Theology of the Cross

The Faith Luther Confessed

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.


Come in poverty and meanness,
Come defiled, without, within;
From infection and uncleanness,
From the leprosy of sin,
Wash your robes and make them white;
Ye shall walk with God in light.

The Lutheran Hymnal 149:2

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, 'God be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.

—The Friend of Sinners

The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him... Arrogance cannot be avoided or true hope be present unless the judgment of condemnation is feared in every work.

—Martin Luther, Heidelberg Disputation

The theologian of glory observes the world, the works of creation. With his intellect he perceives behind these the visible things of God, His power, wisdom, and generosity. But God remains invisible to him. The theologian of the cross looks to the Crucified One. Here there is nothing great or beautiful or exalted as in the splendid works of creation. Here there is humiliation, shame, weakness, suffering, and agonizing death... [That] "God can be found only in suffering and the cross"... is a bedrock statement of Luther's theology and that of the Lutheran Church. Theology is theology of the cross, nothing else. A theology that would be something else is a false theology... Measured by everything the world calls wisdom, as Paul already saw, the word of the cross is the greatest foolishness, the most ridiculous doctrine that can confront a philosopher. That the death of one man should be the salvation of all, that this death on Golgotha should be this atoning sacrifice for all the sins of the world, that the suffering of an innocent one should turn away the wrath of God—these are assertions that fly in the face of every ethical and religious notion of man as he is by nature... God Himself has sent us into the hard school of the cross. There, on the battlefields, in the prison camps, under the hail of bombs, and among the shattered sick and wounded, there the theology of the cross may be learned "by dying"... To those whose illusions about the world and about man, and the happiness built on these, have been shattered, the message of the cross may come as profoundly good news.

—Hermann Sasse, "The Theology of the Cross: Theologia Crucis," in We Confess Jesus Christ, Concordia Publishing House, pp. 47-48, 50, 52, emphasis added

But whom say ye that I am? Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. In the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, Martin Luther drew a striking contrast between the ever-popular theology of glory and the apostolic theology of the cross (theologia crucis). Accused of heresies actually committed by instigators of more radical reformations, in 1530 leaders of the Lutheran Reformation joined his confession of the crucified God at Augsburg in the face of opposition from the anti-Catholic sects as well as from the establishment of bishops. Consistent theologians of the cross still affirm before a hostile world the orthodox faith of the unaltered Augsburg Confession, in all its articles, because it echos the pure teaching of the Holy Scriptures.

Following Luther's observation that "the cross alone is our theology," Theology of the Cross links to sermons, essays, and research articles on confessional Christology. Categories are denominated by the chapter titles of Francis Pieper's Christian Dogmatics to facilitate classification and further reading. Difficulty levels: Youth (still to come, e.g., Higher Things), Adult (e.g., LCMS web site), Seminary (e.g., Concordia Theological Quarterly). Titles appear more or less in chronological order within each level of difficulty.

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Last updated October 9, 2010.

First released September 11, 2006. Dedicated to the memory of those whose tragic death five years earlier still cries out against every theology of glory.

Copyright © 2006-2011 David R. Bickel. All rights reserved.