Theology of the Cross and the Gospel (#3)

More from Carl Trueman’s article Luther’s Theology of the Cross:

This insight is one of the factors in Luther’s thinking that gives his theology an inner logic and coherence. Take, for example, his understanding of justification, whereby God declares the believer to be righteous in his sight, not by virtue of any intrinsic righteousness (anything that the believer has done or acquired), but on the basis of an alien righteousness, the righteousness of Christ that remains external to the believer. Is this not typical of the strange but wonderful logic of the God of the cross? The person who is really unrighteous, really mired in sin, is actually declared by God to be pure and righteous! Such a truth is incomprehensible to human logic, but makes perfect sense in light of the logic of the cross.

And what of the idea of a God who comes down and loves the unlovely and the unrighteous before the objects of his love have any inclination to love him or do good? Such is incomprehensible to the theologians of glory, who assume that God is like them, like other human beings, and thus only responds to those who are intrinsically attractive or good, or who first earn his favor in some way. But the cross shows that God is not like that: against every assumption that human beings might make about who God is and how he acts, he requires no prior loveliness in the objects of his love; rather, his prior love creates that loveliness without laying down preconditions. Such a God is revealed with amazing and unexpected tenderness and beauty in the ugly and violent drama of the cross.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • John
  • Manxman

    I think I’ve finally figured out the problem with this theology of the cross stuff – it need a great deal of leavening with a theology of the resurrection to give it balance before it can be applied to the Christian life.

    If Lutherans fail to get beyond the Cross and embrace the implications of the resurrection, they may well see a lot of “dying churches” that were referred to in a previous post on this blog.

    I think Trueman has created a strawman with his “theologians of glory.” It is entirely possible to be a Christian who focuses in on the resurrection and still appreciate how God has reached out to the unlovely and lost at the Cross, even when they in their sin. Any parent who has had a kid go off the deep end understands this truth about God. In many ways, people ARE like God, and it is this similarity to Him that we see in the Bible and experience in our lives that draws us to Him and makes us love Him all the more.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    The resurrected Jesus still has holes in his feet. I look to Him and need to go sit at His feet myself.

    Epiphany Light to you, Manxman!

  • Manxman

    Bryan,

    For me, the holiest day of the year is Good Friday, not Christmas or Easter Sunday. If there’s anything that makes me love and appreciate and identify with Jesus, it’s the account of what He went through in the Garden of Gethsemane. However, as special as this part of Jesus’ mission might be, scripture clearly tells us that without the Resurrection, the events prior to it were only a terribly sad story and we’d still be hopelessly lost in our sins.

  • FW

    #5 Manxman

    I agree completely. The cross is the main event.

    easter is the confirmation that what happened on the cross was acceptable to God.

    “as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you preach Christ´s DEATH until he returns”. St Paul

    and this is done every sunday. and every sunday is a miniature easter. the 8th day. the day of the new creation. resurrection day.

    so even in the church calendar Manxman you have confirmation of what you are saying and the church´s 2000 year old understanding and practice of how that all fits together.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Manxman, so are the actions of Jesus like a deck of playing cards for you? Jesus first miracle is a two of diamonds, his temptation in the widerness, a 10 of hearts, Holy Week is full of face cards for you and the Resurrection is all aces? I think I’m starting to see how your heirarchy goes.

    To extend this metaphor, the theologian of the cross sees how God’s rescue plan has pervaded and foiled the whole deck of cards and beyond.

    Christ’s death and resurrection has made every day holy for me. Every day is a Good Friday and an Easter (and a Christmas) all rolled into one. Again, blessed Epiphany to you!

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Amen to what FW said about every Sunday being a miniature Easter – Wonderful gifts from God so often! It’s wonderful. And Baptism blows it all up and extends Christ’s death and resurrection to the believer every day!

