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The Theology of The Cross in Historical Perspective.

THE THEOLOGY OF THE CROSS IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE. Anna Madsen. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2007. Pp. 269 + ix, pb, $28.00. THE SCANDALOUS GOD, THE USE AND ABUSE OF THE CROSS. Vitor West helle, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2006. Pp. 180 + xii, pb, $18.00. Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens.

Madsen addresses us on 1) The Cross in Contemporary Theology; 2) The Stumbling Block that Became the Cornerstone: The Cross in Paul's Theology; 3) Calling the Thing What it Actually Is: Luther's Theology of the Cross; 4) The Cross Planted in the Soil of War, Feminism, Poverty, and Wealth; and 5) Is there One Theology of the Cross? Her book contains an excellent bibliography and separate indexes for names, topics, and scripture references. She is professor of Religion at Augustana College in Sioux Falls and is ordained in the ELCA communion.

The theology of the cross is, without question, a concept that is receiving much attention today. Many publications are being produced which address the issue. This one, however, demonstrates that a theology of the cross is not a fanciful preoccupation for the dilettante. This work is substantive and comprehensive. Theologies of the cross appear at the earliest moments in the church's history, are reviewed and revised during the Reformation by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and the other great Reformers of the 16th century, and are being revisited by leading thinkers of the modern church. Many are sure that without theologies of the cross the message of the believing Christian community is unclear.

The substance of Madsen's work is her survey of the theology of the cross in the thinking of Paul and Luther. She also outlines several important 20th century efforts to explicate the subject. On the basis of her analysis, Madsen suggests that the theology of the cross demonstrates that even in death God is revealed. There boundaries disappear and Christians are assured that God is present to us in our extremity of sin, suffering, and uncertainty. This fact of life, in itself, declares that the proper theology of the cross is ultimately a theology of grace, freedom, and trust, since it announces again that the true nature of God's presence to us cannot be eclipsed even by our apparent termination.

Westhelle takes a somewhat different approach. Instead of Madsen's perspective, which is in the final analysis pastoral and passionate, his trajectory is more intellectualized. His ten chapters include 1) Evasions of the Scandal; 2) The Scandalous God; 3) God Against God, Reformation, Then and Now; 4) Uses and Abuses, Modern Critiques and Responses; 5) Knowledge and Suffering, Epistemological Implications of the Cross; 6) Cross and Poetry, The Mask of God and Human Accountability toward Creation; 7) The Practice of Resurrection, On Asserting the Openness of Past Victimizations; 8) A "Theory" of the Cross, The Human Arts: Poiesis, Praxis, and Theoria; 9) Cross and Eschatology, The Ends of the World; and 10) The Stations of the Cross Revisited, Via Crucis et Resurrectionis.

Daniel L. Migliore, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, who wrote Faith Seeking Understanding, declares Westhelle's work to be highly original on: the scandal of the cross, the multiple abuses it endures, the radically different understanding of God it promotes, the paradoxical language it requires, and the restless attack on our dominant rationalities it perpetrates and the "practice of resurrection" it authorizes. Oh well, Migliore's stuff has always been as intellectualizing as Westhelle's Migliore "taught" me Bultmann und Demythologisierungen in 1964, and I think neither of us quite knows to this day what he was up to.

Westhelle is Professor of Systematic Theology at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He published a number of books while he was previously on the faculties of Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary and Escola Superior de Teologia in Brazil. Carl Lindberg of Boston University feels this volume is a timely, provocative, and creative book, holding mainly Luther's perspective on the cross, and providing an incisive theological review and critique of historical and contemporary efforts to grasp and express the scandal of God's death. The strength of his work is its exemplification of the way the cross-centered language of faith has created the "poetry of creation and redemption stretching from Genesis through the works of Toni Morrison."

A central point in Westhelle's misty mystical argument can be captured in his unusually clear and transparent section in Epistemic Queries in the chapter on Uses and Abuses. He says that every attempt at explicating the meaning of the cross is trapped in its own assumptions. "For the Enlightenment, the problem of the cross was a moral one: What can we learn from the cross that will teach us how to live? The implied assumption went from the denial of any moral lesson to an affirmation of Jesus' teachings, in the face of which the cross was little more than a tragic, inconsequential accident. The Hegelian-inspired response was to cast it in a dialectical frame as the necessary negation that brings about sublation (Aufhebung). For Nietzsche ... the problem was an ontological one: Who am I and what can I become in face of the cross? The assumption ranged from a resented self, anemic in its will and impotent to resist evil by sublimating and glorifying the cross, to affirmation of the imaginative and self-asserting power of the resurrection before the cross. The Marxian-inspired responses took the cross to be a description of the conditions of the oppressed people of the world that had to be named in order for a practice of liberation to follow. What has not been discussed in this entire context is a third question, exactly the one that guided Paul and Luther: "What can I know of God in fact of the cross or according to the cross (kata stauron)?"

Westhelle could get another publication out of this book if he simply translated it into the English language that would make the local municipal library borrower's mind excited and heart sing. That would do some good in the world! The book has an index but no bibliography.
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Author:Ellens, J. Harold
Publication:Journal of Psychology and Christianity
Date:Dec 22, 2009
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