Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 06/07/2012 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. A thoroughly Reformed book setting out basic Reformed doctrines in dialogue and letter forms.
As a seminary student, occasional preacher, and book reviewer, my reading list is fairly tight and regimented. Even so, one of the pleasant benefits of the reading life is picking up an unplanned book on a whim or a sudden impulse. Such was the case with Cesar Malan’s The Cross: Where All Roads Meet, formerly titled The True Cross in its original French edition, first published in 1831. Delving into it for choice quotes about the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), I was pleased to discover a brief but meaty narrative concerning the free gift of salvation offered through the work of Christ and the right Christian response to it: rest and trust.
More than half the book records a purported narrative between the author, who was a Swiss Evangelical pastor in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and an elderly traveler whom the author encounters while the latter pays respects to a wooden cross beside the path. The narrator strikes up a conversation with the genuflecting man and discovers that the man operates under the burdensome load of a works-oriented religion without any measure of personal assurance of salvation. This religion is, of course, a thinly veiled Roman Catholicism. The rest of the chapters in this section, which comprises the majority of the book, is a dialogue which shows the bankrupcty of the old man's beliefs. The narrator solemnly but passionately calls the old man around to ground his faith in the objective work of Christ to save him, and not in his own attempts to please God.
As you can see, The Cross overtly and unapologetically advocates for Reformed doctrines, but I would hesitate to call the tone polemical. Persuasive, yes. Obviously those who do not share Reformed sympathies may feel that the narrator is polemical to the hilt. Such readers may also feel that the narrator is battering his conversation partner into intellectual submission, but we would do well to remember that this is a conversation held circa 1831 in a foreign European country, not a 21st century back-and-forth on the streets of downtown Toronto.
The book concludes with two shorter sections. The first is a letter to a friend who is ill and may die. The letter-writer takes the opportunity to shore up the sick friend's doubts and assure him of the faith that comes by grace alone. In an interesting paragraph, the letter-writer explains why he is taking such a challenging tone:
Of course, if I was addressing you as a man who did not yet know the way of God, or if you did not believe the Bible, then I would be speaking to you in a completely different way. I would not set out before your ignorance the knowledge enjoyed by those who are mature.
The last section is another narrative recording another conversation with someone wavering in his faith. After working through the theological and experiential issues the man is dealing with, the narrator assures him that Christ's death has accomplished once for all the salvation of his soul.
While it is obvious who will want to read this book (Reformed folks), I want to comment about Reformed folks lending it or giving it out. Obviously the Sovereign Lord works all things to His own will for His glory. But we must not fail to be sensitive to the contexts in which we live and move. People do not debate as readily and calmly as they used to, it seems to me. Better to begin a dialogue organically, and then at a later, opportune time, put this book into your conversation partner's hands after the ground has been tilled. It really should act as the extension of a caring relationship, and not as a broadside suddenly coming out of the blue. While it is a good little book, The Cross should not be a substitute for real dialogue, and should not be deployed without careful, strategic forethought.