10.10.2005

Reflecting on the theology of the cross

The Generous Orthodoxy Conference in DC was quite inspiring and re-energizing. I had a lot of work to dig back into, so I don't have time for much reflection. One interaction, though, I want to share.

At our local Lutheran emergent discussions we've had questions about the theology behind the movement. Speakers at the GO conference referenced Luther and Bonhoeffer several times. We were pleased when Jason Clark, a Vineyard pastor from the UK, noted that one of his most important theological epiphanies was discovering Luther's theologia crucis, or theology of the cross.

In a forum on power and relating to the powerless, Jason noted that Luther's insight -- that God is truly known not in God's power and glory but in the vulnerability of Christ on the cross -- is a much needed antedote to the triumphalism seen in many parts of the Church, and in our political structures as well. He said that this theological insight proved helpful in ministering to people whose world is not going well -- which, really, includes all of us. Jason said that theologian Douglas John Hall introduced him to the theologia crucis. In a 2004 article in The Lutheran, Hall wrote that Luther's "difference" is lost to many Christians, including some Lutherans; "Luther's fame has obscured his reality," he wrote. Hall went on to say:
Luther wanted his theology to be (and it usually was) a theology of the cross. There's a temptation to the theology of glory in all of us, even Luther. But he at least knew that it's a matter of temptation, and many Christians, apparently, do not.
Luther argued against "the kind of belief that imagines itself the only true belief," Hall said:
The theology of the cross, on the other hand, can't shut its eyes to all the things that are wrong with the world-and with ourselves, our human selves, our Christian selves. It doesn't accentuate the negative, as its critics sometimes claim. But it does want to acknowledge the presence and reality of that which negates and threatens life. Death and doubt and the demonic are still with us, and Luther never tired of talking about them and struggling with them. Any faith that depends on denying all that darkness isn't faith at all in the biblical sense of the term: It's credulity, repression and self-deception.
In a time when radical identification with God's power, blessing and approval fuel both sides of the war on terror and triumphalism threatens our economy and environment, as well, Luther's theology of the cross is a much-needed reality check. Jason told me after the forum that he had not run across Luther's theology of the cross at all in his seminary education. Fortunately, later reading introduced him to this key Lutheran contribution to emergent theology.

Brian McLaren says that Luther was the person who brought the Church and its theology into the modern age. Luther's awareness of God's identification with the powerless, his grasp of our paradoxical status as saints and sinners, and his awareness that we must act in the real kingdom of the world as well as God's kingdom of heaven, indicate that he can lead us into the postmodern age, as well.

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