The Theology of the Cross: Reflections on His Cross and Ours
Daniel M. Deutschlander
Northwestern Publishing House, 283 pages, paperback, $17.99.
Book review by Gregory L. Jackson, PhD
Professor Daniel Deutschlander was loved and respected by his students at Northwestern College, Watertown, Wisconsin (WELS). Many took the German courses just so they could have him as a teacher. His courses were marked as German language classes, but he also taught Lutheran theology. He was a tough teacher who expected preparation for each class. When he heard that one student took German at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, he said, “That’s good. Mrs. Lawrenz does not teach whoopee-Deutsch.”
Now retired, Deutschlander has written a book that will be influential for many years to come. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod would be wise to distribute and promote this book. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod pastors will doubtless welcome this work as a welcome antidote to the theology of glory promoted by the Schwaermer and their covert allies in the Lutheran Church.
Schwaermer is a term used by Luther to describe the Enthusiasts who separate the Holy Spirit from the Means of Grace. They buzz around like bees, filling the world with their books while claiming the Word of God alone is not effective.
One Evangelical Lutheran Synod member asked me, “Do we need another book about Luther’s theology of the cross?”
I said, “Yes, we do. It will be good for the Wisconsin Synod and the ELS because it comes from one of their own, a highly respected teacher.”
The preface to the book would make a good conference essay by itself, an excellent summary of the situation today. One quotation indicates the wisdom and wit of the book that follows:
“The phony and the artificial church turns worship into a spiritual happy hour devoid of repentance, with cheap absolution, with no thought of taking God seriously in either the law or the gospel. And people love it. They still get to be their own god, their own bible, their own source of ultimate truth and salvation.” (p. vii)
The chapters include:
Chapter 1: What Is the Theology of the Cross?
Chapter 2: The Paradox
Chapter 3: Slivers on the Cross
Chapter 4: Slivers under the Cross
Chapter 5: The Theology of the Cross and the Hidden God
Chapter 6: The Hidden God in the Christian
Chapter 7: Crosses—A Sampler
Chapter 8: The Special Crosses of Pastors and the Visible Church
Appendix 1: A summary of Hermann Sasse’s “Luther’s Theology of the Cross”
Appendix 2: Lenten Sermon Series: Behold the Hidden Glory of the Cross
C. F. W. Walther wrote, “The nearer to Luther, the better the theologian.” But Lutherans have forgotten this admonition. Deutschlander’s book is a careful examination of Luther’s thought and how it applies to our situation today.
“But when speak of the theology of the cross in dogmatic theology, we are speaking not only about Christ’s cross but also about our cross, the cross of the Christian in his life of faith. While never losing sight of Jesus’ cross, it is the cross he sends us that will also occupy our attention in this book.” (p. 1)
When people read this book, they will be struck by Deutschlander’s broad education and his spiritual wisdom derived from study of the Word. Even more, he comes across as a German who understands the Luther corpus. Some have argued that the Lutheran Church began to turn Schwaermer when it gave up German. Numerous WELS pastors said to me in shock, “You can read German?” I responded, “You graduated from seminary and you can’t?” I remember the Mequon librarian overhearing one such exchange and nodding, “That’s what I say too.”
When German Lutherans were made ashamed of their heritage after WWI, they turned to a wide variety of English theology books, often with the claim - “to improve my English.” Also, WWI brought Lutheran groups together to help in the relief of Europe after the war. Cooperation in externals led to many other forms of cooperation today, including joint evangelism and worship efforts with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Many Lutheran pastors of that era saw the Reformed as their allies in doctrine, since the conservative Reformed authors favored inerrancy and regarded the papacy as the Antichrist. The influence of Pietism also influenced Lutherans to regard the Reformed as partners. The congregations of Germany were mostly union congregations where Lutheran doctrine was stifled to create an artificial harmony.
In contrast, Deutschlander, a German in name and doctrine, does not begin by trying to manufacture an artificial bridge between the Schwaermer and Luther, to subordinate Luther’s doctrine to the doubtful claims of the Enthusiasts.
“Notice first that Jesus makes the cross for is followers a consequence, not a cause, of discipleship. He is addressing those in whom the gospel has already created faith and who now wish to follow him.” (p. 2f.)
Luther wrote, and we confess:
“If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where the Word of God is preached, accepted, or believed, and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be wanting. And let no one think that he shall have peace; but he must risk whatever he has upon earth-possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. Now, this hurts our flesh and the old Adam; for the test is to be steadfast and to suffer with patience in whatever way we are assailed, and to let go whatever is taken from us.” (p. 4; see also - http://www.bookofconcord.org/lc-5-ourfather.php)
The Theology of the Cross combines a thorough knowledge of Luther, the Book of Concord, and the Scriptures. Deutschlander is an author who writes from a lifetime of study, so there is never an impression of grabbing a quotation to make a point. There is perfect harmony in his use of Scripture, Luther, and the Book of Concord. If the theology of the cross is true to Luther and the Word, then the worship service should express that concept – an odd counterpoint to “Twenty sub-woofers behind that movie screen!”
