Title:            "Once Upon a Tree"
Author:        Calvin Miller
Publisher:    Howard Publishing


In current Christian culture, we seem to have arrived at a point where faith is focused on the individual. We seek Christian growth for our personal benefit, our fulfillment. The cross is often relegated to the periphery, a historical reality we acknowledge and appreciate, but not the centerpiece of our faith.

Calvin Miller draws us back to the cross in "Once Upon a Tree:  Answering the Ten Crucial Questions of Life" (Howard Publishing, 2002). He reaffirms for us that the cross is, indeed, the central reference point of the faith and the central reference point of all civilization.

"We will never see the cross as the center of our own history until we see it as the center of all history," he writes. His guiding premise in this volume is that, at the cross, we can find the answers to life's toughest questions about grief, salvation, life, betrayal, relationships, death, and sacrifice.

Miller's words are noteworthy. He is a heavyweight whose perspective is deeply rooted in Scripture and in a long life of ministry. The professor of preaching and pastoral studies at Beeson School of Divinity, Samford University has authored more than 40 books and serves on the editorial boards of Leadership Magazine and Preaching Magazine.

With powerful prose pictures and convicting clarity, Miller leads his reader gently to the foot of the cross. To a place of confession and repentance.

"It is sad that we have weaned ourselves from our need of His sacrifice," Miller says. "We have wrapped our passion in apathy. We sleep untroubled before the cross. No need to confess our sin because we have abandoned the idea of sin. We have 'self-esteemed' our way into the court of God. ..."

One of Miller's themes is that God has no desire for part of us. It's all or nothing. Miller says that once we come to the cross, we can never again be the same. And he's talking about not only the spiritual miracle of salvation – not only a changed life, but also a changed lifestyle.

In a chapter titled "The Cross Answers Our Grieving," Miller recalls that 58,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War, and 9,000 veterans of that conflict later committed suicide. "What lived in the hearts of those who died when the battle was over?" he asks. "Why was life so distasteful that they later killed themselves? Were they slain ahead of time by seeing too much death around them and too much indifference at home?" Implicit in the context was this question:  Where were the Christians with the answer of the cross during this tragic chapter of our nation's history?

Miller identifies contemporary culture's bent to "sincerity" as the most popular alternative to the way of the cross. Pop philosophers, misguided theologians and shallow commentators lead us astray when they insist that sincerity and salvation are equally valid paths of faith in the God of the universe.

"Jesus is the only way to God," Miller writes. "May [Buddha], Confucius and Mohammed take note: The way to God must pass through Christ and his cross. ... Our Lord endured the ugliness of it all, not so I might have an alternate route of redemption, but because there was no other way."

Miller bemoans that we have transformed the cross into a "vacuous symbol" – displayed without thought on jewelry, bumper stickers, refrigerator magnets, and even church altars and steeples. In a warning, emphasizing how we've grown to take the cross so lightly, Miller writes, "We never march purposefully into hell; we simply fall asleep on the slopes and slide in."

When one truly comes to the cross, says Miller, it will result in a changed heart, a changed mind and changed behavior.


Randall Murphree, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.

© 2004 AgapePress.  All rights reserved.  Used with permission.