Theologians of the Cross

Another non-Lutheran discovers a Lutheran insight.  Carl Trueman, professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, posts about theologians of the cross as opposed to theologians of glory.  He explains it pretty well, I think:

One of the things that is so striking about the current revival of interest in Reformation theology, broadly conceived, is the absence of perhaps the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse: the notion of the theologian of the cross. . . .

At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect. The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him. His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness. This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.

The opposite to this was the theologian of glory. In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God’s strength must be the same, only extended to infinity. To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.

Now, some will respond: But the theology of the cross has not been forgotten; it is often talked about and discussed and even preached. But here’s the rub: in the Heidelberg Disputation Luther actually refers not to a theology of the cross but to theologians of the cross, underscoring the idea that he is not talking about some abstract theological technique or process but rather a personal, existential, real way that real flesh-and-blood theologians thought about, and related to, God. A person’s theology, whether true or false, good or bad, is inseparable from the individual’s personal faith.

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith. In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross. Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.

via The Forgotten Insight – Reformation21 Blog.

What are some other applications?  If there is no “basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is,” what happens to natural law?  natural theology?  How would this factor into various theological controversies today?

HT:  Joe Carter

The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church–for free

Rod Rosenbladt, emeritus professor at Concordia-Irvine and a co-host at the White Horse Inn radio program, has a presentation that has become a classic, with tapes and transcripts passed from hand to hand like samizdat novels in the former Soviet Union.  It’s called “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church.”   Many, MANY have found it a lifesaver, indeed, a proclamation of the Gospel that is so powerful that they have come to faith.  Even long-time veterans–and casualties–of churches have come to understand through this presentation the full magnitude of the Gospel, with many embracing it for the first time.  It’s featured in a sidebar on this blog as being available from New Reformation Press.

Well, now New Reformation Press, with the support of South Orange County Outreach and Faith Lutheran Church in Capistrano, California, is making this this presentation available FOR FREE.   You can download it as an mp3 file, as a written transcript, or as a video!

I’ve heard Dr. Rosenbladt give this message in person and it blew me away, so hard-hitting and effective and pastoral it is, giving such comfort to troubled souls and making so real the full implications of Christ’s Gospel.  You want an example of evangelism?  Here it is.  It is addressed specifically to the casualties of American Christianity, to those who have become burnt out, disillusioned, and despairing due to the pressures, expectations, and culture of so many of our churches.

Listening to this presentation would be an excellent Reformation day observance.  In both its proclamation of the all-sufficient work of Christ and in its critique of churches that neglect that message, it captures what the Reformation was–and is–all about.

Get it or view the video here:   New Reformation Press » The Gospel For Those Broken By The Church.

Happy birthday, C. F. W. Walther

Belated birthday wishes, that is.  Yesterday, October 25, would have been the 200th birthday of C. F. W. Walther, the pastor/theologian who led a small band of persecuted confessional Lutherans away from the arch-liberal state church in Germany to religious freedom in America, whereupon he founded the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.

Rev. Joshua Scheer pays him a tribute with a quotation showing that not all that much has changed theologically since 1856:

“We are well aware that thereby we set our course against the stream of what is currently popular. People want to be entertained rather than instructed. They repeat Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” and deride as a fool anyone who dares to assert that he had found the truth and is proclaiming it. The current taste wants to nothing but “views,” nothing but thoughts “without prejudice,” expressed in attractive form. The man of today wants his age to be celebrated as the age of maturity and enlightenment, but past centuries to be smiled at as times of childish simplicity, darkness, and superstition. What was proclaimed as truth in a former day must now be relegated to a pigeonhole of history. Let us hear no more about people or about a church that always possessed the truth.

