Luther's Theology of the Cross: 1, The Importance of the Cross

Luther’s Theology of the Cross

1. The importance of the cross
"Preach one thing: the wisdom of the cross!" That is Luther's answer to the vital question posed by the ministers of all ages: what shall I preach? The wisdom of the cross, the word of the cross, that great stumbling block to the world, is the proper content of Christian preaching, is the Gospel itself. So teaches Luther and the Lutheran church with him.

The Christian world regards the preaching of the cross as greatly one-sided. The cross is just part of the Christian message beside others. The second article of the Creed is not the whole creed, and even in the second article the cross takes its place among the other facts of salvation. Thus Luther is guilty of a narrowing of Christian truth when he limits real Christian preaching to the theology of the cross. Even some Lutherans say the same thing today!. After all, is there not also a theology of the incarnation and a theology of the resurrection? Ought we not supplement what is taught about God in the second article with what is taught in the third article of the Creed about the theology of the Holy Spirit and his activity in the church? Luther did indeed have much to say about these matters too - for example in his teaching on incarnation and on the sacraments. He also understood the article of creation as few theologians before him did. How then shall we answer the charge of the one-sidededness of Luther's theology of the cross, which is a criticism much heard? What do the critics mean by the alleged narrowing? Apparently it does not mean that the whole church year shrinks to Good Friday, but rather that one cannot understand Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost without Good Friday. Luther, like Irenaeus and Athanasius before him, was certainly one of the great theologians of the incarnation; yet he was so because he saw the cross behind the manger. While he understood the victory of Easter as well as any theologian of the Eastern Church, he understood it because he saw Easter as the victory of the Crucified One. The same can be said about his view of the Holy Spirit's activity.

According to Luther, then, all topics of theology are illuminated by the cross. Why? Because the deepest meaning of revelation lies hidden in the cross. For this reason Luther's theology of the cross wants to be more than one of many theological theories which have appeared in the course of church history. In contrast to that other theology prevailing in Christendom, which Luther calls the theology of glory, the theology of the cross claims to be the correct scriptural theology by which Christ's church stands or falls. The preaching of the cross alone, Luther contends, is the preaching of the Gospel.

What then is the theology of the cross?

(From Letters to Lutheran Pastors No. 18)

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