“God hidden in the death of Christ”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams (who has announced that he is stepping down) has some perceptive comments about Luther, the Reformation, and the Theology of the Cross:

“The Reformation put a question of the utmost gravity to all Christians, a question about the continuity and dependability of human response to God. It affirmed that the Church was capable of error; that no amount of scholastic tidiness could guarantee fidelity to God; that there was in the Church no secure locus of unquestionable authority. It pointed eloquently to human brokenness, the failure of reason and order. But it did so only to claim triumphantly that the Church’s security lay in this very failure, in the insecurity and un-rootedness which drove it always back to its spring in the Word made broken flesh. Against the self-sufficiency of Christendom is set – rightly and decisively – the cross. To Christians looking for a sign, an assurance, it offered only the ‘sign of the Son of Man’, God hidden in the death of Christ… Luther is a reminder to Catholic and Protestant alike that the strength of Christianity is its refusal to turn away from the central and unpalatable facts of human self-destructiveness; that it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within can come to birth, the hidden but all-pervading liberation.” (p. 160-61)

via Rowan Williams on Martin Luther and the Cross-Shattered Church | Mockingbird.

The quotation is from his book Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John 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.

  • Tom Hering

    “… it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within …”

    I may be reading him wrong, but he seems to be saying our Christian assurance is found in inner experiences, rather than outside ourselves in Word and Sacraments and Absolution.

  • Tom Hering

    “… it is there, in the bitterest places of alienation, that the depth and scope of Christ’s victory can be tasted, and the secret joy which transforms all experience from within …”

    I may be reading him wrong, but he seems to be saying our Christian assurance is found in inner experiences, rather than outside ourselves in Word and Sacraments and Absolution.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, I don’t know that he’s talking about assurance, as such. It’s possible to “taste” Christ’s victory in our own struggles without basing our assurance on that experience. But maybe I’m reading him too generously!

    What strikes me about this is to find a mainline Christian leader, theologically liberal by my standards, who seems to be “getting” Luther’s theology, at least in some respects. And he is not the only one like that I’ve come across recently. Maybe something is brewing in those circles.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Well, I don’t know that he’s talking about assurance, as such. It’s possible to “taste” Christ’s victory in our own struggles without basing our assurance on that experience. But maybe I’m reading him too generously!

    What strikes me about this is to find a mainline Christian leader, theologically liberal by my standards, who seems to be “getting” Luther’s theology, at least in some respects. And he is not the only one like that I’ve come across recently. Maybe something is brewing in those circles.

  • Tom Hering

    “… maybe I’m reading him too generously!”

    Nah. I’m probably being too reactionary.

  • Tom Hering

    “… maybe I’m reading him too generously!”

    Nah. I’m probably being too reactionary.

  • Cincinnatus

    Dr. Veith,

    Rowan Williams is not theologically liberal. In fact, as this quote should demonstrate, he’s an erudite and eloquent defender of orthodoxy.

    His “liberalism,” such as it is, comes in his approach to political and social questions.

  • Cincinnatus

    Dr. Veith,

    Rowan Williams is not theologically liberal. In fact, as this quote should demonstrate, he’s an erudite and eloquent defender of orthodoxy.

    His “liberalism,” such as it is, comes in his approach to political and social questions.

  • Jerry

    Tom, can’t read your sarcasm, but I think you’re on to this. It sounds a lot like liberal Lutheran theology…we can’t know Jesus or God from anything concrete such as the Bible because the Bible is flawed…only through Christ can we ‘securely’ know God…the battle cry of those walking out of the LCMS convention in the 70′s was ‘the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord’…he does throw in a few significant buzz words such as hidden. cross, and birth. However, I believe all this because St. Paul says it in Romans; furthermore it was repeated by the early church fathers centuries before Luther, and then again by Luther.

  • Jerry

    Tom, can’t read your sarcasm, but I think you’re on to this. It sounds a lot like liberal Lutheran theology…we can’t know Jesus or God from anything concrete such as the Bible because the Bible is flawed…only through Christ can we ‘securely’ know God…the battle cry of those walking out of the LCMS convention in the 70′s was ‘the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord’…he does throw in a few significant buzz words such as hidden. cross, and birth. However, I believe all this because St. Paul says it in Romans; furthermore it was repeated by the early church fathers centuries before Luther, and then again by Luther.

  • Jerry

    Let me add, the Archbishop’s statement is a great disservice to Luther, and shows a lack of knowledge about Luther; it is opposite to what Luther believed, that the Scripture is the locus, and we owe a lot to the church fathers for its faithful presentation.

  • Jerry

    Let me add, the Archbishop’s statement is a great disservice to Luther, and shows a lack of knowledge about Luther; it is opposite to what Luther believed, that the Scripture is the locus, and we owe a lot to the church fathers for its faithful presentation.

  • Tom Hering

    Jerry @ 5, no sarcasm intended @ 1 or 3. Have I got a reputation or something? :-)

  • Tom Hering

    Jerry @ 5, no sarcasm intended @ 1 or 3. Have I got a reputation or something? :-)

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Jerry, I think you’re being too hard on the Archbishop. Luther would certianly affirm that the veracity of the Bible comes from Christ and not vis versa. It is the objective historical event of the resurrection that is the object of our faith. Our affirmation of the text is that it faithfully witnessess to that event, but it is always the event itself that is the Object of our worship.

  • http://gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Jerry, I think you’re being too hard on the Archbishop. Luther would certianly affirm that the veracity of the Bible comes from Christ and not vis versa. It is the objective historical event of the resurrection that is the object of our faith. Our affirmation of the text is that it faithfully witnessess to that event, but it is always the event itself that is the Object of our worship.

  • Tom Hering

    From Rowan Williams’ Wrestling With Angels (2007):

    Luther is concerned to maintain a sharp distinction between the ‘naked God,’ God in se, and the revealed God, God on the cross, ‘under the appearance of the opposite,’ in order to guard against any notion that there can be a showing of God apart from manger and cross. God is, simply and absolutely, in these forms, in the contradiction, the doubt, and the pain. This is, indeed, the central feature of Lutheran Christology, its almost monophysite understanding of the communicatio ideomatum [communication of properties] …

    … For the Lutheran, what is involved in the revelation of God in suffering and darkness is a real communication of God; the worldly circumstances of cross and dereliction themselves say something about God. They are not simply a concealing exterior vehicle: the mercy of God is such that the divine opus proprium [work belonging to God's nature] ‘translated’ into worldly form is necessarily and properly the cross.

  • Tom Hering

    From Rowan Williams’ Wrestling With Angels (2007):

    Luther is concerned to maintain a sharp distinction between the ‘naked God,’ God in se, and the revealed God, God on the cross, ‘under the appearance of the opposite,’ in order to guard against any notion that there can be a showing of God apart from manger and cross. God is, simply and absolutely, in these forms, in the contradiction, the doubt, and the pain. This is, indeed, the central feature of Lutheran Christology, its almost monophysite understanding of the communicatio ideomatum [communication of properties] …

    … For the Lutheran, what is involved in the revelation of God in suffering and darkness is a real communication of God; the worldly circumstances of cross and dereliction themselves say something about God. They are not simply a concealing exterior vehicle: the mercy of God is such that the divine opus proprium [work belonging to God's nature] ‘translated’ into worldly form is necessarily and properly the cross.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    May be, Jerry. As I said, though he is orthodox by Anglican standards, he is too liberal for me. But I don’t see in these particular quotations–unless I’m overlooking something–where he deals at all with his view of Scripture. He is talking about the Cross, as most pastors do especially on this day, and Luther’s theology of the Cross, as articulated in the Heidelberg Disputation. I don’t see where what he says here is “opposite to what Luther believed.” Maybe elsewhere he falls into not holding to the Word of God as he should, but where is that here? The quote Tom just posted about Lutheran Christology refers to what is written in our confessions. And the Lutheran doctrine of Scripture specifically says that it communicates in what we might call a Sacramental way the person of Christ and Him crucified. Yes, liberal Lutherans think they can have Jesus without the Word, but Jesus IS the Word made flesh, and the Scriptures testify of Him.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    May be, Jerry. As I said, though he is orthodox by Anglican standards, he is too liberal for me. But I don’t see in these particular quotations–unless I’m overlooking something–where he deals at all with his view of Scripture. He is talking about the Cross, as most pastors do especially on this day, and Luther’s theology of the Cross, as articulated in the Heidelberg Disputation. I don’t see where what he says here is “opposite to what Luther believed.” Maybe elsewhere he falls into not holding to the Word of God as he should, but where is that here? The quote Tom just posted about Lutheran Christology refers to what is written in our confessions. And the Lutheran doctrine of Scripture specifically says that it communicates in what we might call a Sacramental way the person of Christ and Him crucified. Yes, liberal Lutherans think they can have Jesus without the Word, but Jesus IS the Word made flesh, and the Scriptures testify of Him.

