Spring 2023 Convocation Address: "Four Crosses, One Christ"

January 17, 2023
The Spring 2023 Convocation Address can be viewed on YouTube and on Facebook.

Over the time that I have been privileged to serve as dean of our seminary—I will begin my ninth year this spring—I have sought in the various convocation addresses that I have given to identify and to explore various aspects of our school’s history and identity as well as our seminary’s mission and vision. Given that Truett self-identifies as an “orthodox, evangelical, multi-denominational school in the historic Baptist tradition embedded into a Christian research university,” this morning I would like for us to consider together one facet or aspect of evangelicalism as set forth by one of our seminary’s regular adjunct professors, Dr. David Bebbington, in his highly influential quadrilateral, namely, crucicentrism. I would like to do so under the heading “Four Crosses, One Christ.” Before doing so, would you please pray with me?

Jesus, keep me near the cross: there a flowing fountain,
Free to all, a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s mountain.
In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
Till my ransomed soul shall find, rest beyond the river.
Lyrics: Fanny J. Crosby

Unlike Dr. Arterbury, I am not a Gospels scholar. I am, however, a Gospels student, and over the span of my now forty-year ministry I have thankfully had the opportunity to teach and to preach from the Gospels with some degree of regularity. One of the books that has greatly aided my understanding and significantly strengthened my communication of the four-fold Gospel witness is Richard Burridge’s valuable and accessible volume Four Gospels, One Jesus? A Symbolic Reading. Therein, Burridge interprets Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in conjunction with the ancient Christian symbols associated with each Gospel. He examines Matthew’s portrait of Jesus through the lens of the human face. In Mark, Jesus is portrayed as a lion, while Jesus is viewed as a burden-bearing ox in Luke and a high-flying eagle in John.

For all of the discernable and consequential differences between the canonical Gospels, which in turn have given rise to necessary scholarly pursuits, Burridge answers the question posed in the book’s title in the affirmative. Diversity notwithstanding, he contends that all four of the evangelists proclaim a singular figure, Jesus of Nazareth, as Lord and Savior. I wholeheartedly and warmly concur with the primary claim of this Burridge’s book. As it happens, one upshot of Burridge’s study is that non-canonical or apocryphal gospels, although sometimes informative and even entertaining, are not normative for matters of belief and behavior, faith and practice.

The title for today’s address, “Four Crosses, One Christ,” is inspired by the title of Burridge’s study, although I have not employed a question mark in my title. Neither do I have a sub-title. I do, however, have in mind four crosses that adorn our building and grounds that point to and offer praise to the Lord Christ Jesus. Before identifying and reflecting briefly upon each of them, suffer me a few remarks about crosses in general. Over the sweep of Christian history, scores of crosses have been conceived and constructed, primarily by Christians themselves, who have taken an instrument of Roman torture and execution and turned it into a Christological symbol of sacrificial love. When you have a spare moment—not now, please—perform a Google search entering in the search field “types of crosses,” and you will see what I mean.

Before her recent retirement, Ms. Dorothy Terry worked in the dean’s office at Truett Seminary. From time to time, I would go into her office to see the various crosses that she had displayed on her office walls. Additionally, when I enter into the vestibule of my home church, First Baptist Church of Waco, I am frequently drawn to the beauty and majesty of the cross tapestry that is prominently and strategically hung there. Similarly, as I walk to and from and around our spacious and gracious Baugh-Reynolds campus here in Waco, I frequently focus on four crosses. To be sure, there are others, including the one behind the Welcoming Christ in the Chancel Window in front of you and behind me, but I focus upon four most regularly.

The first and most visible is the Steeple Cross. This sizeable, simple, gilded-gold cross adorns the spire of the Paul W. Powell Chapel. Put into place on May 30, 2001 beginning at 7:30 AM, it has been securely placed on a lofty perch so that people who pass our building might see it. It can be seen from Interstate 35 and even rises above the Hurd Welcome Center that is being constructed across the street from our campus. In seeing the Steeple Cross, the hope is that people might be drawn not simply to the cross but to the Christ of the cross who declared that if he be lifted up that he would draw all people unto himself (see John 12:32). Additionally, one can hope that when people see the Steeple Cross, dedicated to the life and memory of Chase Gray, that they might also infer that what happens within this building is marked by the sign of the cross.

A second, external cross on our campus, to which we may refer as the Clock Tower Cross or the Truett Cross, is not as visible as the Steeple Cross, but neither is it easily placed under a peck measure. It is particularly prominent when one is on the back side of our building. This cross also appears in various places and in much smaller forms throughout our building, not least on dedicatory plaques. Adopted in 1994 to represent the seminary, the flame at the top of the cross represents the Holy Spirit; the crosspiece represents an open Bible; and the shaft represents the cross itself. The Truett Cross testifies that the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit bear witness to the crucified Christ.

A third cross, also external to our building, is well-situated so that people who are approaching our campus from the main campus might see the Empty Cross. Designed by arguably the foremost Christian sculptor of our time, Max Greiner, Jr., Truett’s Empty Cross weighs 536 pounds and is 7 feet 7 inches tall, representing perfection. This contemporary rendition of the cross, which was dedicated last year on February 22nd on the occasion of the 20th anniversary celebration of the dedication of the Baugh-Reynolds campus, is made of reddish-brown Cor-teen steel so as to represent the blood that Jesus shed on the cross. The empty or hollow design of the cross not only symbolizes that whosoever will may come but the cross’s open construction is also meant to signify that Jesus passed from crucifixion to resurrection. Jesus is no longer on the cross or in the grave. Rather, he the crucified, risen, ascended Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father in glory interceding for us.

