Is Penal Substitution Biblical?

This viewpoint has come under attack as of late. Here is a good “definition” from CARM:

  • Penal Substitution is a theological viewpoint within Christianity that maintains Jesus was legally punished in place of the sinners. That is, He took the place of the sinner. It is “penal” in that Christ suffered the penalty of the Law, taking the “penalty” of the Law. It was substitutionary in that Christ took our place on the cross when He bore our sins (1 Pet. 2:24) and became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21)….. Though there are varying views of the atonement, the Vicarious Substitutionary Atonement (Penal Substutionary Atonement) best explains the Scripture and most importantly, it probably relates the satisfaction of Law as a relates to the holiness of God.

The GOSPEL COALITION (AU) notes the importance of this view as The Heart of the Gospel

Bake My Satan Cake – Dammit!

The below is a clip from Tucker Carlson discussing with a Satanist their organization wanting a “Satanic cake” (upside down Cross and all) baked by a Christian baker. I include a short clip as well of a Christian trying to get an anti-gay cake baked, as well as Steven Crowder in Muslim owned bakeries trying to get a same-sex wedding cake baked. In each case I support the business owner.

Here is another example of how the “Cake-Fascists,” as GAY PATRIOT calls them, cannot legislate conscience — via THE DAILY SIGNAL:

The Christian baker in Colorado who was sued for declining to make a cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding reception received a strange request last month: Design and bake a cake celebrating Satan’s birthday.

“I would like to get a quote on a birthday cake, for a special event,” the email request to baker Jack Phillips, sent Sept. 30 and exclusively obtained by The Daily Signal, reads. It continues:

It is a cake that is religious in theme, and since religion is a protected class, I am hoping that you will gladly bake this cake. As you see, the birthday cake in question is to celebrate the birthday of Lucifer, or as they [sic] are also known Satan who was born as Satan when he was cast from heaven by God.

The request for Phillips to quote a price for the cake also asks for an “upside down cross, under the head of Lucifer.”

The incident exemplifies the complexity of government laws mandating that those in creative occupations violate their religious beliefs in serving clients or customers.

This is a danger that lawyers for Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, say they’re raising before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in June agreed to take the baker’s case.

Phillips gained nationwide attention after declining to make the wedding cake for the gay couple, and eventually being found guilty of discrimination by a Colorado state agency and the courts.

Phillips has told The Daily Signal and others that his Christian faith not only doesn’t allow him to design and make cakes celebrating same-sex unions, it prevents him from designing cakes that involve such elements as witchcraft or explicit sexuality……

Here is an example of how this has even infected the last Libertarian presidential nomination process (from my post entitled: “Christians Discriminated Against By Gay Coffee Shop Owner“):

The point is that when the government gets into the weeds on HOW a person SHOULD think on matters regarding their own business… you will have chaos. This mom just ended up making it herself. Which, sorry, you may have ta do in a free country from time-to-time.

Now, WWRPTD? (What Would RPT Do). If I owned a bakery, I would bake cakes for everyone. Why? Because it would be a way to get people into a Christian environment to witness to. For instance, if a Satanist came into my hypothetical store and wanted me to bake a cake… I would. If he or she asked why a bakery such as mine with Christian symbols would do so, I would open up my visible bible to 1 Corinthians 8:4-8

Now concerning eating food offered to idols: We know that no idol is real in this world and that there is only one God. For even if there are “gods” in heaven and on earth (as indeed there are many so-called “gods” and “lords”), yet for us

there is only one God, the Father,
    from whom everything came into being
        and for whom we live.
And there is only one Lord, Jesus the Messiah,
    through whom everything came into being
        and through whom we live.

But not everyone has this knowledge. Some people are so accustomed to idolatry that when they eat food that has been offered to an idol, their conscience becomes contaminated because it is weak. However, food will not bring us closer to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat food that has been offered to an idol, and no better off if we do.


I had the pleasure (God’s Sovereignty) of being in the right-spot-at-the-right-time to lead a Satanist in the sinners prayer. I brought him to HEBREWS 10:4-10, and discussed why Satanism is so concerned about blood in sacrifices when it was done once-for-all-time. I would love to build relationships in order to do this. BUT, that is me! A business owner can do his business how he or she pleases.

The “Office” of Marriage and Love in the Reformation

The reformers’ early preoccupation with marriage was driven, in part, by their jurisprudence. The starting assumption of the budding Lutheran theories of law, society, and politics was that the earthly king­dom was governed by the three natural estates of household, Church, and state. Hausvater, Gottesvater, and Landesvater; paterfamilias, patertheologicus, and patapofiticus— these were the three natural offices through which God re­vealed Himself and reflected His authority in the world. These three offices and orders stood equal before God and before each other. Each was called to discharge essential tasks in the earthly kingdom without impediment or interference from the other. The reform of marriage, therefore, was as important as the reform of the Church and the state. Indeed, marital reform was even more urgent, for the marital house­hold was, in the reformers’ view, the “oldest,” “most primal,” and “most essential” of the three estates, yet the most deprecated and subordinated of the three. Marriage is the “mother of all earthly laws,” Luther wrote, and the source from which the Church, the state, and other earthly insti­tutions flowed. “God has most richly blessed this estate above all others, and in addition, has bestowed on it and wrapped up in it everything in the world, to the end that this estate might be well and richly provided for. Married life therefore is no jest or presumption; it is an excellent thing and a matter of divine seriousness.”

The reformers’ early preoccupation with marriage was driven, in part, by their politics. A number of early leaders of the Reformation faced aggressive prosecution by the Catholic Church and its political allies for violation of the canon law of marriage and celibacy. Among the earliest Protestant leaders were ex-priests and ex-monastics who had forsaken their orders and vows, and often married shortly thereafter. Indeed, one of the acts of solidarity with the new Protestant cause was to marry or divorce in open violation of the canon law and in defiance of a bishop’s instructions. This was not just an instance of crime and disobedience. It was an outright scandal, particularly when an ex-monk such as Brother Martin Luther married an ex-nun such as Sister Katherine von Bora —a prima facie case of spiritual incest As Catholic Church courts began to prosecute these canon law offenses, Protestant theologians and jurists rose to the defense of their co-religionists, producing a welter of briefs, letters, sermons, and pamphlets that denounced traditional norms and pronounced a new theology of marriage.

Evangelical theologians treated marriage not as a sacramental insti­tution of the heavenly kingdom, but as a social estate of the earthly kingdom. Marriage was a natural institution that served the goods and goals of mutual love and support of husband and wife, procreation and nurture of children, and mutual protection of spouses from sexual sin. All adults, preachers and others alike, should pursue the calling of marriage, for all were in need of the comforts of marital love and of protection from sexual sin. When properly structured and governed, the marital house­hold served as a model of authority charity, and pedagogy in the earthly kingdom and as a vital instrument for the reform of Church, state, and society. Parents served as “bishops” to their children. Siblings served as priests to each other. The household altogether — particularly the Chris­tian household of the married minister — was a source of “evangelical impulses” in society.

Though divinely created and spiritually edifying, however, marriage and the family remained a social estate of the earthly kingdom. All parties could partake of this institution, regardless of their faith. Though subject to divine law and clerical counseling, marriage and family life came within the ,jurisdiction of the magistrate, not the cleric; of the civil law, not the canon law. The magistrate, as God’s vice-regent of the earthly kingdom, was to set the laws for marriage formation, maintenance, and dissolution; child custody, care, and control; family property, inheritance, and commerce.

