Karl Barth & Bobby Grow on Martin Luther’s ‘Theology of the Cross’

I am currently reading many books at the moment, most of them on John Calvin and his theology; one of these books is Karl Barth’s The Theology of John Calvin. In the beginning of the book he surveys the historical milieu into which John Calvin was reared in and thrust into as a theologian; this “surveying” necessitates that Barth discusses a bit of Martin Luther and his theology of the cross. The section I am going to quote is a wonderful description of Luther’s theologia crucis contra what Luther also labeled the theology of glory (which is error of theology which seeks to basically “fill the gap” of God’s revelation — the kind of theology that builds and builds upon itself, without ever referencing Christ or Scripture — the kind of theology that gets stuck on the horizontal, never really knowing how to get to the vertical [much like Federal Calvinism today], the kind of theology that seeks the praise of men instead of God). Here is how Barth describes Luther’s theology of the cross (PS. At the end of the quote you get a bonus video [homily like] I did about a year ago describing part of what Luther was attacking in regards to a “theology of glory”):

. . . In contrast Luther tries to draw attention to the vacuum, to the fact that passion (suffering) stands at the heart of life and speaks of sin and folly, death and hell. These fearful visible thing of God, his strange work, the crucified Christ — these are the theme of true theology. A preacing of despair? No, of hope! For what does that break in the center mean? Who is the God hidden in the passion with his strange work, and what does he desire? Explaining Heidelberg Thesis 16, Luther pointed out that the strange work leads on to the proper work, that God makes us sinners in order to make us righteous. The gap in the horizontal line, the disaster of our own striving, is the point at which God’s vertical line intersects our lives, where God wills to be gracious. Here where our finitude is recognized is true contact with infinity. He who judges us is he who shows mercy to us, he who slays usis he who makes us live, he who leads us into hell is he who leads us into heaven. Only sinners are righteous, only the sad are blessed, only the dying live. But sinners are righteous, the sad are blessed, the dying do live. The God hidden in the passion is the living God who loves us, sinful, wicked, foolish, and weak as we are, in order to make us righteous, good, wise, and strong. It is because the strange work leads to the proper work that there can be no theology of glory, that we must halt at the sharply severed edges of the broken horizontal line where what we find is despair, humility, the fear of God. For despair is hope, humility is exaltation, fear of God is love of God, and nothing else. The center of this theology, then, is the demand for faith as naked trust that casts itself into the arms of God’s mercy; faith that is the last word that can be humanly said about the possibility of justification before God; a faith that is sure of its object — God — because here there is resolute renunciation of the given character of scholastic faith (infused, implicit, and formed) as an element of uncertainty; faith viewed not as itself a human work but as an integral part of God’s strange work, sharing in the whole paradox of it. (Karl Barth, “The Theology of John Calvin,” 46)


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