Full Text for Luther and Moltmann: The Theology of the Cross (Text)

QUARTERLY Wume 49, Number 1 JANUARY 1985 Propitiation in Old Testament Prophecy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Douglas Judisch 1 Luther and Moltmann: The Theology of the Cross . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Bum11 F, Ecknrdt, Jr. 19 Theological Observer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .29 Homiletical Studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .31 Book Reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .65 Indices to Volurrle 48 (1984) Author Index . , . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .71 Title Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75 Subject Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77 Scripture Index to Homiletical Studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79 Luther and Moltmann: The Theology of the Cross Burnell F. Eckardt, Jr. Since he borrowed two key expressions from Luther, "theology of the cross" and the "crucified God," it might easily be supposed that Moltmann's theology is similar, by and large, to Luther's. It is true that both focus upon the crucifixion and its effects as the locus of theology, but since the interpretation of this event radically differs b m Luther to Moltmann, they actually have very little in common. To one, "theology of the cross" means something altogether differ- ent than to the other. I.LutherPs Theology of the Cross. For Luther, the key to understanding not only theology, but reality in general, is in the cross. There we see what we would not naturally expect to see. Man's lwe is naturally directed toward the attractive. It is attracted by what appears good to it. But in the cross, the love of God is d k k d toward the unattractive, toward sinful humanity. Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therehre sinners are attractive because they are lwed; they are not lwed because they are attractive! The crucifixion is the demonstration that reality cannot be interpret- ed in light of empirical evidence. The empirical evidence is that the dying Christ is defeated in the crucifixion. In reality, however, Christ is there victorious, the conqueror of evil. God is manifested to us on the cross, where He is suffering for us, though our natural incli- nation is to look for God in His glory, that is, in His creation and the marvel of His works. For Luther, the cross is opposed to glory; suffering is opposed to works. God accomplished the redemption of the world through the suffering of Christ, not through works of creation. So also man is justified not by his works, but through faith in the suffering of Christ. Furthermore, a man's own suffering is, in view of the cross, good for him, and his worJcs are worthless. Luther speaks of the "evil of a good deed," explaining that it is impossible for a person not to be puffed up by his good work unless he has first been deflated and destroyed by suffering and evil until he knows that he is worthless and that his works are not his but God's? The key to the theology of the cross, therefore, lies in applying the cross to reality as its material principle. By "he cross," Luther means the suffering of Christ as His redemptive act, an event which appears to be a tragedy, but which is in fact the grandest event God ever performed. The theology ofthe cross is therefore theology which is guided by the knowledge that God's activity on our behalf is not what we as humans can perceive. The divine perspective is invisible to us. This is a crucial point of the theology of the cross. Luther labels those who fail to understand this truth unworthy to be called the- ologians. That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly per- ceptible in those things which have actually happened. . . That wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man is completely puffed up, blinded,and hardened? He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who compre- hends the visible and manilkst things of God seen through suffix@ and the cross? Luther alludes to Exodus 33:23 in discussing the "b&kside9' of God. The theologian of glory attempts to look directly at God's majesty by recognizing such things as "virtue, godliness, wisdom, justice, goodness, and so forth" as true greatness and as central to theology. But, says Luther, "the recognition of all these things does not make one worthy or wise.'' Rather, we must look, as did Moses, upon God's backsidqat "suffering and the cross.