I’ve written a couple of posts on Martin Luther’s theology of the Cross, and my hope is to write more. I’ve come upon this topic for several reasons, not the least of which is my wife’s illness. But as I delve into it more, I’m finding that for Martin Luther, his “discovery” of the theologia crucis was fundamental to his understanding of justification – that God justifies sinners.
While this may seem commonplace to us, it was anything but common in the world that Martin Luther lived in. The “late Medieval” environment that he lived in was steeped full of scholastic theologies built upon scholastic theologies (some of which in turn were built upon misunderstandings and other errors). The “discovery” of Martin Luther was one of God’s great in-breakings of understanding into human history. Luther’s “discovery” indeed was simply a re-discovery of what Paul and the Scriptures said.
It is my impression that no matter how much we know, or how much we think we know, we all come upon those moments at which we are absolutely helpless. These are genuine crisis moments in our lives; we’d rather not face them, and when they’re over, we’re glad for it. Sometimes they may enable us to say “God taught me something,” but maybe not.
For me, those moments occur lately when I see my wife in pain, and there is absolutely nothing that I can do to help her. (To be sure, the moments of pain are fleeting – like when the doctor is inserting a sharp instrument into her hip bone to perform a bone marrow biopsy; or last night, when one of the headaches returned that first sent her to the doctor.)
Luther’s moments of distress, in the midst of his intensive teaching schedule, were among some of the greatest moments of history for all of us who consider ourselves the “heirs of the Reformation”.
I’m not a Lutheran; I’m Reformed. I’m not one of those who believe that Martin Luther (or the later Lutherans) came to absolutely correct positions on everything. But I do see Martin Luther as the tip of the spear and as the most brilliant theologian of his age.
But his age, as “the last of the Medieval theologians,” quickly gave way to other things. And I believe that Luther was less adept than some of his later peers at understanding what was going on.
I realize that in bringing up some of these topics, I’m going to unearth some things that need to be dug up. That’s all right. Lord willing, we need to talk about these things. We, as 21st century Christians, need to remember the struggles of the past.
As the historian Philip Schaff noted, the Reformation of the sixteenth century is, “next to the introduction of Christianity, the greatest event in history…. Starting from religion, it gave, directly or indirectly, a mighty impulse to every forward movement, and made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization.”
To be sure, there were many cracks in the old Roman edifice before Luther. And after Luther, the rushing tide that followed him, did not sweep away all of the debris and garbage. And to be sure, Rome (at Trent) found ways to rebuild its (much diminished) edifice, which continues to stand today.
But it was Martin Luther who, standing upon Scripture alone, first cracked into the mighty Roman edifice and broke open the floodgates of Truth which, as Schaff noted, “made Protestantism the chief propelling force in the history of modern civilization.”
If we want to work to solve problems in our own era, we’ll benefit tremendously from understanding how the cross of Christ interacted with another era where the problems were possibly as difficult as those we face today.
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Here are the first two entries on this topic: