Sunday, October 21, 2007

The cross is our theology

The cross alone is our theology. -- Martin Luther
By claiming that God himself was on the side of the godless, he (Christ) incited the devout against him. -- Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
Every Christian theologian has a place for the cross. One theologian has a place for the cross while focusing on human merit, another has a place for the cross while focusing on attaining holiness, another has a place for the cross while focusing on God's sovereignty, another has a place for the cross while focusing on the church or the unmoved mover or some other driving force.

Lutheran theologians, on the other hand, have no place to speak of the cross in a theology about merit or about attaining holiness or about sovereignty or about the church. Instead, we have a place for speaking of holiness in a theology about the cross. We have a place for speaking about the church in a theology about the cross. Whatsoever thoughts come into our theology are arranged around the cross, rather than the other way around. To be sure, we use "the cross" as shorthand for all that went with it: the incarnation, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the restoration of fellowship between God and man. These are the driving force of Lutheran theology.

The vital questions of theology are all answered at the cross. Does God exist? You can point to him on the cross. Does God care? There he is on the cross. Am I forgiven? Look at the cross. Could God love a sinner? How can God be known? Does God abandon us in our suffering? Is suffering a sign of God's hatred towards us? How far would God go to save us? How much could God forgive? If the answer is not found in the cross, then it never was a life-and-death question to start with.

The cross breaks us out of our self-centeredness. Many Christians spend lives looking inward and agonizing about whether we are good enough. We can never look at ourselves and know that we are good enough. But we can look at God and know that God is good enough.

Every Christian tradition has a place for the cross. If we Lutherans have contributed anything, it is that we have carefully guarded the central place of the cross, the driving force of the cross, the ability to say "I resolved to know nothing except Christ and him crucified." Some of the best Lutheran theology books of modern times are On Being a Theologian of the Cross and The Crucified God. The Crucified God is the one who has the ears of the suffering world.

Jurgen Moltmann, author of The Crucified God, read Eli Wiesel's Night, the harrowing account of his times in concentration camps. Here is an excerpt from The Crucified God, beginning with his quote of Wiesel.

The SS hanged two Jewish men and a youth in front of the whole camp. The men died quickly, but the death throes of the youth lasted for half an hour. 'Where is God? Where is he?' someone asked behind me. As the youth still hung in torment in the noose after a long time, I heard the man call again, 'Where is God now?' And I heard a voice in myself answer: 'Where is he? He is here. He is hanging there on the gallows ...' (Wiesel as quoted by Moltmann)
Any other answer would be blasphemy. There cannot be any other Christian answer to the question of this torment. To speak here of a God who could not suffer would make God a demon. To speak here of an absolute God would make God an annihilating nothingness. To speak here of an indifferent God would condemn men to indifference. -- Moltmann
The cross is seen as more than mere fodder for atonement theories, more than any payment and satisfaction scheme could ever imagine. In Lutheran theology, the cross did not merely fill in the blank in some theory about atonement whereby man could be reunited to God if only he believed the right thing. The cross did more than pay the price which would make a satisfaction theory work and thereby entitle man to be reconciled to God. Instead, the cross actually accomplished that reconciliation, actually accomplished the reunion of God and man, broke the boundaries separating us, and put God on the side of the godless.

In a sense, this gives Lutherans few "distinctives": what is our most cherished possession is the most treasured possession of all Christians together: God's grace, his gift of himself to the world through Christ. But it does give us cause to be glad of Martin Luther's legacy which has lived on with such a rich stream of theology.
The cross alone is our theology. -- Martin Luther

3 comments:

Augustinian Successor said...

Hi, thank you for your blog. Keep up the good work!

Jason

James F. McGrath said...

You may find interesting the post that just appeared on Chrisendom about Bultmann, Christology and soteriology.

Drew said...

I think that this is what is missing from most forms of Christianity today. You simply cannot understand the love of God and hoe it is revealed apart from the crucial moment in the cross. Personal piety often denigrates the cross and the radical love of God as something decisive and the event through which God must be understood through eternity. This is something else that atheists and many fundamentalists of varying stripes casually or ignorantly ignore when constantly meditating on the law of God and personal pieties at the expense of agape.