[This is a brief response to Carl R. Trueman’s brief article entitled Luther’s Theology of the Cross. Trueman is professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is the author of Luther’s Legacy: Salvation and English Reformers 1525-1556, reprinted from New Horizons, October 2005.]
That “[t]he cross is not simply the point at which God atones for sin; it is also a profound revelation of who God is and how he acts toward his creation” is a better assessment of the cross than how the “theologians of glory” view this pivotal event in human history. That God thinks so differently than how we think has been attested to since Isaiah. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Yes, we have the proclivity to view God’s ways like a man’s. This we must constantly fight. “Sola Scriptura” can be our daily theme. For in It we are constantly corrected.
It was Ravi Zacharias who grilled it in my head, “God did not come to earth to make bad people good; He came to earth to make dead people live!” When we say such statements as “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” we are wrong to assume that people are good. All we have gone astray! There is none righteous, no, not one! So cries still the Apostle Paul. (Nevertheless, I understand, people can become alive and good by virtue of the the righteousness of Christ imputed upon those who confess Christ’s trustworthiness. So bad things do happen to good people.)
Indulge me for another statement. Man’s chief end is to glorify God. We think “happiness” is our chief end. In fact, daily, we strive for it, don’t we? Tell that to Joseph. His siblings meant to do him evil but God meant it for their good! Joseph suffered through it all. He had to marry girls whose names meant “amnesia” and “ambrosia” to kind of numb the pain of his past and look forward to the blessings and fruits of the future! God’s will indeed is radical. The primary audience whom Peter wrote must have been in a lot of distress. Peter, we need to fight back! But then the Apostle exhorted them that this was God’s will. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil” (1 Peter 3:15-17). Peter, of course, was witness to Christ’s “ascension to power” to overthrow Rome. He saw in Christ the mighty power and authority to pulverize the Roman Legions; but to his dismay, Christ told him to sheathe his sword. Poor Peter was crushed but strengthened afterwards. History reminds us once again of Christ’s radicalness. God’s ways–not exactly how we think.
I suppose we could go on and on with this theme, with Abraham lifting up the knife which would have slit the throat of one from whom the ultimate Promised Seed would come and/or with the lowly shepherd boy who would become a prominent king both in two time periods–the past and the future. So the Scripture reveals to us what God is like and tells us who He really is. The cross, in this case, Martin’s Luther’s theology of the cross, informs us and corrects our puny minds of wrong perceptions about what real life and death are like, what defeat and victory are like, what justice and grace, and on and on and on… through the lens of the event of the cross. It is a fascinating study. It is definitely the antidote to the widespread heresy of the wealth-and-health-prosperity gospel and the selfishness, self-centeredness, self-righteousness of man in general.
[If you want a copy of Trueman’s brief article, let me know I can send you a pdf of it.-Christian]