Luther’s doctrine should be a litmus test of the Sunday service. Deutschlander’s exposition shows how the cross is both necessary and good, a joy for the Christian. Conversely, it must be a fatal error to avoid what God sends to the believer, since it is divinely ordained and graciously willed. ”Suffering and joy are two sides of the same coin in the Christian’s life.” (p. 10)
I was warned that The Theology of the Cross is not an easy book to read, but it is better to study one book methodically than to rush through several whoopee-inspirational books, or worse, something like Your Church Can Grow. The first chapter alone is an excellent review of the topic, with many insights for future sermons and classes. Sadly, Lutherans have shunned the cross and made fun of those who have crosses to bear, as if God’s grace only comes in the form of large audiences, institutional advancement, perfect health, and impressive salaries. Luther’s theology of the cross is a source of comfort, and Deutschlander explores that comfort from many different perspectives.
The Paradox (Chapter 2) discusses how the cross is both a source of joy and pain, a comfort but still oppressive. Luther often referred to it as “the dear cross” and “the holy cross.” This paradox cannot be resolved. The only way to remove the cross is to get rid of the Gospel, a temptation too great for many to resist. They do not say or even admit they are jettisoning the Gospel. They are only trying to remove the pain of the cross. However, they cannot have the Gospel without the cross Jesus promised:
KJV Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
KJV Matthew 10:38 And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
One summary statement from Deutschlander shows his eloquence and understanding: “Only in loss do we begin to grasp how overly dependent we had become on the gift for our joy rather than on the giver of the gift.” (p. 45)
Slivers on the Cross (Chapter 3) deals with the cultural clash between the Christian faith and the world. The chapter title is unforgettable and easily remembered in connection with the topics covered, such as the influence of rationalism and evolution. A believer is going to have his belief in the inerrancy of the Word challenged, leaving a tiny sliver of the cross embedded and annoying his flesh. One Presbyterian minister said to me, “We laughed when we heard you would not share in performing the marriage with me.”
Slivers Under the Cross (Chapter 4) begins: “To carry the cross in the grand procession of the saints on the way to heaven is to deny self. The parade is a messy one. The path is strewn with the dead souls of those who gave up along the way because they were spiritually lazy.” (p. 89) This chapter is ideal for those who imagine that the religion of self-esteem is their medicine for happiness. The cross we bear is directly related to our station in life and our duties to others. There is a humorous and insightful paragraph on husbands and wives (Ephesians 5), p. 100. The point of the chapter and book is to say that joy comes from bearing the cross, not from demanding an easy life free of the cross.
The Theology of the Cross and the Hidden God (Chapter 5) uses the examples of Biblical figures to show how God seemed to be hidden from them. Sentimental portrayals of Biblical heroes tend to emphasize glory rather than the cross. One aspect of Reformed preaching is to have a series of sermons on Biblical figures, moving the focus from God’s promises to man’s experiences. Some churches feel a need to dramatize these efforts, dressing up pastors as those figures for a greater effect. The absolute nadir was reached when one conservative Lutheran pastor dressed as the woman at the well (John 4) to give his transvestite sermon. Deutschlander’s chapter is a good review of what Luther said – that God did not spare his saints. Is it any wonder that the pie in the sky, by and by churches develop into temples of occultic apostasy? I think not. This chapter may seem to be bitter medicine, but an ounce of efficacious medicine is better than a quart of tasty but useless sugar syrup.
“Look at how Christ reveals himself. He conceals his glory, hiding it in lowliness and suffering. His two greatest miracles he hid from the world.” (p. 118)
This chapter addresses the necessity of Lutheran worship reflecting the theology of the cross rather than the theology of glory. (p. 132) Roman Catholic worship is focused on the glory of the pope, the special abilities of the priest to consecrate, and the works of man in earning God’s favor. As a witness to numerous Catholic services, I can say that they are impressive examples of pageantry, well organized and choreographed to perfection. But, like Deutschlander, I also have to say they are monstrous in overthrowing the Gospel in the name of God. (p. 133)
Another theology of glory worship is more familiar to Lutherans, since they want to ape it – “whoopee worship.” Those in attendance are entertained, titillated, and amused, but the service does not address sin and guilt, forgiveness and salvation.
