The Evangelical Calvinist

"The world was made so that Christ might be born."-David Fergusson

Archive for the ‘Randall Zachman’ Category

Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross for the Suffering and even the Arrogant Among Us

I was first introduced to Martin Luther’s theologia crucis, or “Theology of the Cross,” in seminary, in my Reformation Theology class. Once I heard of it, I was hooked! It is absolutely brilliant, and represents the best of Martin Luther’s theological offering for the church. My previous post was a tribute to Rory Wheeler, who just went home to be with the Lord as a result of the effects of cancer. Death, even for the Christian, presents lingering questions; the primary one being “why dear Lord, cannot you just vanquish this curse, right now?” It is obvious to all of those with eyes of faith, that the Lord works in ways that would appear “hidden.” He became man, a babe
christcrucifiedwrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger. He was born into a poor-man’s family from ridiculed Nazareth. The list of God’s hiddeness (Deus absconditus), of course, can be enumerated over and again. Indeed, this is where Luther’s theology of the cross finds its footing; that God works in ways that to the naked eye seem foolish (see I Corinthians 1:17-25, the passage of my Master’s thesis, and motivated by Luther’s theology of the cross). Randall Zachman provides one of the best descriptions of Luther’s theology of the cross that I have ever read. I am going to quote it in full, it is worth it; in fact if you want to continue to read my blog, your ticket 😉 is that you have to read this whole post because what Zachman has to say is that good! Here we go:

In the context of theologia crucis, faith means believing with certainty that God’s Word is true even when the whole world, the heart of the believer, and even God himself contradict the truth that is revealed in the Word, particularly the Word of promise. Thus, when God begins to show mercy, God does so by first revealing wrath (in law); when God makes alive, God does so by slaying. The same contradictions apply especially to those who have already come to faith. God promises the forgiveness of sins, yet our conscience feels nothing but sin and wrath; God promises life, yet we see nothing but death. Faith, therefore, is the art of believing the Word while experiencing, seeing, and feeling the opposite. We believe that Christ is the Son of God, even though we see and abandoned man on the cross; we believe that God cares for the church, even though we see nothing but a church persecuted by the world and apparently abandoned by God; we believe in eternal life, even though we see and feel nothing but death.

However, the primary locus of the theology of the cross is the experience of trial or tribulation (Anfechtung), when the very heart and conscience of the believer sense that God’s promise of grace and forgiveness is a lie. The believer must regard the promise of forgiveness as true and certain even though the conscience testifies to the contrary.

But under the cross which we experience, eternal life lies hidden. . . . We, too, experience the cross, and death appears to us, if not in fact, yet in our conscience through Satan. Death and sin appear, but I announce life and faith, but in hope. Therefore, if you want to be saved, you must battle against your feelings. Hope means to expect life in the midst of death, and righteousness in the midst of sins.

This is the very meaning of being simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator): to believe that we are righteous coram Deo even though we feel like condemned sinners.

Within the context of the theology of the cross, the grace of sanctification and its attestation in the testimony of a good conscience would necessarily be subordinated to the grace of justification and the promise of the forgiveness of sins. This is because the testimony of the good conscience confirms one’s faith in the promise, whereas the theology of the cross emphasizes that testimony of the conscience that contradicts faith in the promise; that is, Anfechtung. Therefore, although Luther continually insisted upon the necessity of sanctification and of the testimony of the good conscience, within the framework of theologia crucis he could not help but consistently subordinate the grace of sanctification to that of justification.

Luther’s concentration on the theology of the cross also accounts for his refusal to involve the Reformation directly in the external reform of the church. The Word of God does not deal with external, temporal things, but rather with invisible, eternal things; and such invisible things are revealed under an external appearance that contradicts what is being revealed. The theology of glory, in contrast—such as Luther found in the papacy—emphasizes externals to the point of neglecting the invisible truths revealed by the Word: indeed, to the point of calling God’s Word a lie. Thus, those in the Reformation who would introduce concern for externals—such as Karlstadt with his rejection of idols and the papal mass—misunderstanding the whole nature of the Word of the cross, and divert the attention of believers from the invisible, eternal things of God’s promises to the visible, temporal things of human reason and senses. Yet it is precisely reason and the senses that must be mortified if we are to believe that the Word of the cross is true.

