The ‘crucified God’

This has some special relevance for me these days, and I’ll be posting on this occasionally, Lord willing.

The years 1517 and 1519 are generally regarded as being of decisive importance in the career of Martin Luther, and the history of the Reformation as a whole. The first witnessed Luther’s posting of the Theses on Indulgences at Wittenberg, and the second the historic Leipzig disputation with Johannes Eck. It is all too easy for the historian to pass over the intervening year, 1518, as being little more than the necessary interval between these two pivotal events, a valley nestling between two mountains.

In April of that year, however, at the invitation of Johannes von Staupitz, Luther presided over the traditional public disputation at the assembly of the Augustinian Congregation at Heidelberg. In the course of that disputation, a new phrase was added to the vocabulary of Christendom – the ‘theology of the cross’. In the theologia crucis, we find Luther’s developing theological insights crystallized into one of the most radical understandings of the nature of Christian theology which the church has ever known.

Crux probat omnia. For Luther, Christian thinking about God comes to an abrupt halt at the foot of the cross. The Christian is forced, by the very existence of the crucified Christ, to make a momentous decision. Either he will seek God elsewhere, or he will make the cross itself the foundation and criterion of his thought about God. The ‘crucified God’ – to use Luther’s daring phrase – is not merely the foundation of the Christian faith, but is also the key to understanding the nature of God.

From Alister E. McGrath, “Luther’s Theology of the Cross,” Oxford, UK: and Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, ©1985, 1990, pg 1.

Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross”

If you look down the blog roll on the right, you’ll see links to a couple of blog sites where I do some of my other writing: Triablogue, Beggars All Reformation, Reformation500. Generally speaking, I’m quite involved in an activity known as “Christian apologetics,” and in this context, that tends to mean “arguing about religion”.

Down below, I’ve provided a post about My Roman Catholic Background . Someone from work, who was interested in looking for sources that could help us out financially, suggested St. Vincent DePaul, and asked me if I was Roman Catholic. I used to be. I grew up that way, and even wanted to be a priest. In 1983, I was accepted into Seminary. But I never went for a variety of reasons, and over the years, I came to the conclusion, strongly reinforced by a very tender conscience, that if I wanted to be a follower of Christ, I could not remain a Roman Catholic.

I’m sure that some of you reading this would take issue with me, and I’m happy to answer any questions on that topic. I’ve got lots to say about it. I’m convinced that the Reformation was, in the historical context, “the right thing to do”.

According to the Harvard historian Steven Ozment, Martin Luther was “the most brilliant theologian of the age”. Luther is known for his posting of the “95 Theses” on October 31, 1517, but his theology was not an epiphany; rather, it gradually developed over time as Luther taught theology from 1510 onward.

Along with his teaching on the justification by faith alone, which was probably the doctrinal heart of the Reformation, Luther also responded to the attitude of the church of Rome in general, with what became known as his “Theology of the Cross”. This he contrasted with the “Theology of Glory”, a prevailing attitude of the day which was not shy about preaching on the glories of the Roman church.

And this brings me to my point. In circumstances that will cause anyone to ask, “why is this happening to me,” Martin Luther’s “Theology of the Cross” can provide a tremendous amount of comfort and context. Carl Trueman says:

[Luther] is taking Paul’s explosive argument from 1 Corinthians and developing it into a full theological agenda. … God’s wisdom is demonstrated in the foolishness of the cross. Who would have thought up the foolish idea of God taking human flesh in order to die a horrendous death on behalf of sinners who had deliberately defied him, or God making sinners pure by himself becoming sin for them, or God himself raising up a people to newness of life by himself submitting to death? We could go on, looking at such terms as life, blessing, holiness, and righteousness. Every single one must be reconceived in the light of the cross. All are important theological concepts; all are susceptible to human beings casting them in their own image; and all must be recast in the light of the cross.

When your life brings you into a context in which you have to watch your wife suffer with cancer, you end up asking yourself a lot of hard questions. I believe Luther’s Theology of the Cross helps provide some profound answers to those questions.

So this is a topic I hope to explore as we continue to live through this experience.