Political leaders rapidly translated this new Protestant gospel into civil law. Just as the civil act of marriage often came to signal a person’s conversion to Protestantism, so the Civil Marriage Act came to symbol­ize a political community’s acceptance of the new Evangelical theology. Political leaders were quick to establish comprehensive new marriage laws for their polities, sometimes building on late medieval civil laws that had already controlled some aspects of this institution. The first reformation ordinances on marriage and family life were promulgated in 1522. More than sixty such laws were on the books by the time of Luther’s death in 1546. The number of new marriage laws more than doubled again in the second half of the sixteenth century in Evangelical portions of Germany. Collectively, these new Evangelical marriage laws: (1) shifted primary marital jurisdiction from the Church to the state; (2) strongly encouraged the marriage of clergy; (3) denied that celibacy, virginity, and monasticism were superior callings to marriage; (4) denied the sacramentality of marriage and the religious tests and impediments traditionally imposed on its participants; (5) modified the doctrine of consent to betrothal and marriage, and required the participation of parents, peers, priests, and political officials in the process of marriage formation; (6) sharply curtailed the number of impediments to betrothal and putative marriages; and (7) introduced divorce, in the modern sense, on proof of adultery, malicious desertion, and other faults, with a subse­quent right to remarriage at least for the innocent party. These changes eventually brought profound and permanent change to the life, lore, and law of marriage in Evangelical Germany.

John Witte, Jr., Law and Protestantism: The Legal Teachings of the Lutheran Reformation (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 200-202.

God’s Ideal Should Be Mine

Persons should accept marriage not only as a duty that served society, but also as a remedy against sexual sin. Since the fall into sin, lust has pervaded the conscience of every person, the Lutheran reformers insisted. Marriage has become an absolute necessity of sinful humanity, for without it, the person’s distorted sexuality becomes a force capable of overthrowing the most devout conscience. A person is enticed by his or her own nature to prostitution, masturbation, voyeurism, homosexuality, and sundry other sinful acts. The gift of marriage, Luther wrote, should be declined only by those who have received God’s gift of continence. “Such persons are rare, not one in a thousand, for they are a special miracle of God.” The Apostle Paul has identified this group as the permanently impotent and the eunuchs; few others can claim such a unique gift.

This understanding of the created origin and purpose of marriage un-dergirded the reformers’ bitter attack on celibacy and monasticism. To require celibacy of clerics, monks, and nuns was beyond the authority of the church and ultimately a source of great sin. Celibacy was for God to give, not for the church to require. It was for each individual, not for the church, to decide whether he or she had received this gift. By demanding monastic vows of chastity and clerical vows of celibacy, the church was seen to be intruding on Christian freedom and violating scripture, nature, and common sense. By institutionalizing and encouraging celibacy the church was seen to prey on the immature and the uncertain. By holding out food, shelter, security, and opportunity, the monasteries enticed poor and needy parents to condemn their children to celibate monasticism. Mandatory celibacy, Luther taught, was hardly a prerequisite to true service of God. Instead, it led to “great whoredom and all manner of fleshly impurity and… hearts filled with thoughts of women day and night.” For the consciences of Christians and non-Christians alike are infused with lust, and a life of celibacy and monasticism only heightens the temptation.

John Witte, Jr., From Sacrament to Contract: Marriage, Religion, and Law in the Western Tradition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 50.

Doctrinal Differences Still Matter Between Catholics and Protestants

Difference Between

Going to Heaven?

Do you want to see some theological white-washing (postmodern approaches to the Bible) of important issues facing the Church… that is, salvation through Christ Jesus… here Josh C. posted the following:

If faith without works is dead, and if works are acknowledged as a necessary result of faith, then quite frankly, what does it matter when God “justifies” us? This to me seems a matter of pure theory, in some ways unknowable by human beings. And yet it has divided masses of Christians who could otherwise be joining hand in hand to obey Jesus’ commandments in a world that needs such things. Real Christians have been stymied in the doing of real works for the sake of purely abstract mental constructs of which no man will ever have full knowledge. I find this an insult to the very spirit of Christianity. Jesus’ clear and unavoidable command of obedience, and his clear and unavoidable wish and prayer for unity, has been disavowed in favor of defeating other Christians on the battlefield of metaphysical abstractions! Nonsense.

I responded simply by saying: ‘I hope your OP was not about Catholic doctrine compared to Protestant.”