A fourth and final prominently displayed cross on our Waco campus may be seen above the mantle of the fireplace in the Paul and Katy Piper Great Hall. This most recent addition to Truett’s cross collection, the Mantle Cross, which was received and hung on April 21, 2022, might also be thought of and spoken of as the Rolf Cross. This wooden cross, made of walnut from a Georgia homestead, is 40 inches x 28 inches and was hand-crafted by Dr. Howard Rolf. Dr. Rolf, a member of First Baptist Church of Waco and a generous scholarship donor to our seminary, taught mathematics at Baylor for 35 years before retiring in 1998. For 26 of those years, that is from 1971 to 1997, he served as chair of the Department. As it happens, Dr. Rolf’s grandson from Tyler, TX, Andrew McClintock is the son of Dr. Rolf’s daughter Stephanie and is a Baylor graduate and a current Truett student.

These four crosses, while different, collectively symbolize and bear witness to the cross of Christ and more important still to the Christ of the cross.

Paul both commences and concludes his impassioned letter to Galatian congregations by focusing upon the crucified Christ. In 1:4, the apostle describes the Lord Jesus Christ as the one “who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” Then, near the end of the letter with the stylus in his calloused hand, he inscribes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which (or whom) the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14).

Although Christ’s crucifixion was central to Paul’s proclamation when he was with the Galatians (so 3:1), certain agitators or troublers (as Paul labels them) had stolen in among them and were, at least in Paul’s view, seeking to diminish the necessity and centrality of the cross by emphasizing certain aspects of the law, not least the circumcision of male Gentile converts. For Paul, this was no trifling matter, and he is at pains throughout the letter to disabuse the Galatians of the mistaken notion that Jesus’ life-giving death needed to be propped up by the necessary, though temporary, Mosaic law. It is not the cross plus, Paul propounds, but the cross period, or better yet, exclamation point! It is foolish, the apostle asserts, to live life in a BC-way in an AD-day.

Nowhere in Galatians, a letter deeply loved by Luther, among others, is the necessity and centrality of the cross for Christ-followers clearer than in Paul’s autobiographical and personal remarks set forth in Galatians 2:19-21. There, Paul testifies: “For through the law I died to the law that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, yet it is no longer I myself who live, but Christ in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died needlessly.” But it does not, and he did not, Paul declares.

Right-standing before God, Paul insists, is grounded in and based upon grace through faith, which flows from the one who was hung upon a pole, becoming a curse for us so that we might be redeemed and blessed (see esp. Gal 3:10-14). Whatever theory or theories of the atonement you might embrace and espouse, I trust that they and you will leave sufficient room for human transgression against God on the one hand and divine intervention through the atoning death of Christ on the cross on the other hand.

Even as Paul emphasizes the centrality of the crucified Christ in Galatians, he also expresses his steadfast commitment to minister to the Galatians so that they might be formed in Christ. In Galatians 4:19-20, Paul declares, “My children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wished that I could be with you now and might change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” Cruciformity or Christoformity is the aim of life in Christ. The crucified Christ beckons us to a cruciformed life, which reminds one of what Bonhoeffer once said, namely, “When Jesus bids us follow him, he bids us to come and die.”

At Truett Seminary, we purposefully pair rigorous academic instruction with intentional spiritual formation. Both of which are done in a caring community characterized by intellectual curiosity and, we trust, humility with a view to serve Christ and his Church. Curricular and co-curricular emphasis upon spiritual formation and discipleship at Truett is not extraneous hoop-jumping. Rather, it is part and parcel to and of one piece with what we believe constitutes faithful, fruitful Christ-followers and Christian ministers. It is all too easy for us, myself included, to be close to the cross and to be far from Christ. May we who handle the holy and traffic in the transcendent not sully the sacred through sophisticated unbelief, lukewarm indifference, or perfunctory professionalism.

Cruciformity with Christ and conformity to Christ are either side of the same coin. In order to be more fully conformed to Christ’s character and likeness, we must, according to Galatians 5:24-25, not only continue to crucify the flesh (that is, our sinful self, inclined to engage in sinful acts) but we must also live by the Spirit and keep in step with the Spirit. When we do, then the fruit of the Spirit, which is concert with and a reflection of the character of Christ, will be manifest in our lives.

As we begin another semester, let us allow the LORD to have his way with us. May we sing this song of surrender: “Have thine own way, Lord, have thine own way.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” Near the base of a memorial stone created in honor of our seminary’s namesake, George Washington Truett, and located in the Sparkman Hillcrest Memorial Park on Northway Highway in Dallas, TX just down the way from Park Cities Baptist Church, one finds these words: “Thy will be done.” May these four words mark and animate our lives and ministries. As we abide in Christ, who is the Vine, we will bear the fruit of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, against which there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23). In so doing, we will fulfill the law by serving one another humbly in love. “For,” according to Galatians 5:14, “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

And may we be ever mindful that in order to love our neighbor well that we must love God with every fiber of our beings. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ sent his Son and the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who cries out “Abba, Father” (Gal 4:4, 6). The Christ in whom we are to live lives in us even as he loved us and gave himself for us. In response to his great grace and promised presence, we do well to say, “This is my earnest plea, more love, O Christ to Thee. More love to Thee, more love to Thee!” Perhaps the crosses on our campus will regularly remind us of and call us to this good and glorious end.

The 2022 Convocation Address can be found on YouTube.

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