One unfortunate error remains in the book, the unhappy consequence of the Synodical Conference’s Objective Justification error, enshrined in the Brief Statement of the LCMS and found in the WELS Kokomo Statements. Deutschlander writes:
“ For faith receives the completed work of Christ; faith does not cause it. It is justification already accomplished and a salvation made entirely ours by faith alone.” (p. 138)
If the author had said, “It is atonement already accomplished,” he would have been correct. The Bible does not have God “declaring the entire world righteous.” Luther and the Book of Concord only teach justification by faith alone. Robert Preus clearly stated in his last book, Justification and Rome, that justification is only used for justification by faith.
Synodical Conference members are teaching the truth when they use the Biblical terms of atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, and redemption – all witnessing to the objective truth of Christ’s sacrifice, even if no one ever believed it. But it is long past-due time to bury the dual justification language, which has been used and abused, borrowed from the Halle Pietists, and preserved only among Midwestern Lutherans.
Some relevant quotations from Luther and the Book of Concord are listed at the end of this review.
Deutschlander also deals with the crosses borne by various age groups and by various pastors. His treatment of the temptations of young pastors is especially germane for today, since the institutional church places so much emphasis upon numbers rather than faithfulness to the Gospel. The old mainline churches tended to view the ending of a congregation as a noble act. As one pastor said, “It was my mission to close that church.”
So Fuller Seminary got everyone to view an increase in numbers as a noble act, no matter how this was achieved. If harmony, huge donations, and worldly admiration are the mark of a good pastor, very few in church history fit that model. Luther’s Reformation lost members as soon as the cross was felt. The Reformer said, “It was like a wind blowing through an orchard, knocking down apples.”
The sermon series material in the appendix shows that this book has been planned and executed to serve the needs of worshiping Lutherans. I hope pastors and laity will make this work, a lifetime achievement, a best seller and a basic book for regular review. This book will help laity and pastors alike, and all age groups as well.
The Theology of the Cross is an ideal gift for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, ordinations, and funerals. Some may gasp at The Theology of the Cross being opened by the bride and groom, amidst gasps and whispers. And yet people joke all the time about marital conflict. This book is a comfort for all who bear the cross, including husbands and wives. Pastors will make better spiritual counselors if they take Deutschlander’s advice to heart. This book is just the opposite of secular counseling. Imagine young people learning about the theology of the cross instead hearing about their rights as victims of parental and educational oppression. Teens have many sorrows, and that pain is not healed by secular nostrums.
Quotations on Justification by Faith
"It is a faithful saying that Christ has accomplished everything, has removed sin and overcome every enemy, so that through Him we are lords over all things. But the treasure lies yet in one pile; it is not yet distributed nor invested. Consequently, if we are to possess it, the Holy Spirit must come and teach our hearts to believe and say: I, too, am one of those who are to have this treasure. When we feel that God has thus helped us and given the treasure to us, everything goes well, and it cannot be otherwise than that man's heart rejoices in God and lifts itself up, saying: Dear Father, if it is Thy will to show toward me such great love and faithfulness, which I cannot fully fathom, then will I also love Thee with all my heart and be joyful, and cheerfully do what pleases Thee. Thus, the heart does not now look at God with evil eyes, does not imagine He will cast us into hell, as it did before the Holy Spirit came...."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, III, p. 279. Pentecost Sunday. John 14:23-31.
"Faith is that my whole heart takes to itself this treasure. It is not my doing, not my presenting or giving, not my work or preparation, but that a heart comforts itself, and is perfectly confident with respect to this, namely, that God makes a present and gift to us, and not we to Him, that He sheds upon us every treasure of grace in Christ."
Apology of the Augsburg Confession, IV. #48. Of Justification. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 135. Heiser, p. 36.
"These treasures are offered us by the Holy Ghost in the promise of the holy Gospel; and faith alone is the only means by which we lay hold upon, accept, and apply, and appropriate them to ourselves. This faith is a gift of God, by which we truly learn to know Christ, our Redeemer, in the Word of the Gospel, and trust in Him, that for the sake of His obedience alone we have the forgiveness of sins by grace, are regarded as godly and righteous by God the Father, and are eternally saved."
Formula of Concord, Thorough Declaration, III. #10. Of the Righteousness of Faith before God. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 919. Tappert, p. 541. Heiser, p. 250.
"For neither you nor I could ever know anything of Christ, or believe on Him, and obtain Him for our Lord, unless it were offered to us and granted to our hearts by the Holy Ghost through the preaching of the Gospel. The work is done and accomplished; for Christ has acquired and gained the treasure for us by His suffering, death, resurrection, etc. But if the work remained concealed so that no one knew of it, then it would be in vain and lost. That this treasure, therefore, might not lie buried, but be appropriated and enjoyed, God has caused the Word to go forth and be proclaimed, in which He gives the Holy Ghost to bring this treasure home and appropriate it to us. Therefore sanctifying is nothing else than bringing us to Christ to receive this good, to which we could not attain ourselves.”
The Large Catechism, The Creed, Article III, #38, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 689. Tappert, p. 415. Heiser, p. 194.
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