Stephen C. commented later by noting that,

Fighting 16th century debates that no one cares about any more is an utter waste of time and a slanderous representation of our Lord and his intents for his church and its testimony in the world.

To which Josh C. thumbed up (Facebook ya’ know). Here I responded with the following:

Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses claim Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross was to merely remove Adam’s sin from us. And now they work towards building up their salvation through good works (differing levels of heaven for LDS or an opportunity to serve on a new earth for J-Dubs). Apologists and theologians rightly show that this is a misrepresentation of salvation in the Scriptures. So while I will invite these theological and dangerous cults into my home and discuss these issues… I cannot point out that infant Baptism in the Catholic Church removes Adam’s original sin and now Catholics get the opportunity to work towards lessening of time in Purgatory? That is an unimportant theological issue?

Josh clarifies a bit…

I think there are people on all sides who get it wrong. The point isn’t “there aren’t issues.” The point is people claiming to know with absolute certainty what I do not believe, even with the Bible, they can know. Even worse, and my main point, is the using of these debate points to divide people and break fellowship.

I respond to the above

My wife’s whole family is Catholic (accept for her dad). A person I admire greatly for his authorship converted (I posted on it here many years ago)

I understand about not dividing in issues of policy, politics, and relations. I also understand there are “Evangelical Catholics” who reject Mariology and the like. Fine. I treat everyone as individuals.

BUT, as an organisation, if a person were to believe doctrine as taught by the Roman Catholic Faith, or Eastern Orthodoxy… I would be as adamant as the Reformers that this doctrine is in the spirit of anti-Christ, as, it opposes the finished work of Calvary.


Grace is another word for salvation and our status in sight of God being clothed with Jesus righteousness. Mary is not full of grace to be able to share with sinners. That is Christ’s (God’s) position alone to fill.

Am I suppose to not be able to express what the Bible teaches? Or how Jerome in the Latin Vulgate mistranslated a word and a pillar of Catholic doctrine is build on that false edifice (that the Greek corrects).

If that truth[s] divide, then so be it, but I am still close to my wife’s family ~ and her uncle, Father Joe, still asks me to convert at every family gathering (of which my wife is the oldest of about 44 grandkids/great-grandkids).

But on essential doctrine I do not budge. Sorry. 

  • In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love

BTW, I have a whole chapter (my largest) in my book on Evangelicals the get it wrong.



Double Imputation – Better Than A Double Rainbow


Imputed righteousness is a theological concept directly related to the doctrine of Justification. It is particularly prevalent in the Reformed tradition.

“Justification is that step in salvation in which God declares the believer righteous. Protestant theology has emphasized that this includes the imputation of Christ’s righteousness (crediting it to the believer’s “account”), whereas Roman Catholic theology emphasizes that God justifies in accord with an infused righteousnessmerited by Christ and maintained by the believer’s good works,” (Elwell Evangelical Dictionary). Imputed righteousness therefore means that upon repentance and belief in Christ, individuals are forensically declared righteous. This righteousness is not the believer’s own, rather it is Christ’s own righteousness ‘imputed’ to the believer.

A primary line of argumentation for this doctrine maintains that perfect righteousness or holiness is necessary to be with God. All mankind “fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) because all their ‘righteousness’ is like filthy rags (Is 64:6) before the throne of God, and so all are “dead in their trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1), and as a result “will not come into [God’s] light for fear that their evil deeds will be revealed” (John 3:20). All mankind is in this predicament because all are the offspring of Adam and Eve (Rom 5) who originally sinned against God. As a result of Adam’s fall, the world was cursed and sin entered the world. But upon confession of one’s own sin and faith in Christ’s death and resurrection, the sinner is justified and counted as having the righteousness of Christ.


Imputed righteousness is one of the classic doctrines of Protestantism and traces back through the Reformers – chiefly John Calvin and Martin Luther. These men stood against the Roman Catholic doctrine of infused righteousness where the righteousness of the saints and of Christ is gradually infused to the believer through the sacraments. For the Catholic, infused righteousness either gradually dissipates as the believer takes part in worldly sins or is enhanced by good works. If the believer dies without having the fullness of righteousness, coming in part from the last rites, he or she will temporarily spend time in purgatory until the sinful status is purged from his or her record.



