Luther's theology of the cross is a direct critique of oppressive power relationships in his day. Luther's early thought challenges specific economic, political, social, ideological, and religious power dynamics; the cross confronts those who enjoy power, prestige, pomp, and profits at the expense of the poor. Ruge-Jones maps the power relationships that Luther's theology addressed and then turns to specific works that challenge established structures of his world. Luther's Latin texts undermine the ideological assumptions and presumptions that bolstered an opulent church and empire. Luther uses the cross of Christ to challenge what he called volatilem cogitatum, "knowledge that is prone to violence." His German writings (directed to a broader, more popular audience) focus this critique of human pretensions into an attack on systems of wealth, status, and power that refuse to look with compassion upon poor Mary, or upon the many domestic servants of Germany. God has respected the ones whom the world disrespects and has thus entered the world to turn it upside down. Also in the German writings, the Lord's Supper calls the powerful to enter into solidarity with the poor--suffering people to whom Christ has given himself. Finally, in his popular pamphlets, visual images show with graphic specificity that throughout his life Christ sought out solidarity with the least. These images contrast brutally with images of a church that has sold its soul to wealth, political influence, military power, and status.
Philip Ruge-Jones is Associate Professor of Theology at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas. He is the author of The Word of the Cross in a World of Glory (2008).