But if the current taste wants nothing to do with teaching, it is even more averse to defense. It thinks that it is all right to wage war for things that have reality, like land, money, honor, and the like, but fight for the truth? – folly! Who would and should fight for a phantom, for something that no one has and that no one can conquer? The spirit of the age believes that truth is the riddle of a sphinx that has not yet found an Oedipus. What truth there is on earth is parceled out, if not among the different chief religions, at least among the various parties in Christendom. All the various s0-called churches are regarded as different branches of one tree, and the varieties of teaching in these churches are simply different refractions of the one sun, merely different colors of the one rainbow. They are all sisters, and only lovelessness and spiritual pride can stoke the fires of discord among them.

But however prevalent these principles have become in our day and however commonly they are expressed sometimes in veiled, sometimes in unveiled form, we cannot subscribe to them. By a divine conviction we believe that there is a truth here on earth and that this truth is contained in God’s Word, that is, in the divinely inspired writings of the apostles and prophets. We also believe that these sacred writings have the purpose of imparting the light of this one complete truth to man sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, and that therefore these writings are so clear that a human being is able to recognize and draw this one complete truth from them.

From “Selected Writings of C.F.W. Walther: Editorials from Lehre und Wehre” translated by Herbert J.A. Bouman, pages 11-12 – available from CPH here.

via Steadfast Lutherans » Walther proves our arrogance wrong….

I wonder, though, how many of us today would consider our church and our theology so important that we would pull up our roots, leave our extended families, and abandon our property to go to the other side of the world to live in a wilderness and start all over, just to be free to practice our faith.

God’s likeness and inscription

Last Sunday Pastor Douthwaite preached on Matthew 22:15-22, about the coin with Jesus asking whose likeness and inscription is on it.  But then Pastor Douthwaite took the text in a direction I had never thought of before. What is God’s likeness and inscription, and how do we render to God?

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, okay, got that. But what are the things of God? What are we to render to Him? What does He expect from us?

Perhaps you’re thinking obedience. Good works, the Ten Commandments, and all that. Or, since we’re on the topic of money here, maybe you’re thinking about tithing and giving to God the share of your income that is His. Those aren’t bad answers . . . but perhaps it would be better to stick with Jesus’ words and ask ourselves, whose likeness and inscription is this? Or, where is God’s likeness and inscription in this world, to give Him what is His?

The answer to that lies in the question. For the word translated there are likeness is the word icon, or image. So if it is a coin that bears Caesar’s image, what is it in this world that is made in God’s image and likeness and bears His inscription? Phrased in that way, you know the answer: it’s you. In the beginning, God made man in His image and likeness, and in Holy Baptism He has inscribed His name upon you. You belong to Him. The things of this world are not what God is interested in. His kingdom is not of this world. He wants you. Always you. All of you. He wants your undivided heart and soul and mind and strength. He wants your uncompromised fear, love, and trust in Him above all things.

Too often we stick to the coins though, don’t we? It’s easier. Less involvement. Less threatening. Repentance and faith and holy living, investing yourself, giving yourself, that’s harder by far.

But that is, in fact, why Jesus was there that day, sparring with the Pharisees and Herodians. He was there for you. Giving Himself for you. All of Himself for you.

For this episode took place probably just about 72 hours before Jesus would lay down His life on the cross. To redeem you not with gold or silver coins, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death (Small Catechism, and 1 Peter 1:18-19). And in laying down His life as the perfect Lamb of God on the altar of the cross, to render unto God the perfect sacrifice due for your sin and mine. That the image lost in us by sin be restored to us in forgiveness, and that our life which will end in death, be raised to life again – first in Holy Baptism, and then in our resurrection from the grave to eternal life. That even now we live a new life. That even now we begin to give ourselves, living a Christ life, an image of God life.

It’s never about money with Jesus. That’s just the symptom, not the problem. It’s about the cross. It’s about life in the midst of death. It’s about false gods and false life versus the true God and eternal life.

And so you render to God the things that are God’s when you come here in repentance and faith to receive His forgiveness, His life, His Spirit. And you render to God the things that are God’s when you take that forgiveness, life, and Spirit here received in faith and serve your neighbor in love. Being, as St. Paul said, imitators of him and the apostles, and of the Lord.

As long as you live in this world, you live in two kingdoms. And you render unto Caesar, but knowing that you don’t belong to Him. You belong to God. To the one who created you and re-created you. Who bought you with a price. For not on coins did He put His image, but on you. And not for a worldly kingdom did He die, but for you. That you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness (Small Catechism).

And so now for you He comes once again in the bread and wine of His Supper, that eating His Body and drinking His Blood, His image be renewed in you and His life and love strengthened in you through the forgiveness of your sins. Giving you all that He is and all that He has, that with He in you and you in Him, you begin to live now that life that has no end. And with His Name on you and His Spirit in you, that is exactly the life you do live!

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 18 Sermon.

Mariology

The recent post on “The Pope on Luther” led to a discussion of Luther’s views of Mary, in which noted Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong weighed in.  (I am continually amazed at who all reads this blog.)  He cited evidence that Luther had a relatively “Catholic” view of Mary  early in his career, though after the Diet of Worms, in 1521.  (The source of that evidence was somewhat confused, though, which the discussion helped to sort out.)

One of the issues was the “immaculate conception,”  the Roman Catholic teaching that by a direct miracle of God the Virgin Mary was born without original sin.  This is an interesting example of the Roman Catholic theological method, as distinct from how virtually all Protestants “do” theology.  The teaching is not arbitrary dogma, or the exaltation of tradition, or an extension of Mary-worship, or “popish superstition.”  Rather, it is a logical conclusion based on reason, as practiced by scholastic theology.

The chain of reasoning goes like this:  In order to redeem the world, Jesus Christ had to be without sin.  He certainly lived a sinless life.  But he also needed to be without original sin as inherited from Adam.  Jesus took His human nature from being born of the Virgin Mary, not having a human father.  Somehow, though, He could not have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, with its inherent sinfulness, its genetic (we would say) disposition to sin,  the accompanying curses of the Fall.  Therefore, the mother of Jesus must not bear that fallen nature.   She was conceived in the normal manner–not as another virgin birth, with which the doctrine is often confused–but, through a miracle, “immaculately.”

That Mary did not have original sin means that she also did not suffer under the curse of the Fall.  This explains the tradition that she did not feel the pains of labor.  It also explains the bookend Catholic dogma the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  If she did not have original sin, she could not die, so must have been taken up bodily into Heaven.

These notions sound strange to Protestant ears, but they grow out of the Roman Catholic approach to theology, which supports and extends revealed truth with flying buttresses of reason.

Now one might believe these things of Mary without  seeing her as a mediatrix between human beings and Christ, without praying to her, and without seeing her as a co-redemptrix.  One could believe Mary was free of original sin and that she was received bodily into Heaven while still being evangelical, as Luther evidently did in 1521.

But the Protestant theological method, which derived from Luther, uses not reason as the primary authority but the Word of God, which is held to be the only authority in theological issues.  The Bible does not mention any of this about Mary, which is presumably would, if, as Rome claims, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are fundamental and necessary dogmas of the Christian faith.  Indeed, in the Magnificat, Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, the Mother of our Lord praises God as her “savior,” which implies that she too is in need of salvation.  And she certainly suffered, which Eve in her pre-fallen state did not, as Simeon prophesied to her:  “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also” (Luke 2:35).

Further, we could argue that Christ’s incarnation and His redemptive work requires that He take upon Himself our fallen nature.  He never sinned even though He shared our fallen flesh.  Thus he became the Second Adam who freed us from the curse.  (I know talking about the two natures of Christ can easily get heretical.  Someone correct me if I’m wrong, and if I am, I recant.)