  • Jerry

    I guess it’s my opinion here, but I feel it’s too easy to mistake the buzz words for substance…

  • Jerry

    I guess it’s my opinion here, but I feel it’s too easy to mistake the buzz words for substance…

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As I read this as a Lutheran, I find nothing to disagree with — I certainly think Jerry’s reading too much into this statement (unless you have greater knowledge of the broader context, in which case please inform us).

    Seems to me a pretty good expression of the Theology of the Cross (against the Theology of Glory).

    Of course, that isn’t to say that Anglicans don’t have their own language and meaning separate from Lutherans’. Maybe the way Anglicans would understand this passage is different from the way I do.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    As I read this as a Lutheran, I find nothing to disagree with — I certainly think Jerry’s reading too much into this statement (unless you have greater knowledge of the broader context, in which case please inform us).

    Seems to me a pretty good expression of the Theology of the Cross (against the Theology of Glory).

    Of course, that isn’t to say that Anglicans don’t have their own language and meaning separate from Lutherans’. Maybe the way Anglicans would understand this passage is different from the way I do.

  • Cincinnatus

    Like others, I can’t really detect the flaws Jerry does, and I don’t see many “buzzwords” in that passage.

    But I’m still stuck on this notion that Williams is a “theological liberal.” How is that so? I am assuming this buzzword hasn’t been tossed out for no reason, so I hope someone will clarify and specify the accusation. Obviously, he is liberal on certain social and political questions (e.g., he is, broadly speaking, “pro-gay,” though he has sublimated those views during his tenure as primate; further, he favor disestablishing the Church in England; on the other hand, he’s blatantly conservative on other social questions, like abortion). But, in most cases, just as it is possible for Tom Hering, for example, to be both politically liberal (at least on some questions) and theologically conservative, it is possible for the Archbishop to be orthodox and politically left-of-center. Right? Thus, once we’ve severed the two–theology and politics–to the extent that is possible, then what remains in his theology that is “liberal”?

  • Cincinnatus

    Like others, I can’t really detect the flaws Jerry does, and I don’t see many “buzzwords” in that passage.

    But I’m still stuck on this notion that Williams is a “theological liberal.” How is that so? I am assuming this buzzword hasn’t been tossed out for no reason, so I hope someone will clarify and specify the accusation. Obviously, he is liberal on certain social and political questions (e.g., he is, broadly speaking, “pro-gay,” though he has sublimated those views during his tenure as primate; further, he favor disestablishing the Church in England; on the other hand, he’s blatantly conservative on other social questions, like abortion). But, in most cases, just as it is possible for Tom Hering, for example, to be both politically liberal (at least on some questions) and theologically conservative, it is possible for the Archbishop to be orthodox and politically left-of-center. Right? Thus, once we’ve severed the two–theology and politics–to the extent that is possible, then what remains in his theology that is “liberal”?

  • SKPeterson

    He is tacitly liberal because he fails to speak out against these travesties: http://badvestments.blogspot.com/.

    Come now, Bishop. A little spine, please!

  • SKPeterson

    He is tacitly liberal because he fails to speak out against these travesties: http://badvestments.blogspot.com/.

    Come now, Bishop. A little spine, please!

  • Jon

    Not bad, for a Druid.

  • Jon

    Not bad, for a Druid.

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 14, if the problem with the clergyperson on the left is vestments, something obvious is being missed.

    But yeah, vestments like that communicate a pastor’s personality rather than the office.

  • Tom Hering

    SK @ 14, if the problem with the clergyperson on the left is vestments, something obvious is being missed.

    But yeah, vestments like that communicate a pastor’s personality rather than the office.

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

    And from the Old Testament Reading for the Good Friday Noon Service, somewhat apropo to this discussion:
    Isaiah 52:15 (ESV)
    so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
    for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.
    Kind of reminds me of this verse:
    Matthew 28:19 (ESV)
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    And then there is this explanation of what the sprinkling will do in, but it couldn’t be talking of baptism, I mean it mentions water!
    Ezekiel 36:25 (ESV)
    I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

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

    And from the Old Testament Reading for the Good Friday Noon Service, somewhat apropo to this discussion:
    Isaiah 52:15 (ESV)
    so shall he sprinkle many nations;
    kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
    for that which has not been told them they see,
    and that which they have not heard they understand.
    Kind of reminds me of this verse:
    Matthew 28:19 (ESV)
    Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    And then there is this explanation of what the sprinkling will do in, but it couldn’t be talking of baptism, I mean it mentions water!
    Ezekiel 36:25 (ESV)
    I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

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

    wait, wrong post sorry.