Luther’s theologia crucis also explains his suspicion of those, such as the Anabaptists, who emphasized the external holiness and moral behavior of the church. If the Word of the cross reveals the truth of God under a contrary appearance, then one would expect the true church not to look like the church at all, but rather to look like God-forsaken sinners. The “synagogue of Satan,” on the other hand, with its theology glory, would look like the true church of God and would demonstrate a superior holiness externally—as in the monks and friars—but inwardly it would be rejected by God. The theology of the cross would therefore lead one not to stress the conformity of the appearance of the church with its faith, but rather stress the ways in which the appearance of the church denies its claim to be the people of God. The church looks like a gathering of sinners rejected by God and the world, whereas it is in truth the beloved people of God. The church cannot be judged by its appearance, but only by whether it has the Word of Christ crucified. Hence the primary task of the church is to preach the Word of God, while letting externals take their course. [Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith, 9-10]

How can that not bless you?! There is a lot in this, too much to talk about in toto; as far as the implications and applications, let me grab just a couple. But first I should also notice something else for us. You see Zachman refer to Luther’ “theology of glory,” this was in contrast to the theology of the cross; and it refers to (oversimplified) focusing on doing things for the praise and glory of men, instead of God (just do a word study or theology of glory study in the Gospel of John, you’ll see how this plays out) [Luther attacked the scholastic theology of his day as based upon the “theology of glory” instead of the “cross”]. Now to my applications.

1) It seems like a loving God would vanquish death so that humanity would no longer have to endure the torment of it. Indeed, he has, but it is only with eyes of faith that we understand the significance of the cross and resurrection and ascension. To the world if God is all powerful, and loving (David Hume) why doesn’t he do something about it now? The wisdom of God is displayed in hiddeness, in the unexpected; God is the God whose ways are not our ways, but the way of the cross, the unexpected! Why did the holocaust happen? Why do little kids die from cancer, or starvation? We have to interpret these kinds of questions through the hidden ways of God, through the cruciformity and cross-shaped work of God’s life. That’s the answer to Luther’s theology of the cross; the wisdom and knowledge of God is only penetrated by those who are wedded to him, in Christ, by the Spirit. And it is when we are pressed up against the most dastardly things of this life—tribulations—that we quit depending on ourselves, and throw ourselves on God’s mercy that we enter into the kind of life that God gives himself in his inner-life of mutual and interpenetrating love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is when we are pushed beyond ourselves that God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ is just waiting to smile on is in the midst of our thlipsis, tribulation! Here is the wisdom of God, to take what is intended to destroy, and bring resurrection life out of it!

2) The second application here is a quicker observation. This one has to do with Luther’s/Zachman’s point about how the church should look vis-á-vis the theology of the cross. Frankly, it shouldn’t look like what Western, and in particular, American, upward mobile churches strive to look like. It shouldn’t look like people who have it all together. It should look like people who are broken, needy, and beggarly. When did Jesus do his greatest work of atonement? What was the crescendo of his work? When he went to the cross. When he was most broken. It was here that he brought life to all of humanity, through his death; by rupturing the bonds of self love (homo incurvatus in se), with the unbreakable bond that he shares consubstantially with the Father and Holy Spirit. That is, a life is given shape, by self-giveness; between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is through this kind of brokeness, in the mirror image of the cruci-shaped Son, that we can be the church for the world. That we have something to offer them; only when we are broken, and realize that we receive life as gift from the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

Much more to say, but this has run long enough. I think I will talk more about the theologia gloriae “theology of glory,” in the near future.

*This is a repost, I really like what Zachman has to say on Luther’s ‘theology of the cross’; I hope you’re blessed by it today as well! Blessings.