*'5 Luther weaves the suffering of Christ with the suffering of the Christian in such a way that he speaks of each interchangeably with the other. Both are beneficial for like reasons. Both serve the Christian's eternal good, the former in a primary way, and the latter in a secondary way. The Christian's "cross" is shown by the theology of the cross to be beneficial to him, in the same way that the theology of the cross shows that the cross of Christ is beneficial. The joining of two apparent opposites, suffPiring and good (or ben- elit); is seen in the cross. So also, in the realm of a person's experience and life, the applybg of the theology of the cross entails the cor- responding joining of two apparent opposites, the individual's stdiking and the individual's benefit. Thus suffering, which appears evil, is actuallygood, sinceinthecaseofchristitisvictory. SufTeringin the Christian's li& is in fact explained by Luther not only as benefi- cial, but as necessary. He who has not been brought law, reduced to nothing through the cross and sufikring, t+es c d t for wwks and wisdom and does not give Cl'bdit to W. He thus miswres and ddiles the gifts of God. He, hmem, who has been emptied [cf. Phil. 2 n s u m no longer does works but knows that God works snd does all things in him? Paul Althaus explains Luther's theology well: The cross is opposed to. . .the theology of glory, and that in two senses, as the cross of Christ and as the cross of the Christian. The tbeology of the cross works with a standard exactly contrary to that of the theology of glory and applies it both to man's know- ledge of God and to man's understanding of himself and of his Aationship to God. This standard is the cross. This mcans: The theology of glory seeks to know God directly in his obviously divine powtr, wisdom, and glory; whereas the theology of the cross paradoxically recognizes him precisely where he has hid- den himself, in his s&khgs and in all that which the theology of glory considers to be weakness and foolishness? The theology of the cross and the theology of glory are contrary to each other because of the cross and humiliation of Christ, which the theologian of glory fails to take into consideration. In His hu- milintinn, Christ changed places with humanity. That is, He took upon Himself the sins of the world while giving to sinners His righteous- ness. Uher exhibits a keen ammms of this transfier, as, for instance, in the Explanations of the Ninety-Five Ilheses, where he explains it succinctly: He took upon himself our sins [cf. Isa. 53:12]. Christ himself is ''the Lamb of God who talces away the sins of the world" [John 1:29]. All the righteousness of Christ becomes ours? Because the theology of glory fails to consider this transfer of right- eousness from Christ to the sinner, which is the central effiEct of the cross, it perceives reality in the opposite perspective. That is, A theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is? The cross negates the wgative effiect of sin on one's perspective. Sin reverses one's perspective, so that he "calls evil good and good evil!' But on the cross, the good Christ became evil (i.e., "became sin"), and t h m who believe this realize that they in turn have become right- tous (i.e., by the transfer of Christ's merits). Since the cross "turns the tables," so to speak, they are thereby m-turned, for they had been 22 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY turned first by sin; The element which makes one a theologian of the cross, which reverses his perspective to see reality properly, is faith. It is Eaith (and faith alone) which makes one capable of perceiving God properly, from His visible "backside," and which prevents one from attempt- ing to behold "the invisible things of God" as though they were visi- ble. For this reason, Luther views faith and its maintenance as of principal importance. He continually emphasizes the importance of faith, going as far as to say that it ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in mrks and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to g m in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him?O It is faith which brings the perspective of the theology of the cross to a person. Faith gives him a new, reversed, and proper perspective. Faith and its preservation is for Luther the task of theology. Here lies the reason Luther's theology is highly sacramental, for it is by the sacraments that faith is maintained and preserved. It is also on account of Luther's high regard for faith that he opposed the practices of Rome, fix he believed that the sale of indulgences (and the like) was working as a detriment to faith. This ignorance and suppression of liberty very many blind pas- tors take pains to encourage. They stir up and urge on their peo- ple in these practices by praising such works, puffing them up with their indulgences, and never teaching Eaith. If, hawever, you wish to pray, fast, or establish a foundation in the church, I ad- vise you to be careful not to do it in order to obtain some benefit, whether temporal or eternal, for you would do injury to your Eaith which alone offers you all things?' For Luther, faith and the theology of the cross are inseparable, as opposite sides of the same coin. Faith is the operative element in the theology of the cross. The theology of the cross is the resultant the- ology developed from true Christian faith. II. Mdtmann9s Theology of the Cross For Molanann, as i5r Luther, the cross must be central to Chris- tianity. It is "the test of everything which deserves to be called Chris- tian."12 But in contradistinction to Luther, Moltrnann rejects the language of atonement," and prefers to think of Jesus' death primari- ly as an event in which Jesus was abandoned by God. And Jesus, being Himself the secoIcd person of the Trinity?