Sunday, January 14, 2007

Essentially Lutheran

When I call myself essentially Lutheran, I mean to say that I am basically Lutheran, or in the main Lutheran, or for the most part Lutheran. The adverb gives warning that stereotypical assumptions about Luther (or Lutheranism) may or may not apply to me. The word is used in a liberating sense, allowing me to go wherever Scripture and conscience leads, not necessarily bound by the doctrinal assertions of Luther, the early confessors or of any of today’s Lutheran church bodies.

At the same time, by using the word “essentially” I hope to convey the meaning that I am in accord with the essentials of Luther’s theology or the essence of it - the core of Luther’s thought - that which makes Luther Luther. This essence refers to Luther’s way of knowing God always through the message of Christ crucified - what has come to be known as his theology of the cross.

Now, this little self-description (essentially Lutheran) may not satisfy many people. Many may not know all the radical implications of Luther’s theology of the cross. On the surface it sounds agreeable enough and uncontroversial, so they will want to know more about what really matters. Like where do I fit on the conservative/liberal theological spectrum?

For Luther, such a spectrum was not relevant. The question was always, were you a theologian of the cross or a theologian of glory? There was no spectrum. It was either/or. Of course, there were in his day a broad spectrum of theologians of glory. These may have run the gamut from conservative to liberal (no doubt defined by different issues then), but that would be of little consequence to Luther. What mattered was that they were all on the glory road and did not comprehend the cross.

For me, to be essentially Lutheran quite simply means to be a theologian of the cross and not a theologian of glory, as Luther understood these two different ways of thinking.


Anonymous said...

Can you give me, in a nutshell, what is meant by 'theologian of glory'?

T. Hahm said...

I plan to discuss the distinctions between the two theologians at length in future posts.

In a nutshell, for Luther, the word glory had a two-fold sense - first the glory of God, second the glory of us.

The theologian of glory seeks to know the full glory and wisdom of God apart from (or in addition to) the cross. Eventually he ends up advancing man’s own glory in ways that inevitably compromise the glory of God.

The theologian of the cross sees the full revelation (and glory) of God in Christ crucified (God hidden in what seems the very opposite of glory). The cross puts to death man’s seeking after glory (the original sin) and humbles him to the necessity of staying human - content to know God in that which does not appear glorious.

The distinction plays out in various ways, including fundamental attitude, how one uses logic and reason, emphasis in preaching, Biblical interpretation and theological conclusions.

maxfield said...

I was instructed by an ELCA pastor (before changing to the LCMS) that theology of the glory is manifested in the charismatic and penecostal churches of the USA, while the theology of the cross is mostly a Lutheran, Anglican, EO and RC identity. Any thoughts on that?

T. Hahm said...

I would resist the temptation to characterize denominations along these lines. We might find talk about the cross and its meaning, or a focus on the passion of the Christ and suffering more in some churches than others. But all that is not necessarily the theology of the cross, as I understand it. I am more pessimistic, finding Luther’s original theology of the cross publicly embraced and clearly taught by no single church body, including confessional Lutheranism.

That's why I call it "unpopular."