The High Calling Of Parenting

In this third part of the summer “Family Series,” Pastor Jackson touches on where the parent/child relationship excels and fails Biblically, giving handy Scriptural reminders and useful tools to inculcate these “weighty measures” place on children and especially parents.

1) Biblical Roles in the Family
2) Worshipfully Prioritize Your Marriage by Faith!
3) The High Calling Of Parenting

Worshipfully Prioritize Your Marriage by Faith!

This past Sunday, Faith Community Church picked back up the summer series of “Faith Matters.” Greg Gifford (WEBSITE  | TWITTER) taught on how to apply Scripture to prioritizing your marriage by strengthening the “core” of this all-important relationship. Below are some practical tools to help you prioritize your marriage by faith:

1) DIGITAL BOUNDARIES: This means you need a location to keep your phones while at home so that they are not always on you, and always demanding your attention. A simply priority would be that you do not engage technology before you meaningfully engage your spouse.

2) FIRST FIFTEEN MINUTES PROJECT: Another thing that I encourage couples to all the time is the idea of crystallizing the first fifteen minutes that you are home for each other. This means that the wife stops what she’s doing if she’s home, or the husband stops what he’s doing and you guys take 15 minutes to talk with each other. We have to hang up the phone when our spouse walks in the door. We have to put dinner on hold for a few minutes. This is just a very practical way of saying you matter to me. You’re a priority. Children—be quiet. TV—be quiet. Telephone—be quiet. My spouse is home and they are a priority to me.



Biblical Roles In Family (Summer Sessions)

This is the first sermon in the summer session of 2017 at Faith Community. Over the summer Faith meets for only one service and has children as well as the parents sitting in the pews. This “kickoff” sermon discusses the issues of family and the roles of husband and wife, as well as the kids. A great connection is made to the roles of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Gay Christians?

(I am changing some of my “Pages” to “Posts,” so some of this info is older to my site)

  • …and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Galatians 2:20)

Luther Comments:

“Yet not I.” That is to say, not in mine own person, nor in mine own substance. Here he plainly showeth by what means he liveth; and he teacheth what true Christian righteousness is, namely, that righteousness whereby Christ liveth in us, and not that which is in our own person. And here Christ and my conscience must become one body, so that nothing remain in my sight but Christ crucified, and raised from the dead. But if I behold myself only, and set Christ aside, I am gone. For Christ being lost, there is no counsel nor succour, but certain desperation and destruction must follow.

This post [from top-to-bottom] deals with the “Identity Crisis” in unsaved [and saved] communities. Pastor Caleb Kaltenbach speaks to this crisis from a more personal experience[s]:

The following story starts will quote first Breitbart, following it will be a portion of an article (and audio) from an NPR piece.

(Breitbart) National Public Radio aired a remarkable interview on Sunday’s Weekend Edition with Allan Edwards, a Presbyterian pastor who is gay, yet lives a heterosexual life. Torn between his sexuality and his faith, he chose his faith–without trying to “convert” his attraction to men, and without trying to change his religion to fit his personal preferences. The conversation between NPR’s Weekend Edition and Edwards–and his wife–sheds light on an often overlooked constituency in the debate over gay marriage.

Edwards explains that he began to realize he was attracted to men during his teenage years, at the same time he was active in his church youth movement. He realized immediately that there was a conflict between his sexuality and his faith, and tried to find a justification in the Bible for living a gay life as a Christian. He could not, he says–and so he chose to live a heterosexual life, in accordance with the teachings of his church. He does not deny his gay sexuality, but does not act on those feelings, he says.