* was also abandoned us God. Moltmann exhibits here what has been termed a "radical Theology of the Cross 23 lcenmc Chri~tology.*~l~The Son is rejected by the Father and thus becomes utterly destitute on the cross. This event unites Him with all the destitute and rejected of the world's humanity. Jesus becomes the God of the destitute by abandoning His "divine identity" at the He thus identifies Himself with all the forsaken, poor, "god- less," and homeless in the world. Mol- rejects the traditional "two-natures" dodtrine of Christ, saying that it was merely an attempt to preserve God's incorruptibili- ty in keeping the divine nature from humiliation. Moltmann argues that-since, according to the two-natures doctrine, the human nature has no personality of its own and yet Jesus suffered specifically in His humanity-His personality, according to this doctrine, did not suf- fer?' In rejecting this doctrine, Moltmann holds that God actually suffered in His divinity, that God's divinity was humiliated. In this way, God becomes the God of all the humiliated of humanity. Moltxnann's theology may fairly be called panentheistic. He him- self labels it as such?8 This orientation is basic to his concept of the "trinitarian history of God."19 God is "becoming."20 Thus, God is not so much a being as an event, in the process of being completed?l Therefore, in order for someone to be "Christian" and united with God, that person's medium cognoscendi cannot properly be called "faith" in the traditional sense, for faith is trust in a being. Rather, it is identi$cation with God through suffering. Though Moltmann frequently speaks of "trust" and "faith," he does not employ these terms in a traditionally theological way. He uses them more as terms which denote an understanding of the responsibility One has toward the world's homeles~?~ He speaks of the call to follow Jesus not as the call to believe in Him, but as "the commandment of the eschato- logical moment,"Z3 that iq the commandment to engage in the activi- ty of bringing the eschatological moment, the completion of God and His creation, to passF4 Since God is a God of suffering, through the cross, identification with Him is by joining in suffering. Christian identity can be understood only as an act of identifica- tion with the crucified Christ, to the extent to which one has ac- cepted the proclamation that in him God has identified himself with the godless and those abandoned by God, to whom one be- longs oneselfP Moltmann is not advocating a type of asceticism here. Jesus' call is to suffer, but not in isolation. Rather, in joining the struggle for eman- cipation of all who suffer in the world, one joins the crucified God, 24 CONCORDU THEOUXiICAL QUAKI'ERLY "identifies" with Him. In this way the history of God mwes toward eschatological fulfilment, the future hoped for, and he who suffers for those who are sufkring is taken up into it. This gction involves a risk of one's own identity, a crisis of identi- ty, so to speak, an "existential testimony which is ready for sacri- fice," since it is a giving of one's self to the struggle on behalf of the &mated and oppressed. In this action, "a man abandons him- self as he was and as he knew himself to be, and, by emptying him- self, finds a new self." This is the essence of Christian life, " to take one's cross upon oneself in imitation of the one who abandoned his divine identity and found his true identity in the cross (Phil. 2)."26 As we might therefore expect, Moltrnann is opposed to a view of faith which seeks to maintain itself and its creeds. This faith he calls "pusil- lanimous." Faith must risk itself in order to be active. He who is of little faith looks for support and protection for his faith, because it is preyed upon by fear. Such a faith tries to pro- tect its 'most sacred things', God, Christ, doctrine and morality, because it clearly no longer believes that these are sufficiently powerful to maintain themselves. When the 'religion of fear' finds its way into the Christian church, those who regard themselves as the most vigilant guardians of the faith do violence to faith and smother it?' More radical Christian faith can only mean committing oneself without reserve to the 'crucified God'. This is dangerous.t8 The one who does not follow this course is, and again Moltrnann bar- rows Luther's terminology, a "theologian of glory" who "secretly cre- ates'fbr-himself free mom for activity in his own interest which will allow him to lwe