Recently, I was involved in consoling close friends as they faced the terrible suffering and death of their son. After Scripture, the first book I picked up was Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997). In this book, the great Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde discusses the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518, which found Luther explaining and defending his “new” theology in (you guessed it) Heidelberg, Germany. Luther wrote a set of theses for this disputation, which contain utterly profound truths that capture the heartbeat of Luther and in turn, the Reformation.
Theses 20 and 21b contain perhaps the weightiest truths of all of Luther’s writings: “That person deserves to be called a theologian [read: true Christian]…who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God through suffering and the cross. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is” (pp. 77, 81).
Forde comments well: “God refuses to be seen in any other way, both for our protection and to put down the theologian of glory in us…The cross therefore is actually intended to destroy the sight of the theologian of glory. In the cross God actively hides himself. God simply refuses to be known in any other ways” (p. 79).
One more that is amazing: “We suffer because we don’t like it. We don’t like to be put out of control. It means that we are rendered totally passive by the divine operation through the cross and resurrection of Jesus” (emphasis his) (p. 87).
To quote a friend on this topic, “It is beautiful. Luther was a brilliant rhetorician and preacher of Christ.” I agree.