Radical Theology and the Theology of the Cross: A Christian Tradition of Subversion

Josh de Keijzer
19 min readOct 25, 2019

Introduction

Martin Luther’s theology of the cross though central to the German Reformation did not manage to remain a big influence in the Protestant tradition. Traditions other than Lutheranism sprang up: Calvinism, Anglicanism and soon after that Puritans, Baptists, Methodists and an entire slew of revivalist, holiness and Pentecostal groups joined the choir of the Protestant faith. Luther’s central insight of justification by faith was not lost, but every time a new layer of interpretation was created that obscured its power and dangerous simplicity. Notably, it was detached from its framework of the theology of the cross.

In spite of this forgetfulness, the theology of the cross continued to maintain a marginalized but nonetheless important voice in the bewildering plethora of post-Reformation expressions of religion. But not just religion. Some of the most famous philosophers of our Western tradition have been decisively influenced by Luther’s ideas.

It is a pity that the decrease of importance of the theology of the cross was inversely proportional to the spread of the Reformation faith. Especially when one realizes that the theology of the cross, or theologia crucis, as it is also known, has an impressive pedigree. Indeed Luther’s thought can be traced back to the apostle Paul in addition to being deeply resonant with innovative approaches to theology and spirituality in the medieval period.

Too tough to handle

One reason why the theology of the cross never got much tracking was that this theology, in addition to mounting a spiritual challenge to the individual, sits uneasy with the political establishment. It is too subversive. It functions as an ongoing deconstruction of human pride and the human system of ordering reality and meaning-making. It thwarts all attempts of human beings to be in control or gain power. In this regard the theology of the cross was burden rather than blessing.

Already in Luther’s time people overlooked the fact that the sola fide, i.e. justification by faith alone, can only properly be understood when set within the context of the theologia crucis. Soon after Luther’s death, Lutheran theology took a…

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Josh de Keijzer

Writes at joshdekeyzer.com. Writer, researcher, lecturer, Bonhoeffer scholar. Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology.