Dr. Paul Shirley is a graduate of The Expositors Seminary and has served as the pastor of Grace Community Church in Wilmington, Delaware since 2011. Recently we had the opportunity to interview Paul about his new book, The Irony of the Cross (find it here on Amazon).
TES: Paul, can you start by giving us a brief overview of your new book? What exactly is The Irony of the Cross about?
PS: The Irony of the Cross is an expanded exposition of Mark 15:21-39, which records the details of Christ’s death on the cross. From a Christological perspective, there may be no passage in the Bible that details the lowliness of Christ so explicitly. And yet, when placed in the context of God’s redemptive plan, the low point of Christ’s incarnation has now become the focal point of his exaltation. The suffering of Christ does not detract one bit from the honor of Christ. In fact, the most glorious truth about Jesus is that He gave up his glory for a cross. He set aside the prerogatives of divine power and endured punishment for human sin. The Maker of the universe allowed himself to be murdered by his own creation. By enduring disgrace, Christ won glory for Himself as the Redeemer and grace for us as the redeemed. The humiliation of crucifixion is Christ’s most honored accomplishment; this is the irony of the cross.
As readers work through the text of Mark 15:21-39, they will be introduced to eleven specific ironies of the cross that serve as sobering reminders of what Christ endured on our behalf:
- The Almighty Weakened
- The Sovereign Shamed
- The Christ Crucified
- The King Condemned
- The Righteous with Rebels
- The Beloved Blasphemed
- The Light in Darkness
- The Faithful Forsaken
- The Eternal Expired
- The Redeemer Recognized
- The Sinners Saved
Everything we find in this passage is the opposite of what we would expect from God, but it is true of our Savior. Each one of these ironies presents Jesus eschewing the prerogatives of his power for the salvation of his people. There is no other point in time when Christ was more emptied and stripped of his divine prerogatives, and yet there is no other place where Christ’s glory is more prominently displayed. The irony of these glorious truths is something worth dwelling upon.
TES: Why did you write this book? How exactly did it come about?
PS: To be honest with you, this is a humble little book that is the result of the humble servants of our church. I preached the text of Mark 15:21-39, and it had a unique impact on our church life. As a result of a request I received from within the congregation, I wrote and expanded the material for our church body. The first edition of this project was an email attachment sent to our congregation in the weeks leading up to Good Friday. This expanded written version proved to be an encouragement to our people again. In fact, these truths were so impactful that several individuals in the church wanted to see this project made available beyond our congregation. Consequently, they did all the work of editing, formatting, and making it available beyond our congregation. (I didn’t even know they were doing it until it was almost done.) Honestly, I doubt many people will want to buy copies of it or will ever hear of it, but that doesn’t really concern me. I am encouraged by the release of this book because it is the product of our congregation’s love for the truth. Nothing about this project encourages me more than this.
TES: Paul, you’ve already answered this to some extent, but who is your target audience and how do you hope that God uses this book in their lives?
PS: This book was written for the people of my church, but I hope it will be encouraging for anyone in any church. My desire for this book is that by setting the divine attributes of Christ alongside the human suffering he experienced on the cross, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for and trust in the person and work of Christ. The power of the cross leaves nothing else to be done to accomplish salvation—“It is finished!” Because Jesus accomplished salvation, we are saved by faith alone. This is the greatest accomplishment of the cross, and it brings us back to the greatest irony of the cross. The sinners whose rebellion killed Jesus were the very ones saved by his death.
TES: In the process of writing this book, what truth had the most profound impact on your own heart and life?
PS: This project motivated me to do an in-depth study of the person of Christ and His dual natures—divine and human. Although I do not use this language in the book, I am basically wrestling with something theologians have referred to as the extra Calvinisticum. That is, the church’s historic affirmation that when Jesus took on a human nature He never ceased to be fully God. So, the same Person who was held by a cross in his human nature was holding the universe together by his divine nature. I don’t want anyone to be intimidated away from the book when they read this. I do not delve into these issues or discuss all the various historic understandings of how these truths correlate. However, a deeper understanding of this truth has forged my faith in Christ and deepened my worship toward Him. The fact that He possessed the power to put a stop to the cross, but—out of love for the Father and love for me—chose to endure it is what makes Him my Savior. The cross is where Christ’s glory is most veiled, and, at the same time, most visibly displayed.