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

    wait, wrong post sorry.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Cincinnatus, I was referring to such things as his believing in female priests, for example. I think he has expressed belief in evolution. Would he believe, say, in the inerrancy of Scripture? I rather doubt it, that not being an issue in his circles. Those would be markers of theological liberalism as opposed to conservatism, but I agree that there are important degrees of difference and a range of possibilities. I agree that he can still be an orthodox Anglican and believe in such things, though that would be difficult in certain other traditions. I wasn’t thinking of politics at all. You can certainly be “liberal” politically and conservative theologically, as is evident on this blog. Also vice versa.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Cincinnatus, I was referring to such things as his believing in female priests, for example. I think he has expressed belief in evolution. Would he believe, say, in the inerrancy of Scripture? I rather doubt it, that not being an issue in his circles. Those would be markers of theological liberalism as opposed to conservatism, but I agree that there are important degrees of difference and a range of possibilities. I agree that he can still be an orthodox Anglican and believe in such things, though that would be difficult in certain other traditions. I wasn’t thinking of politics at all. You can certainly be “liberal” politically and conservative theologically, as is evident on this blog. Also vice versa.

  • Michael B.

    “You can certainly be “liberal” politically and conservative theologically, as is evident on this blog”

    Who on this blog is liberal politically, but conservative theologically?

  • Michael B.

    “You can certainly be “liberal” politically and conservative theologically, as is evident on this blog”

    Who on this blog is liberal politically, but conservative theologically?

  • Cincinnatus

    Michael B.,

    I’m not sure why I’m indulging you, but Tom Hering and Jimmy Veith, among others, would be obvious examples.

  • Cincinnatus

    Michael B.,

    I’m not sure why I’m indulging you, but Tom Hering and Jimmy Veith, among others, would be obvious examples.

  • Cincinnatus

    probably fws as well.

    If I may be so bold as to speak for this individuals, that is. Apologies if I’ve mischaracterized anyone.

  • Cincinnatus

    probably fws as well.

    If I may be so bold as to speak for this individuals, that is. Apologies if I’ve mischaracterized anyone.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael B (@20), I wouldn’t characterize myself as “liberal politically” — but mainly because I find that too simple a description. As you’ve observed, I certainly find myself on the “liberal side” of not a few discussions.

    But then, I find that’s true of not a few people on this blog. Including, I believe, Cincinnatus as well. If I may say so.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Michael B (@20), I wouldn’t characterize myself as “liberal politically” — but mainly because I find that too simple a description. As you’ve observed, I certainly find myself on the “liberal side” of not a few discussions.

    But then, I find that’s true of not a few people on this blog. Including, I believe, Cincinnatus as well. If I may say so.

  • formerly just steve

    I would replace “conservative” with “orthodox” theologically. I don’t think the two are necessarily the same. The problem is that the word “conservative” quite often denotes certain crossover theological-political positions like gay marriage. Positions that are often only tangentially related to orthodox theology. Case in point, conservative Catholics and conservative evangelical Protestants would undoubtedly share much more in common politically than theologically. But the same two people may have heterodox theological views–not just as compared to each others’ respective denominations but even within their own denominations. I can name more than a few televangelists who have flatly heretical views but are regarded by their members as conservative.

    Given that, I would say it’s probably less likely for a politically liberal individual to be theologically conservative than to be theologically orthodox.

  • formerly just steve

    I would replace “conservative” with “orthodox” theologically. I don’t think the two are necessarily the same. The problem is that the word “conservative” quite often denotes certain crossover theological-political positions like gay marriage. Positions that are often only tangentially related to orthodox theology. Case in point, conservative Catholics and conservative evangelical Protestants would undoubtedly share much more in common politically than theologically. But the same two people may have heterodox theological views–not just as compared to each others’ respective denominations but even within their own denominations. I can name more than a few televangelists who have flatly heretical views but are regarded by their members as conservative.

    Given that, I would say it’s probably less likely for a politically liberal individual to be theologically conservative than to be theologically orthodox.

  • Tom Moeller

    Rowan & Martin…
    Preach In!

  • Tom Moeller

    Rowan & Martin…
    Preach In!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X