A Review Article -- By: Steven A. Hein
RAR 7:4 (Fall 1998) p. 173
A Review Article
Colorado Springs, Colorado
On Being A Theologian Of The Cross: Reflections On Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518., Gerhard O. Forde. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans (1997). 121 pages, paper, $20.00.
Talk about a “theology of the cross” is very fashionable these days. Many contemporary theologians speculate about an empathetic deity who enters into solidarity with victimized people who suffer unjustly at the hands of malevolent forces in the world. Their god stands with the oppressed over against those who inflict the tribulations. Gerhard Forde notes that this most certainly is not what Luther had in mind as he presented his cross theology in the Heidelberg Disputation. On the contrary, Luther presents Theses which elucidate a suffering that comes about because we who suffer are at odds with God—a suffering which God visits upon us as upon his Son, Jesus Christ the crucified.
As the title of his work suggests, Forde offers the reader reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation (Theses 1–28, the theological ones), which focus on the theologian and how he theologizes. Forde offers a correction to the translation of Thesis 21 in the American Edition of Luther’s Works. Luther wrote not about a distinction between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross, but rather, between a theologian of glory and a theologian of the
RAR 7:4 (Fall 1998) p. 174
cross. Hence the title of his work, On Being a Theologian of the Cross. Forde engages the reader in a consideration of Luther’s views on how to be one, what they do, and how they are different from a “theologian of glory.”
The reader is forewarned not to anticipate Luther offering any sage advice on how to become professionally successful or theologically accomplished in the academy. That’s a shame. We aspiring theologians do want to become accomplished. Most of us are concerned about establishing good reputations for excellence and careful scholarship. And to this end, which of us would not welcome some guidance and good insight from theologians as accomplished as Luther? Luther’s Heidelberg Theses, and Forde’s consideration of them, disappoint in this regard. Luther does not instruct to advance the reader in professional “careers for Christ.” Academic prowess is not the criterion by which he measured the theologian; rather it is the ability and willingness to distinguish law and gospel as we think and speak about God. It is the matter of salvation—not academic success—that Luther pushes under the nose of would-be theologians. The key question that Luther takes up in the Disputation is: “How can the theo...
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