    It’s incredible but true.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    manxman,
    Neither is the theology of the cross a denial of the resurrection. Those two go together. If Christ was not raised than the cross was futile. It is his resurrection that shows us he was victorious on the cross! But we are not resurrected yet, it is our hope. We have been given eternal life, but we do not yet experience the full glory of that. If glory in this life is all the resurrection offers you can have it. If you think that Christ’s resurrection offers you your best life now, than you are most to be pitied. This life is sad and full of death even in the best of times. I’d rather be a member of a sex cult than drink those dregs. But in the cross we have salvation from this world. Hope in the resurrection.

  • Manxman

    fw,

    As central and pivotal as the Cross is, it is still only the bridge to something else. I think a good comparison would be to look at it as a birth process where the Cross is the labor and delivery part of it leading to the new life that arises out of the labor/birth. My wife went through 6 long, nasty labors including two C-sections, and these things left their mark. In our marriage, I’m sure she expects me to appreciate what all that suffering and sacrifice meant for her, our kids and for me, but I’m equally sure she wants our marriage to move beyond the labor/delivery to the next step of the relationship.

    Something was birthed on the Cross that the Lord wants us to shift our focus toward. The Church calendar also includes Pentecost.

  • JonSLC

    Manxman,

    I’ve heard many times from leaders in my Lutheran denomination reminders to preach the resurrection and its implications. They see that in Acts, virtually every one of the apostles’ sermons led up to a proclamation of the resurrection. I try in some small way to remember this by giving the Easter season in the Church Year its due. (E.g., I love my mom and all moms, but I’m reluctant to substitute a Mothers’ Day theme in May for Easter 5!) And recall the one word that Luther included in his famous coat of arms (a word that is often missing in illustrations of it): VIVIT — “HE LIVES.”

    Maybe one reason why Lutherans often highlight the theology of the cross is that they perceive American Protestant Christians wanting to skip right to the glory in this life. An example: What makes a successful worship service for many American Christians? Feeling the presence of God, a sense of euphoria, etc. For Lutherans, a successful service might be much less spectacular and exhilarating, but it includes the seemingly weak word of the gospel and the sacraments.

    In short (too late), maybe Lutherans press the theology of the cross as a corrective to a perceived absence of such a principle in American Christianity — and in response to the desire of the sinful flesh in all of us to get power and glory now.

  • Joe

    Manxman

    The problem with the theology of Glory is that is assumes that we already are (or can) experiencing the Glory now. Until Christ returns, we have the hope and the promise of it, but we don’t have it yet. Unfortunately, I am a lawyer – so I use legal analogies. This helps me to understand it: Christ gave us his Glory and salvation as a free gift, but it is currently held in trust. We have title but not possession. It is rightfully ours, no one can take it from us but we don’t get possession until the triggering event. In this case, judgment day.

  • Manxman

    Bror Erickson

    You would have to beat the bushes pretty hard to find someone who feels more like a stranger & alien in this world than I do – my hope isn’t in this world. Far from it.

    However my Bible tells me this in Ephesians 1 -

    I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

    The spirit of the risen Christ has come to dwell within us, shouldn’t this Spirit and the power Paul spoke of in Ephesians be impacting our lives and the world around us in some tangible, positive way? It has in my life. If these blessings are what you call “glory in this life,” then I stand guilty as charged. I think perhaps you’re selling the power of God short and limiting what He can do in both your life and the world around you.

  • Kelly

    We have a problem with talking about “getting beyond” the cross as if it were a mere stepping stone to the “staircase of sanctification,” which is often used as a visual to picture the Christian’s resurrection life. I.e., the cross gets you converted, but the real glory of the Christian life is trudging your way up the staircase in (ahem) glorious victory. This isn’t how we view sanctification. The cross isn’t a stepping stone, it’s central. And I don’t know of any Lutheran church that under-emphasizes the resurrection at all. We’re still celebrating Easter when most churches have moved on to observing that liturgical season of Mother’s Day.

