Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Damned Theologians

I'm not trying to be "cute" or shocking here. The post title is based on the words of a great Reformer:

"A theologian is born by living, nay dying and being damned, not by thinking, reading, or speculating."
~Martin Luther

I saw this quoted in an article about "The Theology of the Cross" in the ever popular IVP New Dictionary of Theology (which isn't "new" anymore). According to the author of the article, Luther's point here is not merely that theology ought to be practical. Rather, this is a reflection of Luther's radical cross-centeredness. Certainly Luther isn't saying a theologian doesn't read, study and think deeply. But the difference between a godly theologian and a mere worldly philosopher is the starting point. Christian theologians find their experiential foundation at the foot of the cross. Like the pilgrim in Bunyan's allegory, they arrive there loaded down with an overwhelming burden and fully aware of their desperate plight. 

Right thinking about God - the goal of every true theologian - depends on the cross. Although the majestic shout of creation reveals some truth to us, it doesn't tell us enough. "For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made . . ." (Rom. 1:20). The created world tells us there is a great God, but it doesn't say we are sinners. It doesn't tell us how bad our sin is. It doesn't say that we are out of fellowship with this God, or that we are bent against Him in our very nature. It doesn't say He has become a man and died in our place. It doesn't tell us He has entered into our suffering and felt our temptations. Only the cross tells us those things. 

An encounter with the cross produces damned theologians. Until a man has faced himself at the cross, he cannot know his standing (or his falling!) in relation to God. Although we find forgiveness, grace and sanctification in Christ, the experience of being damned leaves a permanent mark. Although we are raised with Christ, we are still (apart from grace) worthy of condemnation. Saints are saved sinners.
Damned theologians realize they aren't worthy of the Truth they apprehend.
Damned theologians don't see their sins as "little mistakes," but as evidence of the inner depravity from which they have been miraculously saved.
Damned theologians recognize they are error prone, and rely on divine revelation more than their own thinking.
Damned theologians aren't proud of their knowledge, but grateful for every bit of Truth that has been revealed to them.
Damned theologians view suffering as part of the privilege of identifying with Christ, not an evidence of failure or unbelief.
Damned theologians don't just pursue the Truth, they rejoice in it because their life depends on it.
Damned theologians don't just study God, they know Him and worship Him.
Damned theologians don't answer the taunts of Satan with cries of their own innocence - they point to the cross and cry, "Redeemed! Redeemed! My soul is redeemed by His blood!"
Damned theologians find no righteousness in themselves, but depend on the righteousness of Christ alone.
At the cross we discover ourselves dead, and in the cross we see ourselves damned. Good theology can develop from this starting point, and no other. We must see our human condition in its entirety, gazing down the stretch of time and eternity to see what could have been - if Christ had not saved us - and say "but for the grace of God, there go I!" Certainly Christians aren't actually damned, but the knowledge of God's perfect justice and our pervasive depravity is our actual starting point. One cannot be saved until he knows he is lost. One cannot be a Christian theologian until he has lived and died and been damned to hell.

Romans 8:10  If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. 
 2 Corinthians 1:9  Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead. 
Colossians 3:5  Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

Are you dead yet? _____________________________________________________________________ 
NOTES: I've run across other versions of this quote. Although I can't say which is most accurate, the point seems to be clear. Here are some alternate translations:

"Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living—nay, dying and being damned—make a theologian."
“One becomes a theologian not by reading, studying, learning but by living and dying and being damned!”
“By living, no—more —by dying and being damned to hell does a man become a theologian, not by knowing, reading, or speculation."
“For one becomes a theologian by living, by dying, by being damned: not by mere intellectualizing, reading, and speculating.”
“By living, even by dying and being damned one becomes a theologian, not by intellectual understanding, reading and speculating”
“By living – no, much more still by dying and being damned to hell – doth a man become a theologian, not by knowing, reading or speculation”
And for my scholarly friends, here it is in Latin . . .
“Vivendo, immomoriendo etdamnando fit theologus, non intelligendo, legendo aut speculando.”


  1. Luther was the man. Great post!

  2. Blaine,

    Thanks. Luther is somehow more inspirational than one would expect from a fat, crude German monk in the 16th century. God has used him to benefit the whole world.


    Thanks. Your profile made me laugh out loud. I like the way you answered the random question! As a fellow Pennsylvanian (well, actually a former Pennsylvanian), I'm proud. I guess that could be taken several ways, but take it the good way. I appreciate the comment. :)



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