In that way, Edwards says, he is no different than anyone else. Everyone, he says, experiences some kinds of forbidden desire, or a sense of discontentment with their lives, and they have to adjust their behavior to their values and goals. He and his wife have a sexual relationship, despite his attraction to men, and they are expecting their first child. He is reluctant to judge others, but when pressed by Montaigne, says that he believes those who try to adjust Christianity to accept same-sex marriage are “in error.”

He acknowledges that others might call his lifestyle one of suppression–one that is doomed to divorce or suicide. He disagrees, and says that his relationship with God comes before other parts of his identity, including his sexuality….

How did this young man come to find his identity within the Christian faith? Simple, if Jesus is who He claims to be, then he [pastor Edwards… and we/us] should believe what Jesus believes. Simple:

...The Traded Life


Allan Edwards is the pastor of Kiski Valley Presbyterian Church in western Pennsylvania, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. He’s attracted to men, but considers acting on that attraction a sin. Accordingly, Edwards has chosen not to act on it.

“I think we all have part of our desires that we choose not to act on, right?” he says. “So for me, it’s not just that the religion was important to me, but communion with a God who loves me, who accepts me right where I am.”

Where he is now is married. He and his wife, Leanne Edwards, are joyfully expecting a baby in July.


He didn’t understand how he could resolve his feelings, he says, and had little support from his friends. “I didn’t know anyone else who experienced same-sex attractions, so I didn’t talk about it much at all,” Allan says.

But at a small, Christian liberal arts college, he did start talking.

“My expectation was, if I started talking to other guys about this, I’m going to get ostracized and lambasted,” Allan says. “I actually had the exact opposite experience … I actually was received with a lot of love, grace, charity: some confusion, but openness to dialogue.”

Allan considered following a Christian denomination that accepts gay relationships, but his interpretation of the Bible wouldn’t allow it, he says.

“I studied different methods of reading the scripture and it all came down to this: Jesus accepts the rest of the scripture as divined from God,” he says. “So if Jesus is who he says he is, then we kind of have to believe what he believes.”

…read more…

In other words, Christ’s claims and later His backing his claim with the Resurrection should make any one WANT to thank his/her creator by worshiping Him in obedience for the work done for each of us on Calvary. Pastor Edwards is building riches in his heavenly home in his obedience.

Wesley Hill, who is a scholar of New Testament studies and happens to be an openly gay Christian. He says the Bible makes it clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. And so, subjects himself to the will of the Lamb… not subjecting the Lamb to his will:

Now… I would be remiss to note as well that there are many people who once were gay, but through Christ’s redeeming power they no longer identify as homosexual. There is a play list of some testimony in this regard at Theology, Philosophy and Science’s YouTube Channel: Ex-Gay People.

The above testimonies and viewpoints add to a previous upload of mine a while back with three church leaders talking about this same-sex attraction but duty to God ~ and it is this duty to God that gives a new identity (a “new man” if you will):

The three men in the above interview (see below) have a powerful testimony to God working in their lives. They take Scripture serious and share their struggles openly and honestly in this interview by Justin Brierley of Premier Christian Radio for his show, “Unbelievable” ( This interview and some other recent insights via Stand to Reason and Girls Just Wanna Have Guns, has me evolving and honing my apologetic on this more and more (See #4 of my cumulative case:

▼ Sean Doherty is associate minister at St Francis, Dalgarno Way in London and teaches theology at St Mellitus College;
▼ Sam Allberry is associate minister at St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead;
▼ Ed Shaw is part of the leadership of Emmanuel Church, Bristol.

This is the larger interview of which I isolated Sean Doherty’s portion here.

And Savi Hensman of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement and Anglican blogger Peter Ould debate the issues in the interview.

Here I am adding a video by First Things, and it is a short talk about a woman who is gay but has chosen to live towards truth. While I am not a Catholic, I am an admirer of people who sacrifice for the faith:

Eve Tushnet is a lesbian and celibate Catholic freelance writer. She studied philosophy at Yale University, where she was received into the Catholic Church in 1998. She writes from D.C., and has been published in (among others) Commonweal, First Things, The National Catholic Register, National Review, and The Washington Blade. Eve blogs at

And one of the most important presentations delineating the issue of “can a Christian be a homosexual?” is by Dr. William Lane Craig (see also his article, “Christian Homosexuals?“):

You Do Not Know God Without Suffering

This extended quote picks up a few points into Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, enjoy the suffering…

In case one is wondering, I highly recommend this book as well as Reeves other book, The Unquenchable Flame: Discovering the Heart of the Reformation. It is the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation… for God’s sake learn about it.