  • Manxman

    Joe,

    Maybe it’s a lie of the Enemy that we can’t walk in any of the power and glory God has granted to his Church by the working of the Holy Spirit. What do you suppose Paul means in Ephesians 3:20-21 when he says:

    Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the Church.

    It looks to me like God expects His Church to use the power He gave us to bring glory to Him RIGHT NOW.

    We may not demonstrate the whole enchilada right now as far as power & glory go, but it has been my personal experience that at least a portion of these things are available to us if we have faith and ask Him to allow us to take possession of what his word says is available to us.

  • Peter Leavitt

    The liturgical season of Mother’s Day as opposed to Easter. Marvelous phrase, however much Oprah might object.

  • Joe

    First, I think Paul is confirming that the Holy Spirit makes it possible for some people to exceed there own abilities. But this is not the theology of glory, the theology of glory teaches that you can achieve this. You can’t achieve this, you may be granted this but it is not because of anything you have done.

    Second, Lutheran (as best as I understand) did not deny that people living today may receive some gifts in this life, but these are gifts not earned and they are given us not because of anything we have done, but because God has realized that we need them to strengthen our faith, to help our neighbors or to further His will in some other way. Again, this is not anything we are empowered to do.

    I just realized that most of what I know about this I learned doing bible study based on a DVD set called the Spirituality of the Cross. Perhaps, I should let Dr. Vieth jump in.

  • Gulliver

    Notice how St. Paul unites the Christian life with Christ’s death AND resurrection in 2 Cor. 4:5-14. In this world we preach Christ crucified, and we are “always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifest in our body” (NKJV). The theology of glory insists on a successful, healthy life in this world (and how many TV preachers teach this?), while the theology of the cross teaches that in this world Christians trust in Christ’s suffering for salvation and bear the cross in their life to 1) grow in sanctification (Heb 12), 2) to show their trust in God’s promises in spite of the evil they endure, and 3) to endure suffering just as Jesus did. Christians live under the cross trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus to give them eternal life.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Manxman,
    How do you propose a bunch of sinners should bring any glory whatsoever to God, out side the sanctifying blood of Jesus Christ shed for us on the cross. It’s like a whore trying to glorify her husband. A whore has no honor and no glory, therefore cannot give any. If you are offended by the analogy go read Hosea.
    In fact it is the other way around completely, God gives us honor and glory because of the death of his Son. At best we return some of that. But it isn’t the same as the glory this world would talk about. Nothing we do has any merit apart from Christ.
    So sure we walk in the newness of life even now by virtue of our Baptism Rom 6:4. But even the newness of life is a gift given to us when we are raised after having been buried with Christ in Baptism. And it hardly makes our lives on earth anymore glorious according to worldly standards. Paul gloried in weakness etc.
    I have a few of those. Look at the things Paul bosts about, look at the things he glories in.
    Has being a Christian impacted my life? You bet it has. I am a divorced remarried pastor with a son that lives two states away. I tend to think of that as my cross. Perhaps it is something else. But I don’t think it is the 5 bedroom house, identical to all the ones my Mormon neighbors have. I do thank God for those blessings, but something tells me I might have more of those earthly type blessings if I did Satan’s bidding.
    And I’m proud of my faithful little congregation, that struggles to make due in Utah, amidst the American religion of Glory that is Mormonism. They struggle being faithful to Christ. It is an honor to be their pastor. But it is in no sense of the term glorious according to the world.

  • http://theoldadam.wordpress.com/ Steve Martin

    The only power and glory of God that I can access right now is in His Word and His sacraments.

    Those places and those places alone are where I can count on His power and glory, His grace and forgiveness.

    Other than that…it is pure speculation.

  • CRB

    I am sure that “theology of the cross” is not limited to what happened at Calvary, but includes the Resurrection.
    When St Paul speaks of “knowing nothing but Jesus Christ
    and Him crucified,” I believe the resurrection is included!
    It is totally the work of Christ, His life, suffering, death and
    resurrection that we are speaking of in the Lutheran sense
    and not only what happened at Calvary.


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