The Cross Alone Is Our Theology

What must God be like? Jesus’ death upsets every simple answer. /

“The cross alone is our theology.” So said the Reformer Martin Luther. After all, if the one nailed to the cross truly is Immanuel—God with us—then we desperately need to rethink what God is like. What kind of God is this who would bleed and die for us? This is not the kind of Supreme Being I naturally imagine when my mind goes gallivanting. Settled cozily in my armchair, I tend to assume that God must be rather like me. Bigger and better, I concede, but basically like me. Me on cosmic steroids. Then I see the cross, and it is like a defibrillator for the mind.

There on the cross is displayed the glory, the wisdom, the righteousness, the love, the justice, and the power of God (1 Cor. 1:18–31). And none of it looks anything like what you'd expect. Would you ever have thought a man dying on a cross was the definition of love? Yet this is how we know what love is (1 John 3:16). Would you ever have looked at the miscarriage of justice that was his trial and imagined that there, above all, is displayed the perfect justice of God? Yet God did it to demonstrate his justice (Rom. 3:26). Would you ever have dreamed that the Almighty would make the definitive display of his power there, nailed to a cross between common criminals? There seems to be nothing powerful about that man in the throes of death. Yet, hanging there, he is crushing the head of the Serpent, tying up the strong man, driving out the prince of this world, destroying death, putting the spiritual powers to open shame and triumphing over them. On the cross we see true, pure power, used as it should be: to bless. “And so,” wrote T. F. Torrance, “the cross with all its incredible meekness and patience and compassion is no deed of passive and beautiful heroism simply, but the most potent and aggressive deed that heaven and earth have ever known: the attack of God's holy love upon the inhumanity of man and the tyranny of evil, upon all the piled up contradiction of sin.”

Adam sought knowledge from the tree, and died; Christ died on his tree and won for us a knowledge altogether more wonderful: the knowledge of God. In other words, on the cross we are given not only the sweet salvation of God but the counterintuitive revelation of God. On the cross we see how humble, how self-giving, how perfectly generous and compassionate the living God is. That is why Luther wanted all thinking about God to be done in the shadow of the cross.

And all thinking about ourselves, in fact. For as the cross reveals God to us, so in the same moment it unmasks us. His light shows up our darkness. It happened first to the crowds in Jerusalem: their bloodthirsty fickleness and guilt were bared by his quiet innocence. And we fare no better. The humility of the Son of God, descending from glory to Golgotha, exposes our pride in all its foolishness, pettiness and ugliness. His use of power exposes our horrid abuse of it. His rampant kindness exposes our slovenly selfishness. His very graciousness judges us. His coming to save proves our need and our plight. In the cross we see not only God's goodness; we see our own perversion.

Michael Reeves is director of Union, a theological training initiative at Wales Evangelical School of Theology. Excerpted from Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. Copyright (c) 2015 by Michael Reeves. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 60516.

Follow The Behemoth on Twitter and Facebook.

Also in this Issue

Issue 32 / October 1, 2015
  1. Editor's Note from October 01, 2015

    Issue 32: Sloths’ splendid slowness, Lilias Trotter’s gambit, and a cross-eyed view of God. /

  2. Who Are You Calling a Deadly Sin?

    The sloth’s slowness is its virtue. /

  3. ‘I Cannot Give Myself to Painting’

    Why one of the greatest Victorian artists walked away. /

  4. The Basics of Iridescence

    ‘the bare bones of that fleeting / soap-bubble sheen’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Issue 32: Links to amazing stuff. /

Issue Archives