21. The theologian of glory says bad is good and good is bad. The theologian of the cross calls them by their proper name.

This is really quite clear, for as long as a man does not know Christ he does not know God as hidden in sufferings. Such a man, therefore, prefers works to sufferings, and glory to a cross: he prefers powers to weakness, wisdom to foolishness…. These are they the Apostle calls enemies of the cross of Christ. Quite clearly, because they hate the cross and sufferings and certainly love works and the glory that goes with them. And thus they say that the good of the cross is evil, and call the evil of works good. But God is not to be found except in sufferings and in the cross as has been stated already…. It is impossible for a man not to be inflated by his own good works unless the experience of suffering and evil, having previously taken all the spirit out of him and broken him, has taught him that he is nothing and his works are not his own but God’s.

22. The sort of wisdom which sees the invisible things of God in known good works simply inflates a man, and ren­ders him both blind and hard.

This has been said already. For since it is clear that they know nothing about the cross and even hate it, then of ne­cessity they love the opposite, that is wisdom, glory, power and the like….

He who wishes to become wise should not go forward and seek wisdom but should become a fool, go back and seek foolishness. Thus, he who wants to become powerful and famous, to have a good time and enjoy all the good things of life, let him flee from power, fame, enjoyment and a sufficiency of everything and not seek after them. This is the wisdom we are talking about, the wisdom which is foolishness to the world.

The question Luther is addressing is this: How can we know God? There are some visible things humanity could look at: cre­ation, spiritual experiences, miracles. But Luther says that they do not reveal God. Or, rather, they reveal something of God, but it is the kind of knowledge that puffs people up. As a result, people never get beyond their pride to know the real God. This knowledge could “never be enough for a man, nor could it benefit him” (20). People like this think they have knowledge, but they do not—they are fools.

Is God then unknowable? If we cannot know him through what is visible, then can we know him at all? Are we left trying to know God through what is invisible? That is not very prom­ising, because we cannot see it! Luther’s answer is this: God is known through what is contrary. He is known in a hidden way. God’s invisible attributes are revealed in suffering and the cross: glory in shame, wisdom in folly, power in weakness, victory in defeat. God is known through the message of the cross.

So what Luther calls theologia crucis, “the theology of the cross,” is not so much an understanding of how the cross saves us (though, of course, that mattered to Luther). Even more, it is an approach to knowing God. It claims that knowing him starts with the cross. And this starting point turns all our notions of God and how he can be known upside down.

The theology of the cross stems from Luther’s understanding of righteousness and justification. Luther’s great realization was that God justified sinners. God declares to be just those who are unjust. Luther realized that if that is so, human notions of justice can never lead us to understand God’s justice. God’s justice is revealed in the opposite of justice: in the justification of the unjust. Alister McGrath says:

Luther’s discovery of the “wonderful new definition of righteousness” is essentially programmatic, and capable of being applied to other divine attributes… leading ultimately to the theologia crucis, the “theology of the cross”….

…For Luther, the “righteousness of God” is revealed exclusively in the cross, contradicting human preconcep­tions and expectations of the form that revelation should take.

If knowledge of God could be obtained from what is vis­ible (creation, spiritual experiences, miracles), it would lead to pride. Imagine if we knew God through creation. The people who knew him best would be those with the brains to under­stand the science of the universe. Or imagine we knew God through spiritual experience. The people who knew God would be those wealthy enough to spend time in contemplation. Peo­ple would be able to say, “I know God through my intelligence or my spirituality or my morality or my power.” It would lead to pride, and this pride would then obscure the glory and grace of God.

