Editor’s Note: The following comes from Pastor Joseph Abrahamson of the ELS. He is the well known author our Redeeming Holy Days from Pagan Lies series. He has been assigned a paper that will require him to research Gerhard Forde’s works. He is providing these as his notes from which he will assemble his final paper. These are a work in progress. For part one of this piece, click here.
Note 2 on Gerhard Forde’s 1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross
1997 On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Forde asserted that the vicarious atonement is a “theology of glory” in the first section of his introduction. In the second section he more boldly states that his intent is to discredit any theology of glory, including the vicarious atonement. For him the teaching of the vicarious atonement is legalistic.
“The theologian of glory sees through the cross so as to fit it into a scheme of works. The cross ‘makes up’ for failures along the glory road. The upshot of it all is a fundamental misreading of reality.” (p. 12)
Through the whole of the introduction Forde has managed to steer clear of speaking about what the atonement is, except to condemn the vicarious atonement as a theology of glory. He states that the term “theology of the cross” is a short-hand for the work of Christ for us “culminating in cross and resurrection” (p. 8f). But he does not speak of Christ’s payment of our debt of sin. Forde does speak of our sin as the work that crucified Christ. But his expression of this is still in line with his 1984 writings about the nature of Christ’s atonement.
Forde quotes Luther up to a point. But he leaves out Luther’s preaching on the substitutionary atonement. For example, he enlists Luther up to self-examination:
You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. … Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc. (on p. 8)
But Forde never gets to the actual Gospel in the Cross. In the same sermon Luther continues with the Gospel that is actually at the center of the Cross. That is, Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Luther wrote:
You ease your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53 [:6], “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” [I Pet. 2:24]. St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” [II Cor. 5:21]. You must stake everything on these and similar verses. (paragraph 13 of Luther’s Sermon. Italics mine.)
An aspect of this work so far is that Forde does not really define law, or gospel, nor does he define sin. He depends upon the reader filling in the meaning of these words. The reader should not assume that Forde has changed from his previous published definitions.