we will never experience; sounds we will never realize. 

Yet now we wear the cross as a symbol on necklaces, ear rings, and t-shirts. Because we’ve never seen crucifixion up close and personal, we quickly forget the price that was paid on the reality of the symbol we wear. Even still, people today think that the cross is foolish. We worship some bloody, nice guy who hung on a cross. How much more those who lived in the first century? 

Through his exposition of 1 Corinthians, Carson shows us what it means to preach and minister to God’s people in view of the cross. The message of the cross needs to be learned by every generation of believers. Our choices are the wisdom of the world, or the foolishness of the cross which is great than the wisest of men. We are to to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. “Is there anything more important than learning to think God’s thoughts after him?” (p. 10). 

In Brief Summary

What is wisdom? Seeing Christ, His servitude, the cross, how He glorified the Father, and how we live in light of His example.

  1. My preaching, whether in a church or to one person, should be centered on the message (the cross) rather than the form to show myself as impressive.
  2. I may think I am so wise, but I must remember I don’t know anything about God unless the Spirit reveals it to me.  For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
  3. If such is the case, why should I boast over any other preacher? Nobody has all the answers. It would be immature for me to make a special, secluded group if we are all the temple of God. The leaders are only doing what God gives them.
  4. Why try to attain leadership? The fame? The freedom? What about all that responsibility? The suffering? If Jesus is my example I cannot be arrogant for I am not the main character. God is.
  5. If we are all the temple of God, our allegiance to Him surpasses any culture. It doesn’t matter what country you own up to, you are now a citizen of heaven. You do have rights, and you will have to give up those rights at times for the sake of the gospel in order that you might save some.

The Chocolate Milk

  • The last section (2:1-5) was of great benefit. Rather than paying mind to soon-to-be-eclipsed cultural values that could get in the way of our Cross-focused lives, Carson gives enduring principles from Paul on what should be at the forefront of our minds. One of Paul’s points in the first chapter of 1 Corinthians is that the cross is foolishness to the world, and no ‘wise’ person (apart from the Spirit) could ever come up with the idea of the cross on their own. Fads and wisdom of the world changes, but God’s wisdom is consistently consistent. Carson looks at the cross, and reminds us that if we aren’t impressive, it gives more room for the Christ to be impressive for the cross reveals the wisdom of God.
  • When necessary, Carson looks over to the Greek word to find the real meaning behind the translation. 1 Cor. 1:20 says, “Where is the scholar?” The Greek word grammateus denotes a scribe, a Jew who knew the law of God. Paul’s point is that whether you’re a Greek wise man or a schooled Jew, there was no way you would come up with the idea of the cross, God’s greatest display of wisdom and majesty, on your own. We are all rebellious human beings. We can’t know God without the Holy Spirit? And why should we? “How can idolatrous attempts to domesticate God be rewarded with deepened knowledge of the Almighty?” (p. 18).

The Spoiled Milk

  • Chapter 1: Didn’t see how much of what Carson said had to do with “preaching” until the last section (2:1-5). The earlier sections built up to not boasting in a preaching platform and seeing our place before God, but in terms of the chapter title (preaching), I felt the chapter had little to do with it.
  • Chapter 3: In explaining way it’s wrong to boast about human leaders, Carson points out that by focusing and boasting on only one pastor one only looks at one aspect of his God-given gifts. Carson quotes 1 Cor. 3:21b-23, and then elaborates on how the world, life, death, present, and future can all be fearful things, yet wonderful in Christ. However, I didn’t see how it fit with boasting about a particular leader. Then he ends the section with fighting about music in church. I’m sure he was just taking an aspect of things we fight and “factionalize” about, but it was a strange way to end the chapter, bringing more questions and leaving them unanswered.
  • Chapter 5: Carson discusses how Paul became a Jew to the Jews, and a Gentile to the Gentiles, and how he was able to be so culturally relevant between the two groups of people. He wasn’t under the law, but was under the law of Christ. After going through 5 good points on the topic, Carson asks ‘how the old commands relate to the new,’ but then doesn’t answer it stating it would lead him too far from his current discussion.

    • My question is, unless it’s in there because people might be thinking about it, if it doesn’t add to the discussion, why put it in there?
    • Is this a major point? No, of course not. But there were a few times in the book where Carson ended a section, and I couldn’t help but think, “How did we get here?” or “Why did you say it like that?” Usually what Carson said was great, but there were times when he was bewildering, or if not that, dry (unlike his book on Model of Christian Maturity in 2 Corinthians and Basic Exposition of Philippians).


Carson is a clear writer and a great expositor. He does a striking job of keeping the book cross-centered, always keeping our eyes on our Lord and Savior, and not ourselves. There are no tips and tricks on how to be a successful Christian leader in this book, just how to be a humble servant of Christ as He showed us through His perfect example. This book is recommended (also 2 Corinthians and Philippians).


  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Baker Books (February 1, 2004)
  • Reading Level: Pastors/Teachers/Bible College and above
  • PDF 

Buy it on Amazon!

[A big thanks to Baker Publishing for allowing me a free copy to read and review! I was not obligated to give a positive review in return for reviewing my copy.]

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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