But God determined that he would be known through suf­fering so that he would be hidden from all those who exalt themselves. Here Luther is echoing the words of Jesus in Mat­thew 11:25-26: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

The opposite of the theology of the cross are theologies of glory. The theologians of glory pursue wisdom, experience, and miracles and say that suffering is bad. But the theologian of the cross values suffering as that through which God is re­vealed. Knowledge of God is not found through human wis­dom, human powers, or human achievements. It is found in the foolishness of the cross.

The religious leaders at the cross are like theologians of glory. They think God will reveal himself in a powerful act in which Jesus comes down from the cross (Mark 15:29-32). But by faith the centurion sees God revealed in the suffering and abandonment of Jesus (Mark 15:39).

Luther talks about God’s “alien work,” opus alienum, his actions which are alien to his nature, but by which he achieves his “proper work,” opus proprium. Sometimes God assaults us in order to break us. In this light, suffering can be seen as a gracious divine gift.

Only someone who has had “all the spirit [taken] out of him and [been] broken” can know God. Often Luther is translated as saying that “humility” is the precondition for knowing God. But the word is really “humiliation.” Only someone who is humiliated before God can truly know him. In other words, Luther is not commending a certain type of piety that paves the way to a better understanding of God. He is saying that we have to come to the end of ourselves before we accept God’s gracious revelation. In another context Luther gave this advice to those who aspired to study theology:

I want you to know how to study theology in the right way. I have practiced this method myself. . . . The method of which I am speaking is the one which the holy king David teaches in Psalm 119. . . . Here you will find three rules. They are frequently proposed throughout the psalm and run thus: oratio, meditatio, tentatio [prayer, meditation, trials].

Trials are a key way in which we learn the truth about God. Luther had in mind verses like these:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,

but now I keep your word. (Ps. 119:67)

It is good for me that I was afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes. (Ps. 119:71)

I know, 0 LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me. (Ps. 119:75)

It is often trials that move knowledge from our heads and embed it in our hearts.

Luther was skeptical about the value of philosophy in the­ology. “Theology is heaven, yes even the kingdom of heaven; man however is earth and his speculations are smoke.” Luther, never knowingly understated, described “reason” as the Devil’s whore, a beast and the enemy of God. In fact Luther valued reason in matters of human society. He also valued reason as a tool to order biblical material. But we cannot discover the truth about God through human reason. Quite the opposite—reason leads us astray because the God revealed in the cross is contrary to human expectations.

Instead, to recognize God in the absence of God, to recog­nize victory in defeat, to recognize glory in shame requires faith. God is known only by faith. And because knowing him requires faith, this is an act of grace.

So God can be known only by those to whom he gives faith. Salvation is by grace alone. We are used to that idea. But it is the same for our knowledge of God. It is not just our salvation that is by faith alone and grace alone. We do not contribute to our knowledge of God. It is all God’s doing. Our knowledge of God is by grace alone. You do not know God because you were cleverer than other people or have greater spiritual insight or spend more time in contemplation. You know God because he has graciously revealed himself to you in the message of the cross. It is an act of grace. God reveals himself in a hidden way in order to safeguard the graciousness of revelation.

So the cross subverts all human notions of glory. The mes­sage we proclaim—the message of Christ crucified—is foolish­ness and weakness in the sight of the world. This is Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians. Indeed, in many ways Luther’s theology of the cross often feels like an extended meditation of 1 Corinthians 1. In 1:23-25 we read:

We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

And with this foolish, weak message of the cross goes a foolish, weak community of the cross.

But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the pres­ence of God. (1:27-29)

So the cross leaves no scope for human boasting. Instead our one boast is in Christ Jesus, “who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” Therefore, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1:30-31).

Let us summarize the key features of Luther’s theology of the cross [McGrath again]:


5. God is particularly known through suffering. It is not just that God can be known through suffering, but that he uses suffering to make himself known. And for Luther this encompasses both the sufferings of Christ and the suffer­ings of the individual. God humiliates us so that we may know him.