what is like."29 Moltmann, as Luther, sees the the- ology of glory and the theology of the cross as diametrically opposed to one another. Moltmann sees the former as seeking its own interests and the latter as seeking the interests of the world's homeless and alienated. The task of theology is therefore "becoming a theology of the which seeks the psychological and political liberation of man from the forces of oppression in the world. Christian theology. . .must adopt a critical attitude towards po- litical religions in society and in the churches. The political the- . ology of the cross must liberate the state from the political service of idols and must liberate men from political alienation and loss d rights.3' Christians will seek to anticipate the future of Christ according to the measure of the possibilities available to them, by breaking Theology of the Cross 25 dawn lordship and building up the political liveliness of each in- divid~al?~ HI. Compsrison and Analysis. Though Luther and Moltmann both focus their theological atten- tion continually on the cross, their respective theological systems are radically different fmm each other, since Moltmann places a differ- ent interpretation on the meaning of the cross and so superimposes an a l t ed definition on Luther's term "theology of the cross." It is true that Moltmann sees suffering as a sign of theological health?3 and Luther sees the mponsibility of the Christian as rendering ''low? and support to Christ in his needy ones."34 But beyond this similari- ty, there is little these twr, theologians have in common. Luther's view ofthe cross may be considered similar to that of An- selm although, while Anselm tended to stress primarily Christ's sub- stitution for sin (the negative side of the at~nement)?~ Luther tended to stress the transfw of Christ's righteousness to the w@&teous (the positive side)P6 This, h r Luther is the main thing accomplished on the cross. Moltmann, on the other hand, sees the cross as h event taking place entirely in God-as God's self-aband~nment?~ It is an event which is part of God's process of becoming. As such, it is not a completed event, but an event which can only be called complete in an eschatological sense. The reason for these diering interpretations lies in the difference between Luther's and Moltmann's concepts of God. To Luther, as to traditional Christianity, God is a being. He is the Creator and is per- fiact and compl* in every way. Not so, hawever, for Moltmann. Since Moltmann considers God more as an event, he sees God as perfect only in an eschatological sense. In this sense it MNlld perhaps be more accurate to call God eschatologically pe~&xted!~I It is in this context that Moltmaan speaks of the "trinitarian theology of the cross."39 The Trinity is still being perk$& at this point in time, and since Molt- mann is panentheistic, he holds that God will be perfkted only when creation is perfected. Therefore, the cross is for Luther an activity which has nothing to do with God's internal perfecting, since He is already perfiect and complete. But, for Moltmann, the cross is the key element in God's process of being perfected. Because of these differing interpretations, Luther's theology of the cross is a system which shapes his interpretation of reality, while Molt- rnann's is one which seeks to shape reality itself. In Luther's theolo- 26 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY gy, the event of the cross is seen as completed, and thus faith in this completed event is stressed as the task of theology. Stress on works is seen as detrimental to the Christian, for this tends to minimize the completed work on Calvarya In Moltmann's system, however, since the cross-event is still carrying on, something more than faith is still required, in order that this event may, in the eschaton, be completed. Moltmann thus stresses works wer faith. He refcrs to "political the- ology," "orthopraxy," and terms which emphasize doing wer believ- ing. At this point, he is clearly Luther's enemy. Moltmann minimizes faith and stresses works; Luther stresses faith and speaks of the evil of works improperly understood. But Luther does not minimize works (tho@ he hak been accused of doing so), for he indeed places high regard on works,in theip proper perspec-. tive. He sees works as a necessary outgrowth of faith, not in the sense that they ought to follow faith, but that they invariably do. It is impossible for it [faith] not to be doing good works inces- santly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly d o i i them?' Mbltmann does not agree. He a l l m for the possibility of faith exist- ing witltout works?2 Therefore he stresses works, presumably to in- sure that they accampany faith, that $ith may not be b6pusillanimous."43 This also sets h i against Luther, for Luther's concern is that the faith of the Christian be preserved, while Moltmann's concern is that faith "risk" itself and