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Written by Bobby Grow

October 17, 2015 at 2:00 am

Calvin’s Scripture Paradigm and The Relationship of Theology to Bible Study

Randall Zachman makes a great point in highlighting Calvin’s understanding of the relationship between Biblical exegesis/interpretation and “Sound theology”/dogma:

. . . The Institutes and the commentaries are intended by Calvin to open access to Scripture for future pastors, whereas the catechism and the weekly sermons are meant to open access to Scripture for members of the congregation. For Calvin, the proper understanding of Scripture depends on familiarity both with the summary of the rudiments of doctrine and with Scripture itself. Those who lack this kind of training, even though they are expert in the Hebrew language, will inevitably misunderstand Scripture. “But it generally happens with men who are not exercised in the Scripture, nor imbued with sound theology, although well acquainted with the Hebrew language, yet hallucinate and fall into mistakes even in first rudiments.” [Calvin’s Comm. on Ps. 73:26] As a teacher and preacher, Calvin sought to exercise his students in Scripture and imbue them with sound theology; . . . [brackets mine] (Randall C. Zachman, “John Calvin As Teacher, Pastor, And Theologian: The Shape of His Writings and Thought,” 108)

This is what dawned on me somewhere between Bible College and Seminary. When I went to Bible College I was full of the idealism that I was going to learn the Biblical languages (so I minored in NT Greek), and thus be able to thoroughly understand and interpret the concepts and doctrine of Scripture (on that basis alone). What I began to realize, as I did syntactical analysis, is that even knowing the “languages,” I still had to make interpretive decisions (even in doing translation work — from the Greek to English). So I went on to seminary and did a Masters thesis which was an “exegetical/language” based thesis (on I Corinthians) — although my passage was really inspired by Martin Luther’s theology of the cross — and I took further language classes (like Hebrew and Greek); but this time it was alongside historical theology (not just systematic like in the undergrad). Anyway, what I’m getting at, and what has led me down the path I’ve been on now since seminary, is the point Zachman is highlighting on Calvin’s thinking. That is that just knowing the Biblical languages isn’t enough. Every Biblical exegete operates and moves within a theological milieu or system; and this “system” is going to impact the way that particular exegete makes his/her interpretative decisions as they approach the text of Scripture (it’s just how it is). So what motivates me is to engage the implications, the “inner logic” of Scripture (e.g. deal with the underlying theological framework that the Scripture writers and Apostles assume in their largely occasional writings) so that I am aware of what is informing my “interpretive decisions” as I approach the text. I think this is what Calvin was on about, and I think it’s something we all need to be mindful of as we endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, working through the dogmatic concepts implied by the text and Christ’s life is not just a negative concern (my point above: e.g. “so that I am aware of what is informing my ‘interpretive decision'”), but there is a very positive side to doing the “inner logic” stuff too. And that is that we become aware of the implied intentions of the particular writers and Holy Spirit as we engage the text of Scripture. In short, we become quickly aware that the canon of Scripture has a very Trinitarian/cruciformed-christoformed shape to it. The grammar and syntax of the text is really only intended to be in service to this undeniable and great reality: Jesus Christ!

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; . . . ” ~John 5.39 (NASBU)

*repost from quite awhile ago.

Written by Bobby Grow

August 4, 2013 at 3:31 pm

John Calvin and Theological Exegesis

Repost on John Calvin number six.

Randall Zachman makes a great point in highlighting Calvin’s understanding of the relationship between Biblical exegesis/interpretation and “Sound theology”/dogma:

. . . The Institutes and the commentaries are intended by Calvin to open access to Scripture for future pastors, whereas the catechism and the weekly sermons are meant to open access to Scripture for members of the congregation. For Calvin, the proper understanding of Scripture depends on familiarity both with the summary of the rudiments of doctrine and with Scripture itself. Those who lack this kind of training, even though they are expert in the Hebrew language, will inevitably misunderstand Scripture. “But it generally happens with men who are not exercised in the Scripture, nor imbued with sound theology, although well acquainted with the Hebrew language, yet hallucinate and fall into mistakes even in first rudiments.” [Calvin’s Comm. on Ps. 73:26] As a teacher and preacher, Calvin sought to exercise his students in Scripture and imbue them with sound theology; . . . [brackets mine] (Randall C. Zachman, “John Calvin As Teacher, Pastor, And Theologian: The Shape of His Writings and Thought,” 108)

