“The law and the prophets were until John: from that time the gospel of the kingdom of God is preached, and every man enters it violently.”
In the famous Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Martin Luther set forward the following proposition;
“A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls a thing what it actually is.”
Among the observations inherent in Luther’s statement is that the theology of glory lacks a basic integrity because it fails to tell the truth about our situation. We see this widespread phenomenon in much of televised American evangelical religion with its’ promises of comfort and painless prosperity if only we get an angry God off our backs and on our side by believing in Jesus.
What Luther knew is that an inadequate proclamation of the truth results in this theology of self-deception. The theology of glory fails to acknowledge the historical priority of sin, and the resulting bondage, that is determinative of each generation. And this bondage is principally revealed, as Luther discovered, in the fact that we live under God upon whom we are utterly dependent and yet against whom we must struggle. This is our bondage. When the seriousness of our situation is side-stepped, therefore, there can be no real comfort. Even our religion becomes an enterprise in which are actually trying to be free of God. For what we are attempting to address is not God’s anger with us but our anger with God and God’s absolute claim upon our lives.
Jesus entered this ‘no-win’ situation. The terrible realization of the disciples is that they knew the crucified one could not be the Messiah, the Anointed One. Even after all their time with Him, they had not changed. Yet in the light of the Resurrection the stunning truth came upon them; a change had taken place in God. For the crucified Messiah could only mean that God had become sin for them.
The realization that we do not want God, that we construct numerous defenses against God, including religion, is what the theology of the cross exposes. In this respect it must do so violently because it moves in on territory that is already occupied by the sinner. This is why we see baptism not as a sign of some free choice but as the work of the Holy Spirit bringing to us, “violently”, the death to sin that only God can bring. In order for there to be new life there must be death to the old and that is the last thing we want. That is why baptism must never be seen as some cute expression of religious culture. An actual death occurs and must occur so that the Christ may bring the new person forth on the other side.
The theology of the Cross bears witness to the Gospel not through slick marketing programs, side-show mega-churches or gun-point evangelicalism. The witness to the crucified and risen Lord emerges from within the truthfulness of a Christian community that is honest about its’ helplessness and bondage, relinquishes all claims, and confesses its’ utter dependency upon the grace and mercy of God.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep you hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”