The Gift of Grace: The Future of Lutheran Theology

By Niels Henrik Gregersen; Bo Holm et al. | Go to book overview

Part II
CROSS

THE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS (theologia crucis) is often seen as specific to Lutheran theology. The stress on Christ's suffering and death implies not only a radical understanding of the necessity of Christ's sacrifice for the salvation of the sinner but affects the whole character of theology. According to Luther in his famous Heidelberg Disputation (1518), the cross denies all attempts of a theologia gloriae. that is, human speculative efforts to attain knowledge of God. Instead, human beings should follow God's own way of humiliation and find God in the flesh, that is, in suffering, shame, and death. Since Walther von Loewenich's Luther's Theologia Crucis (1929), twentieth-century Lutheran theology has often interpreted itself as a theologia crucis while emphasizing the passivity of faith and separating theology from speculative metaphysics. The following two contributions develop the theology of the cross in new directions.

Lois Malcolm regards Luther's understanding of the cross as a profound way of thinking about a central problem that faces theologians in the twenty-first century, namely, the right use of spiritual power. The centrality of Christ's death on the cross implies a new understanding of power, both divine and human. The issue at stake, though, is not the satisfaction required by God, but rather the interchange between God and humankind. In Paul and Luther, there are fruitful ways of discriminating between violent distortions and life-giving uses of that notion.

Fidon R. Mwombeki challenges the traditional understanding of Luther's theology of the cross while criticizing the implication that both God's revelation and human responses can be articulated only through a passive human suffering and not by actively changing the social world. This traditional view is not in accordance with important concerns of Luther and also is unable to address the present situation in Africa. Christ's suffering certainly has redemptive power, but at the same time, it is meant to liberate human beings from suffering, namely, when suffering is inflicted by fellow human beings. In the African experience of being victims of violence, neglect, and injustice, the theology of the cross is unacceptable if it implies compliance with that situation. The theology of the cross has to be reinterpreted and corrected by a “theology of the blood,” which expresses a paradoxical unity of life and death, suffering and liberating activity.

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