The Purest Theology

Martin Luther once said, “the cross of Christ is the only instruction in the Word of God there is, the purest theology.” For Luther, the cross was far more than a saving event though of course he affirmed that it was central to salvation. His argument went far deeper. He believed that the cross was the central event of theology, the definitive act of God’s revelation and self-identification.

Calvary was a game changer. The Triune God is now and forever the “God of the cross.” As Robert Kolb states, the cross is “where human beings can see what God’s experience, God’s disposition—even God’s essence— really are.” If we would find God, Kolb says we must look in the most unexpected places. We find him as a “child in a crib, as a criminal on a cross, and as a corpse in a crypt.”

Luther based these theological assertions on his reading of Paul, particularly the Corinthian correspondence. Paul argues in 1 Corinthians 1-2 that the cross destroys our perceptions of reality and redefines everything. Wisdom, power and glory are now foolishness, weakness and humility. The cross turns the world on its head.

If the cross becomes our center and we orbit about the Crucified God things will never be the same. We will see with a different lens. We will make decisions that won’t make sense to others. We will value things that are often despised. We will recognize God in places we’ve never seen him before. We will embrace a cruciform existence and in small ways reflect the heart of this humble God.

The Creature’s Psalm

Psalm 131 is a short psalm containing only three verses. And yet, it is crammed full of great creation theology. With brevity, the psalmist captures the heart of what it means to be a creature before God. He presents a pathway to peace, an alternative to a frantic existence. Take a look at the text.

“O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.”

The psalmist has embraced his human boundaries. He knows the limits of his capacity, ability, and influence. His words are an affirmation, an acceptance, as it were, of his very nature. It is as if he said, “I know I am a human being and I embrace all that entails. I find peace within the confines of my humanity…for it is here that I rest in my Creator and relish in being his creature.”

The text implies that the root of anxiety is the transgression of creaturely boundary. It is in occupying ourselves with things that belong to God that we are made restless and worrisome. We try to control what we cannot. We attempt to change things beyond our power. We grasp for knowledge that is above us. We seat ourselves on the divine throne though our feet cannot touch the ground.

Joseph Alexander states, “The great and wonderful things meant are God’s secret purposes, and sovereign means for their accomplishment, in which man is not called to cooperate, but to acquiesce.” Operating beyond our bounds will inevitably run us down. It’s like putting a four cylinder engine in a semi truck. On the other hand, rest comes from refusing to be anything but human.

The truth of this text also helps us to think realistically about the reach of our influence, the impact of our abilities, and the aspirations of our hearts. John Calvin has some helpful comments in this vein.

“In this he teaches us a very useful lesson, and one by which we should be ruled in life — to be contented with the lot which God has marked out for us, to consider what he calls us to, and not to aim at fashioning our own lot ­ to be moderate in our desires, to avoid entering upon rash undertakings, and to confine ourselves cheerfully within our own sphere, instead of attempting great things…the question, therefore, was not whether the lot of David was mean or exalted; it is enough that he was careful not to pass beyond the proper bounds of his calling…those who, like David, submit themselves to God, keeping in their own sphere, moderate in their desires, will enjoy a life of tranquillity and assurance.”

Charles Spurgeon addresses this same issue from his own angle.

“It is well so to exercise ourselves unto godliness that we know our true sphere, and diligently keep to it. A man does well to know his own size. Ascertaining his own capacity, he will be foolish if he aims at that which is beyond his reach, straining himself, and thus injuring himself. Such is the vanity of many men that if a work be within their range they despise it, and think it beneath them: the only service which they are willing to undertake is that to which they have never been called, and for which they are by no means qualified.”

Spurgeon also adds that this psalm is “one of the shortest Psalms to read, but one of the longest to learn.” Indeed, being human is the hardest thing for humans to do. It is this reality that made the incarnation necessary. The gospel is about making us human once again, for it puts to death our attempts to be more than human and releases us from all that makes us less than human. Sin within either works to exalt or degrade our humanity. God’s grace engages both impulses, suffocating them and replacing them with new desires. These new creation impulses created through the gospel are not exceptional, they are mundane. They are desires to be a human being—trusting the Creator and roaming in the freedom of being a creature.

Pascal on Living in the Present

Blaise Pascal was a Christian philosopher, scientist, and mathematician that lived in the 1600’s. He had a sharp mind and wrote some helpful stuff. One of his famous works is titled Pensees, which is french for “thoughts.” The book is a compilation of meditations on various topics. The following is a quote from Pensees on living in the present. Pascal’s thoughts here are insightful and challenging.

“We never keep to the present. We recall the past; we anticipate the future as if we found it too slow in coming and were trying to hurry it up, or we recall the past as if to stay its too rapid flight. We are so unwise that we wander about in times that do not belong to us, and do not think of the only one that does; so vain that we dream of time that are not and blindly flee the only one that is. The fact is that the present usually hurts. We thrust it out of sight because it distresses us, and if we find it enjoyable, we are sorry to see it slip away. We try to give it the support of the future, and think how we are going to arrange things over which we have no control for a time we can never be sure of reaching. Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light it throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.” [1]


[1] Blaise Pascal, Pensees (London: Penguin Books, 1995), 13.

God’s Upside Down Mission Strategy

Paul once stated that the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world  (1 Cor 1:18-31). His point, God’s choice of strategy for enacting his saving plans makes no sense to the world. This foolish wisdom is seen clearly in the incarnation, the cross, and the selection of the twelve disciples. Last year, I spent some time working on the theme of the twelve disciples and God’s upside down mission strategy. Here is the document: The Choice of Twelve: God’s Strange Mission Strategy.