Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Review of "On Being a Theologian of the Cross" by Gerhard Forde

I have written a review of Gerhard Forde's work On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther's Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. It can be found Here.


Steve Martin said...

What a great book.

Every Christian should read it.


Martin Yee said...

Hi Jordan,

Great critique! As per Karl Rahner's rule, the act cannot be isolated from the being of the Trinity, the immanent is the economic Trinity and vice versa.

So what other writings on the Heidelberg Disputation can you recommend? How about Hans Joachim Iwand's lecture on it at Have you read that?



John Bugay said...

Jordan, you concluded, "if one is looking to understand Luther's heidelberg disputation, I would suggest looking elsewhere." Suggestions off the top of your head?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you have gone for the heart here. Look forward to checking it out.


Jordan Cooper said...

My favorite work on the subject is "Luther's Theology of the Cross" by Walter VonLoewenich. I don't think it's still in print, but looking for a used copy is very much worth your time. I know that Allister McGrath has a work on the subject which I've heard generally positive reviews of, but I haven't read it myself.

Bruce Zittlow said...

There's a reason Forde's work will always trump von Lowenich's. The latter is impenetrable, clumsily written or translated. Forde at least could write. (Unless there is a newer version of von Loewenich that I'm unaware of.)

Steve Martin said...

I love how Forde constantly defends and proclaims God's all encompassing work for sinners.

Whenever I am at a Southern Baptist blog, or a Roman Catholic blog, and I defend Christ's work...ALONE....they invariably shoot back with something that we should, ought, or must be doing. 'Christ +'. It's everywhere.

Mike Baker said...

Pr. Cooper,

I used to love this book when I first joined Lutheranism, but my opinion of it has cooled as I have had a chance to read more.

Alot to chew on in that review. Some interesting new insights. I had caught one of points in your reveiw before: Forde does pit knowing God against proclimation and theology in a way that Luther would not have agreed. The classic experience vs. doctrine false dichotomy.

I'd like to expand this point with my own impressions...

After about Thesis 20 or so, Forde starts moving away from trying to shed light on the Disputation and travels down what seems to be a personal tangent on suffering. In his attempt to distance both he and Luther from rationalism, I think Forde pushes it too far and starts reading 20th and 21st century philosphical and theological debates into Luther's intent in 1518.

It is around that point that Forde says, "True knowledge of God, therefore, does not come on a theological platter. We are predisposed to distort things, to see wrongly, and to speak falsely. We construct a doctrine of God amenable to our projects. So the only way to know God is through suffering, the suffering of the one who saves us." (My emphasis added)

This is a far cry from Luther's original points in my estimation. Luther's early thesis statements seem to point to God's hiddeness from man and how man's personal experience and council is the exact opposite of what it should be. Part of Luther's original idea here (and fully developed in his later works) is that this unknowable will of God is revealed in Christ and His suffering. Forde agrees with this premise that God is hidden, but I believe he starts to depart from Luther at this point and arrives at a slightly different solution than Luther.

It is subtle, but Forde moves off of Luther's path slightly by moving from God's suffering apart from us and turns it inward to our own subjective suffering. Later in his explinations of Thesis 21-23, He equates this suffering of Christ with Luther's spiritual suffering and presents it as an example thus pointing to the spiritual suffering of all Christians by extension. The focus turns away from Christ's suffering and then advances into suffering in the abstract. It is only here in this subjective spiritual angst that the Christian can truly know God according to Forde. Forde frames this in clearly monergistic terms, but it is clear that this Divine operation is the way to bring the Christian into knowledge of God through passivity of will via personal experience. Why? Forde says, "Because in actual suffering all theorizing is over. One enters into contention with God. Precisely in his rash protest over his suffering Job unwittingly speaks the truth about God." And with that Forde downplays the objective Word that is subjectively applied to the sinner in favor of an exestintial wrestling with God in which God must always win and thus reveal Himself to the sinner with the sinner's own suffering as the primary means.

The truth is that Luther himself destroys this opinion with Thesis 23 where the law kills, reviles, accuses, judges, and condemns everything that is not Christ... including Forde's angst. Unless I am overstating Forde's conclusion, the contrast between Luther's objective focus and Forde's subjective focus appears to be very stark. I would also point out that Forde, in his effort to divorce spiritual experience from revelation as unknowable and a distorted construct influenced by rationalism, conveniently leaves off the end of the Book of Job where Job's sufferings do not lead him to any concrete answers except that which God choses to reveal directly to him on a theological platter.

How close am I? All of this might be nit-picking of course.