The third use of the Law

Continuing our series on the Law, in which we discussed the civil use (as curb; that is, external righteousness that makes possible the social order) and the theological use (as mirror; that is, to help us to see our sins so that we repent and turn to the Gospel), we  now come to the so-called Third Use (as guide; that is, to help Christians know the kind of life that pleases God).  This third use has been the topic of some contention in Lutheran circles, with controversies over how best to understand the law in the life of Christians.

What do you think of this explanation by Jono Linebaugh, an Anglican teaching at a Reformed seminary?  (Read the whole post at Tullian Tchividjian’s blog.)

God’s words that accuse and kill typically do their work of condemnation in the form of a commandment attached to a condition. So, for example, when Paul sums up the salvation-logic of the Law he quotes Leviticus 18.5b: “the one who does [the commandments] will live by them” (Gal 3.12). Here, there is a promise of life linked to the condition of doing the commandments and a corresponding threat: “cursed is everyone who does not abide in all the things written in the Book of the Law, to do them” (Gal 3.10 citing Deut 27.26). When this conditional word encounters the sinful human, the outcome is inevitable: “the whole world is guilty before God” (Rom 3.19). It is thus the condition that does the work of condemnation. “Ifs” kill!

Compare this to a couple examples of New Testament imperatives. First, consider Galatians 5.1. After four chapters of passionate insistence that justification is by faith apart from works of the Law, Paul issues a couple of strong imperatives: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore stand firm (imperative) and do not be subject (imperative) again to the yoke of slavery.” Are these imperatives instances of God’s accusing and killing words? Are these commandments with conditions? Is Galatians 5.1 an example of Law? No! The command here is precisely to not return to the Law; it is an imperative to stand firm in freedom from the Law. Or take another example, John 8.11. Once the accusers of the adulterous women left, Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Depart. From now on, sin no more.” Does this final imperative disqualify the words of mercy? Is this a commandment with a condition? Is this Law following the Gospel? No! This would be Law: “if you go and sin no more, then neither will I condemn you.” But Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” The command is not a condition. “Neither do I condemn you” is categorical and unconditional, it comes with no strings attached. “Neither do I condemn you” creates an unconditional context within which “go and sin no more” is not an “if.” The only “if” the Gospel knows is this: “if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous” (1 John 2.1).

For Luther, it is within this unconditional context created by the gospel, the reality he called “living by faith,” that the Law understood as God’s good commands can be returned to its proper place. Freed from the burden and bondage of attempting to use the Law to establish our righteousness before God, Christians are free to look to commandments, not as conditions, but as descriptions and directions as they seek to serve their neighbor. In other words, once a person is liberated from the commonsense delusion that acting righteously makes us righteous before God, and in faith believes the counter-intuitive reality that being made righteous by God’s forgiving and resurrecting word precedes and produces righteous action, then the justified person is unlocked to love.

For this reason, Luther would insist that the Law only applies to the second question of Christian living: what shall we do? It helps to answer the “what” question, the question about the content of good works. The Law, however, does not answer the more basic question, the question far too few people ask: How do good works occur? What fuels works of love? While the Law demands and directs, what delivers and drives? For Luther, the answer to this question always follows the pattern of 1 John 4.19: “We love because he first loved us.” Works of love flow from prior belovedness. Thus, as Lutheran theologian Oswald Bayer has said, the essential question of theological ethics is this: “What has been given?” The answer: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8).

Recognizing this distinction between the conditional and condemning function of the Law and the descriptive and directive statement of God’s will addressed to the unconditional context of faith in the God who justifies the ungodly is essential for understanding the purpose and place of New Testament imperatives, not to mention the Ten Commandments. The proper pattern is always “in view of God’s mercies…” (Rom 12.1), or as Luther pointed out with respect to the Decalogue, the pattern is the opening promise: “I am the Lord your God…” (Exod 20.2). In other words, the ears of faith are free to hear a commandment without a condition because the Christian conscience listens not to the condition and curse of the Law, but to the Christ in whom there is no condemnation (Rom 8.1).

via Tullian Tchividjian.


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