Spirituality of the Cross

martin_lutherAs far as simple accounts of Lutheran theology go, the spirituality of the cross has been a lasting strength and alternative to cultures centered upon success and glory. As Gene Veith puts it, “Lutheran spirituality begins by facing up to imperfection” (Spirituality of the Cross, 17). Thus, spirituality is not about our own activity but rather our passivity in allowing God to break into our life. Hence the obvious Lutheran commitment to salvation described in terms of what Christ does for us in contrast to later evangelicals that focused attention upon personal decisions and experiences.

Infant Baptism, in fact, is perhaps the best illustration of justification by faith… In justification, the human being is purely passive, purely receptive… A helpless child becomes our role model for conversion (44)

Furthermore, in the Lutheran tradition, the Christian is never encouraged to look inward but to look to the cross and God’s promises. This is because the self is characterized by sin rather than perfection. A big duh to be sure. But even the Christian, who surely should see some inward renewal, is left wondering about his/her own salvation. In other words, God is hidden even to those who claim to be Christ’s followers.

This is not permission to avoid being good though, quite the opposite. Even if justification has nothing to do with good deeds, the Christian’s relationship with others is put into action through love and kindness. Therefore, the Lutheran doctrine of vocation affirms that by fulfilling the demands of one’s earthly role is to do so for God and through God. Although there are serious limitations to the doctrine of the “two kingdoms” (i.e., doing one’s job does not always align with kingdom ends), it does a remarkable job owning up to the physical world and ordinary life. It provides a way to actively engage the world without utopian expectations that frustrate and cause schizophrenic lives. In other words, it’s a good alternative to all-or-nothing thinking.

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