Theology of the Cross, definition

As promised, I am going to post this week excerpts from an article by Carl Trueman, professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, on Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Prof. Trueman sets up the context of the Heidelberg Disputation, which was held not long after the 95 Theses were posted, at which Luther developed a revolutionary theological insight:

At the heart of his argument is his notion that human beings should not speculate about who God is or how he acts in advance of actually seeing whom he has revealed himself to be. Thus, Luther sees God’s revelation of himself as axiomatic to all theology. . . .

God revealed himself as merciful to humanity in the Incarnation, when he manifested himself in human flesh, and the supreme moment of that revelation was on the cross at Calvary. Indeed, Luther sometimes referred enigmatically to Christ crucified as “God’s backside”—the point at which God appeared to be the very contradiction of all that one might reasonably have anticipated him to be.

The “theologians of glory,” therefore, are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The “theologians of the cross,” however, are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.

Thus, Luther had little use for turning God into an abstraction (as in much philosophical theology) or an idea to prove or disprove or speculate about (as in much common conversation) or a mere transcendent deity looking down on human suffering from above (as in Deism, other monotheistic religions, and much popular Christianity). Rather, we are to think of God always in light of His incarnation in Christ crucified.

As Prof. Trueman goes on to show and as we will post about in the days ahead, doing so has stupendous implications.

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  • Manxman

    There is more revealed about God in the incarnation and the Cross than just mercy, and there is further revelation about God the Father & Jesus Christ yet to come (John got a preview in Tevelation).

  • Bryan Lindemood

    Perhaps given to John – but even all that he saw is so much mystery, though much is revealed. Yes. But to see behind or beyond the cross for this life now, is just simply not given. Why are we never happy with the full and free forgiveness of all our sins on account of Christ’s precious suffering and death? The true God is never enough, it is so much a part of our fallen nature, even as redeemed, to keep casting our own idols. Christ be praised that His mercies are new every morning!

  • Peter Leavitt

    Yes, this is why, except for some college sophomoric reasoning and speculation about God, I have stayed away from arguments that attempt to prove or disprove the existence of God. Such arguments are baubles compared to the reality of the Incarnation and resurrection of the Son of God, or, as Paul remarks, “The foolishness of Christ” and Trueman, “the Theology of the Cross.

    The part of Luther that is most admirable is his earthiness that stems from an emphasis of the Incarnation, or has he tellingly puts it, the “backside of God.” Many starry eyed modern liberals have no clue about the need for the real transcendence of the earthly Incarnation of God that keeps fallen men and women well grounded.

  • FW

    #1 Manxman

    I do suppose that I could accept your statement in a certain sense as being completely true.

    try this and tell me what you think:

    Manxman: you have, in your baptism, ALL the Christ that you will ever have. You have that right now. Nothing in the future will give you more Jesus or make you closer to him than you are right now as you read this.

    You need to go to church not to get closer to your God.

    That would be quite impossible you see.

    In going to receive the enfleshed Word of forgiveness in water and wine and bread and mouth and palm on pate you will see better that He is so very very close to you.

    So your “part” is to simply enjoy that fact right now and do whatever it is that celebrates and lives in that fact.

    If you are just now getting ready for church, that could be going to church exactly as you are. in your every day clothes. this to remind you that jesus accepts you exactly as you are. OR…. you could dress up in a pressed suit as you would to meet a king or president.

    But you will probably be influenced by the thought that you want to direct all attention to Him and not to yourself in how you dress. This is probably what st paul means by being all things to all men yes? we blend in, even as our Lord had to be pointed out everywhere when he was in a crowd (!). He served and in serving did in no way stand out. this fact remains quite wierd to me. God on earth draws less attention than Luther or Mother Teresa.

    except on the cross. but even then….

    The variations of how we can live out our joy in him are endless.

    Jesus is the one constant.

  • inexile

    #1 Manxman, I would be interested in hearing what further revelation of God the Father and Jesus Christ is yet to come.

  • Manxman


    Luther is wrong when he claims that all of God’s glory and power must be seen at/through the Cross. Jesus on the Cross is only a role He was walking out to gain our redemption. What God is like is revealed throughout ALL of scripture – OT and NT, not just at the Cross.

    After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

    I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man,”[b]dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

    When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

    I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”[a] He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

  • inexile

    In fact, Luther was exactly right when he directed us to the cross of Jesus for the full revelation of God’s glory. And actually, the entire OT and NT is all about Christ and Him crucified for our redemption.

    From the beginning of the O.T. to the end of the N.T., God’s glory is revealed fully in the cross of Christ.

    Right off the bat in Genesis in the garden of Eden, God reveals His glory hidden under the skin of an innocent animal which HE SLAYS to cover the sins of a guilty man and woman. As to what kind of animal that may have been, my money has always been on a Lamb.

    Then at the other end of the Bible, in Revelation, John wonders who will be able to break the seals that bind the scroll of names of the redeemed. Low and behold, there’s the “Lamb standing, as though it had n slain.” Hidden under those wounds is the power of God unto salvation. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God.”

    When Jesus revealeded His glory to the disciples by the transfiguration, He did so in preparation for His crucifixion so that they may see the glory revealed by His dying and rising. As the angels, archangels and all the company of heaven look upon the Lamb who was slain, they see the fullness of his glory, hidden under the wounds and stripes which He bears.

    This was no “role He was walking out to gain our redemption.” It was the one thing necessary for our redemption. Apart from His actual doing what He was called from all eternity to do, He accomplishes nothing by His incarnation and we are still in our sins. By His entire life which all points to His suffering, dying and rising (which is all included in our shorthand phrase, “the cross”) our redemption is a done deal.

    In the cross of Christ crucified, we see the fullness of God’s glory. It doesn’t get worse than that and it doesn’t get any better than that. One day, we’ll see it all cleary, like the disciples did on the mountain and the company of heaven sees it in eternity. For now, its all by faith, without seeing, just believing.

    This is important stuff because it can be a dangerous thing to be looking for or expecting something else, something better, something more glorious.

  • FW

    #6 Manxman

    I applaud you for clearly articulating and representing the “theology of glory” here in clear layman´s terms.

    I do disagree.

    I do believe that the very person of Jesus is the full revelation of God in bodily form. There is nothing more to be revealed about God beyond what has already been revealed in the incarnate God/Man christ Jesus.

    In these later days God has spoken to us by his Son. He IS the alpha and the omega. Who is and was and will be to come. world without end amen.

  • Manxman


    The full revelation of God was obviously not fully expressed on earth in all its forms all of the time in Jesus when He took on flesh.

    Clearly, when Jesus was with his disciples, the full glory of God He possessed was cloaked. He allowed certain of his disciples to get a more full glimpse of who He was at the transfiguration.

    The rider on the white horse of Revelation was not revealed when Jesus was on earth, yet that side of Him/God will be revealed at a later time.

    Jesus was playing a strong hand weak (the suffering servant, sacrificial lamb) when He walked this earth, and the work of the Cross, achieved when He took on that role, is only one facet of who He/God is.