that wwkP be acoomplished. He speaks of "iden- tifying" with Christ where Luther speaks of faith. But this6'identify- ing" is none other than doing those things which involve suffering for the cause of the world's homeless. As such, it is a type of work. Moltrnann's theology therefore speaks of works where Luther's speaks of faith. Both indeed speak of the benefit of suffcring, but while Luther speaks of it as beneficial because it drives one's attention away from himself to the cross and faith, which alone bring the merit of Christ, which alone justifies, Moltmann speaks of suffering as beneficial be- cause suffering itself is, in a way, meritorious. For Luther, ultimate- ly, suffering drives one to faith while, for Moltmann, it drives one to works. Moltmann calls suffering virtuous and thus "looks upon the invisible things of God [including virtue] as though they were clear- ly perceptible in those things which have actually happened."44 This position makes him, according to Luther's system, a theologian of glory. ~ h e d ~ g y of the CKWS n 1. Martin Luther, "Heidelberg Disputation:' Luther's MnRF, 31, Carcer qf the &@mur, I, ed. Harold J. Orimm (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1957), p. 57. 2. IbkLp.53. 3. Wi. , p.52 4. Ibid. 5. Ibid. 6. Ibid., p. 55. 7. FW AMuw, 7k 7hbgy cfMmin Lulihcr (PhilPdeIplua: Fbmess, 1%6), pn. 8. Luther, "hpbwiom d the Ninety-Five Theses," &her's M h , 31, p. 190. 9. Luther, "Heidelbe~ Disputuion," p. 53. lo. Luther, "Tk Freedom d a Christian:' Luther's MnRF,31, p. 347. 11. l b i i . , p . m 12. JIigen Mdtmrna, ?&e Chc@ed God, tr. R. A. Wilson and John Bowden [from the Oennsn Lkrgekdgte Go#, p u b l i i by ChristiPn Kaiser Krlag, Munich, second ed., 19?3] (New YbrL: Hym ond Row, 1974). p. 7. 13. Ibid.. p 306 Molrmrnn mrbts s u m use of Freudian psydrology in critici- ing what he aften calls the "pusillenis" faith of conservative, fundamen- talist ChrirtiuriIy. 14. Mdbnmo is rcturrlly somewhat d a Pdopionist here: 'The earliest titles which say whoJesus bcomefmmtheexperienccoftheappearancesofJe~uu,ond han their h d a t h in the resurrection event. By his resumction Jesus was made Christ, Son d God, Kyrios, by Ood. lbnnulas ofadoption wren used TwthisIct:$hisnsurnctionJesuswasadoptedastheSonofOod(Rom. IA)." bid., p. 179. See also p. 123. IS. David F! Screr, "Thtology of Hope," in Tensions in Conteptpomry lheology, ed. Strnky N. Oundry and Alan F. Johnson (Chicago: F :oody, 1976), p. 2l3. 16. Moltmuur, C M ~ , p. 16. 17. H m Moltmann sams to exhibit a shallow conception of what unio persona- lis entails. He iaaeqweb the docaine as holding that the divine nature is the center d Christ's person (ud implies that t h e h r e the human nature must in this udcmdhg be outside the center): "If this divine natun in the person of the e b d Son d Ood is the centre which cnates a person in Christ, then it too suffmd ud died." Ibid., p. 234. 18. Ibid., p. 2'77. Moltmmn's vim dthe cross allows him to be panenthcii, while at the sum time making en attempt to deal with the problem of evil. Molt- mum exhibits Hegelion tendencies in his view of the Trinity. In including evil in his system, howmr, he dds an element with which Hegel does not d d . See pp. 245-247. 19. Ibid., p. ZX. 20. Mdbnmo, 7k Theology qfHope, tr. ly James W. kitsch (New York: Harper 28 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY and Row, 1967). p. lo6. 21. Mdtmann, CnrCipcd, pp. 247, 255. 22. Ibid., p. 307. 23. lbid., p. 55. 24. Moltmann could easily be called a type of Zionist at this point. 25. Moltmann, Cru~~&d, p. 19. 26 Ibict., p. lS. 27. Ibid., p. 19. 28 Ibid., p. 39. 29. Ibid., p. 213. 30. Ibid., p. 37. 31. Ibid., p. 327. 32. Ibid., p. 329. 33. Ibid., p. 3lS. 34. Luther, "The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and 'Itue Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoode," Luther's Mh,35, M d and Sac-, I, ed. E. Theo- dole Baclrmana (philedelphia: FbltraS, W), p. 54. 35. See Aneelm d Canterbury, "Why Ood Becam Man" in Why God Became Man and the Vigin Gmcepeption and Original Sin, tr. Joseph M. Colleran (Albany, New Ymk: Magi, 1%9), esp. pp. 139-141. 36 Luther, "Explanstions of the Niaety-Five Theses:' bukr's W h , 31, p. 190. 37. See Moltmann, Cmcificd, pp. 146.153. 38 The rt8utrection of Christ is interprelad by Moltmann as a series of visions received by the "eyewimesses" of that e8chatological future and the comple- tion d God. bid., p. 167. 39. Ibid., p. 235. 40. "Tbe inner man. . .needs neither laws nor good works but, on the contrary, is injured by them if he believes that he is justified by them." Luther, "Free- dom," p. 358 41. Luther, "Reface to tbe Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans," Lurhcr's W h , 35, p. m. 42. Moltmann, Crucijird, p. 59. 43. This is not unlilre practices currently prevalent, ironically, in church bodies which puport to reject Moltmann and uphold Luther. 44. luther, "Heidelbeg Disputation:' p. 52.