This is what dawned on me somewhere between Bible College and Seminary. When I went to Bible College I was full of the idealism that I was going to learn the Biblical languages (so I minored in NT Greek), and thus be able to thoroughly understand and interpret the concepts and doctrine of Scripture (on that basis alone). What I began to realize, as I did syntactical analysis, is that even knowing the “languages,” I still had to make interpretive decisions (even in doing translation work — from the Greek to English). So I went on to seminary and did a Masters thesis which was an “exegetical/language” based thesis (on I Corinthians) — although my passage was really inspired by Martin Luther’s theology of the cross — and I took further language classes (like Hebrew and Greek); but this time it was alongside historical theology (not just systematic like in the undergrad). Anyway, what I’m getting at, and what has led me down the path I’ve been on now since seminary, is the point Zachman is highlighting on Calvin’s thinking. That is that just knowing the Biblical languages isn’t enough. Every Biblical exegete operates and moves within a theological milieu or system; and this “system” is going to impact the way that particular exegete makes his/her interpretative decisions as they approach the text of Scripture (it’s just how it is). So what motivates me is to engage the implications, the “inner logic” of Scripture (e.g. deal with the underlying theological framework that the Scripture writers and Apostles assume in their largely occasional writings) so that I am aware of what is informing my “interpretive decisions” as I approach the text. I think this is what Calvin was on about, and I think it’s something we all need to be mindful of as we endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, working through the dogmatic concepts implied by the text and Christ’s life is not just a negative concern (my point above: e.g. “so that I am aware of what is informing my ‘interpretive decision'”), but there is a very positive side to doing the “inner logic” stuff too. And that is that we become aware of the implied intentions of the particular writers and Holy Spirit as we engage the text of Scripture. In short, we become quickly aware that the canon of Scripture has a very Trinitarian/cruciformed-christoformed shape to it. The grammar and syntax of the text is really only intended to be in service to this undeniable and great reality: Jesus Christ!

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; . . . ” ~John 5.39 (NASBU)

Written by Bobby Grow

October 10, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Scared God Doesn’t Love Me …

Randall Zachman in his power-packed book The Assurance Of Faith: Conscience In The Theology Of John Calvin And Martin Luther is developing Martin Luther’s theology of conscience, embedded in his infamous theology of the cross. Without sketching the finer points leading to the quote I am about to share from Zachman, in this regard; let me simply say that Zachman, here, is highlighting how Luther conceived of a way that the devil attempts to undo the assurance of God’s love for us in Christ. As an aside, I must say that Thomas Torrance, my most prominent teacher, would be very proud of Luther; this would fit into Torrance’s There is no God behind the back of Jesus dictum. Let’s read what Zachman says about Luther on this point:

[T]he other way in which the devil seeks to drive faith from the heart of the believer is by having the believer separate the will of God the Father from the mercy of God revealed in Christ. Even though we see in Christ a merciful mediator, it is difficult for the conscience to believe that the Father is as merciful as the Son, for the conscience always pictures God as wrathful toward sinners. Satan exploits this feeling of conscience by having us doubt the divinity of Christ; if Christ is not God by nature, then the mercy he reveals tells us nothing of God’s will. “Now we miserable people are assailed by sins, we fear death, we fear damnation, for this reason alone that our conscience doubts that Christ is the Son of God.” Even if the conscience believes that Christ is the Son of God, it is very difficult for it to believe that God the Father is so minded as Christ. Even though we see in Christ mercy toward sinners, we do not see the Father; and the conscience cannot help but portray the Father as a judge, thereby nullifying the mercy revealed in Christ. “Conscience, the devil, hell, the judgment of God, and everything resist, in order that we may not believe that God is love but may believe that God is an Executioner and a Judge.” [Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance Of Faith, 65]

