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WRF International Director Dr. P. J. Buys Discusses the Importance of Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross

WRF International Director Dr. P. J. Buys Discusses the Importance of Martin Luther's Theology of the Cross


by Dr.P. J. (Flip) Flip Buys. International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship

It has often been stated that “cults live off the unpaid debts of the church.” It implies that when churches neglect and deviate from key biblical truths, it may give rise to theological ideas and practices that overreact to voids that developed in churches and the spirituality of Christians.

When churches fail to proclaim the whole council of God with fervency and effectiveness, a seed-bed is created and a foundation laid for the growth of movements that are poor substitutes, since they inevitably preach a reductionistic gospel.

Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross

In the light of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, and specifically the piety and theology of Martin Luther it will be good to consider the implications of Luther’s Theology of the Cross, over against a widespread Theology of Glory.

Luther saw God's supreme revelation of himself through the humiliation, suffering and death of Christ on the cross, as axiomatic to all theology and all of life. God’s divine power is revealed in the WEAKNESS of the cross, for it is in his apparent defeat at the hands of evil powers and corrupt earthly authorities that Jesus shows his divine power in the conquest of death and of all the powers of evil. When most people think about power, they think of achievement, getting things done, being successful and be acknowledged. Luther makes it clear that if you think of God’s power in this way, you actually remake God in your own image. Divine power is to be conceived of in terms of the cross—power hidden in the form of weakness.

The ultimate triumph of good over evil is that when evil happens, God uses it for good. That was what the cross was all about. Luther reveals that God allows bad things happen to good people because He blesses them through it. In a sermon from John 15:1 where Jesus said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” Luther exclaimed “And you Devil is just the dung (as fertilizer)”. He then explained how God uses the evil of the Devil to work out the good in those who look to the cross of Christ in faith.

A revitalization and rekindling of this kind of piety may fill one of the greatest gaps in PT, namely the peace of God that transcends all understanding and is not dependent on health, wealth and happiness as promoted by PT preachers.

A lack of a Theology of the Cross in the footsteps of Luther lead to a “theology of glory” focusing on human effort intended to earn God's favour and blessings, and exalted human achievement. Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde puts it like this:

A theology of glory … operates on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem. Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted to sin, and that our improvement is both necessary and possible. We need a little boost in our desire to do good works…. But the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to whatever is left of human will and power.


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