Audio: Luther On The Theologian Of The Cross

Last Sunday I had the pleasure of speaking to the adult class at Christ United Reformed Church in Santee, CA. I was filling in for my friend and colleague, Dr Ryan Glomsrud, a ruling elder at CURC. He has been teaching a series on the Luther and so I gave a talk on Luther’s theology of the cross.

This is a vitally important and eminently practical distinction which American evangelical and Reformed Christians more than most need to recover. The evangelical tradition since the the early 19th century (if not since the First Great Awakening) has tilted toward a theology of glory, Most of her leading lights have been theologians of glory, i.e., advocates of moralism and mysticism rather than of the pure Gospel and God revealed in Christ and in Scripture.

Today, because we have become so disconnected from our own tradition, some Reformed folk might think of these distinctions as distinctively Lutheran but they are not. Calvin appropriated these distinctions (theology of glory v. theology of the cross; law and gospel). Herman Selderhuis has shown, e.g., that Calvin made use of the distinction between God hidden and God revealed in his commentary on the Psalms. It was at this conference, in Heidelberg, in 1518, that Martin Bucer (1491–1551) became a Protestant. He was profoundly influenced by these distinctions. The Belgic Confession (1561) certainly teaches a theology of the cross. Our churches in the Lowlands in the 1560s and 70s described themselves as “churches under the cross” (because of the bloody persecution they suffered). In the 1590s, the great Reformed theologian Franciscus Junius (1545–1602) gave us the categorical distinction between “archetypal theology” (theologia archetypa) and ectypal theology (theologia ectypa), which is directly descended from Luther’s distinction and Calvin’s doctrine of divine accommodation. You can read more about this history in Recovering the Reformed Confession.

Here is the audio:

Here is the outline for the talk:

  1. Introduction
    1. How do we know God’s will?
      1. Mysticism v. Mechanism
      2. For Luther these = “theology of glory” (theologia gloria)
      3. Thesis: According to Luther, for both salvation and the Christian life we must distinguish between God hidden (Deus absconditus) as he as not revealed himself and God as revealed himself (Deus revelatus) and between the law and the gospel.
    2. Context: Luther’s Progression to Augustinian Monk to Protestant Preacher (1513–21)
    3. Reacting To Roman Rationalism & Moralism (theology of glory)
  2. The Heidelberg Disputation (April 26, 1518)
    1. Setting: Augustinian General Meeting
    2. Theology: The Marks of a Theologian of the Cross
      1. 19. One is not worthy to be called a theologian who looks upon the “invisible things of God” [invisibilia Dei; Rom. 1:20] as though they were clearly “perceptible in those things which have actually happened” [1 Cor 1:21–25]
      2. 20. But who knows the visible things and the backside of God [posteriora Dei; Ex 33:23] seen through the passions and the cross.
      3. 21. The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. The theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.
  3. The Bound Will (1525)
    1. Context: Luther’s Rejection of Human Free Will (Heidelberg, 1518)
    2. Erasmus fails to Distinguish Law and Gospel
    3. Because He Fails To Distinguish Law and Gospel Erasmus is a Theologian of Glory (theologus gloriae), Not a Theologian of The Cross (theologus crucis)

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  1. This is so helpful, brother. Thanks for posting. I, too, was thrilled when I first discovered Luther’s Theology of the Cross; and really liked Gerhard Forde’s book on this vital subject. What is the best secondary resource you would recommend? Thanks again, Alex

    • Alex,

      The standard work is W. von Loewenich, Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Most of my reading was focused on the background and setting. I don’t know Forde’s work.

  2. I wasn’t aware that the URC’s have ruling elders. I thought we made a distinction in the three offices….Ministers, Elders and Deacons.

    • Peter,

      1. I think you mean to comment on another post.

      2. You’re correct, the URCs do have three offices but not all HB reader are URC. Some come from a tradition of speaking differently so I’m trying to help them.

  3. It was this post I meant to comment on. The ruling elder at the beginning struck me as odd. You spoke at a URC which has ruling elders. As much as we understand the Presbyterian perspective on the offices, I believe they also understand the Reformed perspective on the offices. If we speak at a Reformed Church, proper terminology is important. If at a Presbyterian Church, then use their terminology. Just an observation. Not trying to be the grammar police 🙂

  4. I commented on Forde in another thread, but it seems that he and his intellectual heirs (Paulsen, Mattes) are not liberals in any traditional sense but are certainly outliers among conservative Lutherans. Forde’s acceptance of the substitutionary atonement is, it seems, somewhat suspect.

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