A point of technicality. Luther would have, for one thing, been combating his own theological upbringing with the De Potentia-Two wills of God theology with the sentiment being noted by Zachman. But more to the point, the more devotional and theological point I would like to grasp for us. This is one of the reasons it is so important for us to not engage in high christological heresy. If God’s person can be ruptured, and it has been by various theological paradigms (even to their denial of such a thing, even with good intentions in place), then our ability to rest in God’s salvation (which for the Christian is personal and Trinitarian), and to know God’s inner-life as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is thoroughly lost. If Jesus was just a phantom, if he was a man playing God; then the bridge between God and man has been blasted, and the gap remains — we are of all men to be pitied, we are still in our sins, and God is not a God of love but law!

This should help illustrate why theology is important; it has an impact on our spirituality, one that often goes unchecked. Especially for those of us who think theology is only for the the “theologians.”

9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? ~John 14.9

Written by Bobby Grow

August 15, 2011 at 5:59 pm

Calvin's Sound Theology — Scripture Paradigm

Randall Zachman makes a great point in highlighting Calvin’s understanding of the relationship between Biblical exegesis/interpretation and “Sound theology”/dogma:

. . . The Institutes and the commentaries are intended by Calvin to open access to Scripture for future pastors, whereas the catechism and the weekly sermons are meant to open access to Scripture for members of the congregation. For Calvin, the proper understanding of Scripture depends on familiarity both with the summary of the rudiments of doctrine and with Scripture itself. Those who lack this kind of training, even though they are expert in the Hebrew language, will inevitably misunderstand Scripture. “But it generally happens with men who are not exercised in the Scripture, nor imbued with sound theology, although well acquainted with the Hebrew language, yet hallucinate and fall into mistakes even in first rudiments.” [Calvin’s Comm. on Ps. 73:26] As a teacher and preacher, Calvin sought to exercise his students in Scripture and imbue them with sound theology; . . . [brackets mine] (Randall C. Zachman, “John Calvin As Teacher, Pastor, And Theologian: The Shape of His Writings and Thought,” 108)

This is what dawned on me somewhere between Bible College and Seminary. When I went to Bible College I was full of the idealism that I was going to learn the Biblical languages (so I minored in NT Greek), and thus be able to thoroughly understand and interpret the concepts and doctrine of Scripture (on that basis alone). What I began to realize, as I did syntactical analysis, is that even knowing the “languages,” I still had to make interpretive decisions (even in doing translation work — from the Greek to English). So I went on to seminary and did a Masters thesis which was an “exegetical/language” based thesis (on I Corinthians) — although my passage was really inspired by Martin Luther’s theology of the cross — and I took further language classes (like Hebrew and Greek); but this time it was alongside historical theology (not just systematic like in the undergrad). Anyway, what I’m getting at, and what has led me down the path I’ve been on now since seminary, is the point Zachman is highlighting on Calvin’s thinking. That is that just knowing the Biblical languages isn’t enough. Every Biblical exegete operates and moves within a theological milieu or system; and this “system” is going to impact the way that particular exegete makes his/her interpretative decisions as they approach the text of Scripture (it’s just how it is). So what motivates me is to engage the implications, the “inner logic” of Scripture (e.g. deal with the underlying theological framework that the Scripture writers and Apostles assume in their largely occasional writings) so that I am aware of what is informing my “interpretive decisions” as I approach the text. I think this is what Calvin was on about, and I think it’s something we all need to be mindful of as we endeavor to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, working through the dogmatic concepts implied by the text and Christ’s life is not just a negative concern (my point above: e.g. “so that I am aware of what is informing my ‘interpretive decision'”), but there is a very positive side to doing the “inner logic” stuff too. And that is that we become aware of the implied intentions of the particular writers and Holy Spirit as we engage the text of Scripture. In short, we become quickly aware that the canon of Scripture has a very Trinitarian/cruciformed-christoformed shape to it. The grammar and syntax of the text is really only intended to be in service to this undeniable and great reality: Jesus Christ!

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; . . . ” ~John 5.39 (NASBU)

Written by Bobby Grow

September 4, 2010 at 7:12 am