Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Luther's theology of the Cross"

Luther’s Theology of the Cross
Walther Von Loewenich
This is one of the few books available in English dealing directly with "Luther's Theology of the Cross" which for the past century now has been turning the wisdom of Luther Scholarship past on its head. But this is a good thing for the conservative or confessional movements. It is the rediscovery of Luther's theology of the Cross, and it's unique approach to scripture that is laying waste to the false dichotomies not well researched by the liberal giants of the nineteenth century, men like Ritschle and Von Harnack, that cast long shadows in the Twentieth and indeed, so far, also the Twenty First. The Theology of the Cross has far reaching consequences for Luther Scholarship, and so this book is rather indispensable to a Lutheran's Library.
I was led to it by way of Forde's "On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 (Theology)" which is rather like a Cliff Notes to this book. One cannot recommend Forde's book enough either, and it is perhaps a bit more accessible to the lay man, who would do well to read it before attempting "Luther's Theology of the Cross." Forde does make a few apt criticisms in his book though. One Loewenich is a bit hard going. He doesn't start out that way, but he gets bogged down in talking about faith, a topic that Forde avoids, or tries to step around anyway. Talking about faith, Forde correctly assesses, leads to navel gazing, despair, etc. It is an attempt to talk about the gospel rather than proclaiming it. Perhaps it has to be touched on from time to time, but its reality is as transcendent as the God who is its author. It defies adequate description. And descriptions of it, often have the habit of turning gospel into law, and inspiring one to mimick faith rather than rest in the forgiveness of Christ. Talking about faith that is, tends to inspire a fake it till you make it mentality. Faith doesn't work that way. It is a gift that is given and is as sure as your baptism.
That all said the first part of "Luther's Theology of the Cross" is hard to put down, and gives excellent scholarly reviews of some of Luther's most seminal works such as "The Heidleberg Disputation", in which Lowenich shows Dillenberger's assessment (Martin Luther : Selections From His Writings) of it as "not attacking the heart of the Roman Church" to be woefully inadequate. On the contrary, the theological developments shown here will be the heart of Luther's theology till his dying day, and attack the very heart of not only the Roman Church, but also that of the Reformed churches, which is probably why Dillenberger fails to understand their importance.
He goes on to give a great overview of Luther's "Bondage of the Will". This is the book that the Reformed scholars like Dillenberger love to misquote and misinterpret in order to make Luther a Calvinist. Loewenich shows this to be really an impossibility for anyone who takes this work seriously, especially if they take into account anything else Luther wrote in his career. Here you see that the Bondage of the Will is really "The Heidleberg Disputation" put into a theological treatise, spelled out. Anyone who wants to understand the Bondage ought to read this essay on it a few times. He follows up with Luther's lectures on Isaiah showing continuity in Luther's thought. This part of the book alone makes it worth the read.
The third part of the book translates the theory to the practicalities of a Christian's life, and the implications the theology of the Cross have for the Christian and how he lives in the world while not be of it. In short this section dismantles the false piety that is touted in most Christian bookstores, which has the effect of leaving people high and dry.
It is this type of Scholarship, that has made people rethink the false dichotomies of the Young Luther and the old Luther. Or the cliché that Luther had nothing to say about missions, which Rooy further destroys in "Lutero y la Misión" while tapping into this type of Luther research, though he still tries to hold onto the myth that there is essentially no difference between Luther and Calvin. In short this work gives a workable framework for understanding Luther and his reformation activities, showing them to be consistent throughout, and dismantling the slanderous myths that have grown up concerning Luther, and still persist today in the writings of men like N.T. Wright, his book "justification" for instance.

No comments: