Introducing the Theology of the Cross

Dear Church Family,

The second annual Midland Reformed Theological Conference (MRTC) will be hosted at our church this Friday-Saturday, February 26-27. We are privileged to have Dr. Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary who will be speaking on “A Theologian of the Cross.” Full details about the conference are available online here.

A Theologian of the Cross

In preparation for the conference, I thought that I might provide a little introduction to some of the things that Dr. Trueman will be speaking about at this conference. As Dr. Trueman points out in an online article, “Luther’s Theology of the Cross,” the heart of Luther’s theology of the cross is first noticeably discernable in the Heidelberg Disputation of 1517. There Luther differentiated between two kinds of theologians: a theologian of the cross and a theologian of glory. In that article, Trueman summarizes this distinction as follows:

The ‘theologians of glory,’ therefore, are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The ‘theologians of the cross,’ however, are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.

 

In his subsequent book, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, Trueman elaborates on this definition:

Luther’s distinction between the theologian of glory and the theologian of the cross is foundational to his understanding of the Christian life because it makes clear the two – and only two – ways in which human beings can approach God. They do so either on their terms or on God’s terms. For Luther, as for Paul, Christ on the cross is the watershed of the history of redemption and the discriminating factor regarding eternal destiny. And it is Christ in his flesh, crucified on the cross, that permeates Luther’s entire theology. (Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, chapter 2)

 

For too many Christians, the idea of ‘boasting in the Lord’ (1 Corinthians 1:31) entails boasting in worldly success and accomplishment. But the Apostle Paul preaches Christ crucified which is a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:22-24). Indeed, “the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

Application

But how does being a theologian of the cross help the Christian in his or her daily life? According to Trueman, one of the primary ways is in helping to make sense of this world:

The cross, however, is also an existential paradigm for the Christian. As noted above, it is significant that Luther talks in concrete, personal terms of theologians and not theologies when he makes the distinction between glory and the cross. Theology is thought and known by real, specific people. To be a theologian of glory is not simply to construct an image of God in one’s own image; it is to live in line with that image, with all of the expectations interpretations of experience that follow in its wake. The same is true for the theologian of the cross. So here is the rub: the theologian of glory will ultimately not be able to make any sense of this world, for this world ultimately ends for each of us in physical decline, weakness, and death. That is incomprehensible in terms of the theology believed by the theologian of glory. But the theologian of the cross knows that this world is fallen and evil; that life leads inexorably to the grave; that the longer one lives, the more loved ones one loses. Yet in the midst of this desolation, theologians of the cross can see the logic of the cross at work. (Carl Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom, chapter 2)

 

For the Christian, then, there is an inverse relationship between the desolation of this sinful world and the glories of the world to come. The momentary, light affliction which we endure in this life is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. We do not lose heart because even though our outer man is decaying, our inner man is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Those united to Christ have treasure in earthen vessels – the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. We are “always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:6-10). The theologian of the cross understands that the power of God is perfected in weakness, so he boasts about his weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in him (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Conclusion

I’ve just given a brief introduction to the difference between the theologian of the cross and the theologian of glory. I invite and encourage you to come this weekend for the conference with Dr. Trueman who will speak on this topic more fully. He will explore Luther’s insights and the practical implications of this biblical doctrine for Christians today.

The conference begins on Friday night at 7:00 pm with two lectures on “The Making of a Reformer” and “The Theologian of the Cross.” On Saturday morning, beginning at 9:00 am, there will be two more lectures on “The Church Under the Cross” and “The Surprising Way of Glory” – followed by a time for questions and answers with our speaker.

I look forward to seeing you there!

The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch