The revealing Jesus What theology and practice bring into the room
Walking is our first theological framework for pastoral supervision because the revealing Jesus joined the disciples on the way to Emmaus. The concealed God, revealed in Christ’s suffering passion and death, then as the risen Jesus, is the surprising encounter with God-in-Christ in the previous chapter’s discussion of Luke 24. These form the centre of reformer Martin Luther’s Christology, theologia crucis, the theology of the cross, exemplified in Luther’s oft-quoted remark,‘man hides his own things, in order to conceal them; God hides his own things, in order to reveal them’. Luther’s words are a pithy summary of the revealing Jesus encountered in Luke 24, and selected from his extensive writings, the Christological significance of his theologia crucis is the focus of this chapter.
Luther was comfortable with paradox, and that is why he can be perplexing to generations of interpreters—extending to the Lutherans who claim his heritage. But if one allows oneself to sit inside his theology and become comfortable with his use of paradox and dichotomy, as Brunner did, then one can begin to glimpse its significance for his Christology. The revealing Jesus of the cross is the ultimate theological paradox: that God is with us and for us, suffering and dying as one of us.1 The paradoxical nature of the revealing Jesus is entirely consistent with central themes in the Christology of the gospels. Fifteen hundred years before Luther and several centuries before the credal paradox affirming the two natures of Christ (inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably), Jesus taught in parables that both revealed and concealed (Mk. 4; Matt. 13). Jesus’ death on the cross, according to Luke 23, simultaneously redeems one of those crucified by his side but condemns the other. What Luther hints at is more fully realised in Brunner’s theology of truth as encounter—divine encounter: God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is not merely redemption (what he would describe as justification by faith) but God’s revelation in Jesus Christ is encountering God. The Christology of baptist theologian James McClendon in Chapter 9 is a wonderful expression of this Luke 24 truth. Often buried within our doctrines and debates, creeds and controversies—even our dearest theories of atonement—remains the ‘true story of Jesus’: God with us and God for us.
A central challenge, therefore, for pastoral supervisors—as it was for each and every generation of theologians—is to make sense of the hiddenness of God. For McGrath, this idea is ‘an excellent summary of Luther’s early understanding of the significance of the hiddenness of God’s revelation’:
God works in a paradoxical way sub contrariis (according to opposites): his strength lies hidden under apparent weakness; his wisdom under apparent folly; his opus proprium (own work) under his opus alienum (foreign work); the future glory of the Christian under his present sufferings.2
In the experience of the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, God’s resurrecting strength, wisdom, and glory lies hidden beneath the death on a Roman cross where strength appears weak; wisdom appears foolish; and, most significantly, glory is suffering (1 Cor. 1:19-24). The deep truth of this paradox has always been resisted and resented: by the disciples in the garden the night before Jesus was crucified (Lk. 22:39-53, see the next chapter) or on the road to Emmaus (Lk. 24:13-34) and on a beach on the Galilean shore (Jn. 21:4-19). The same paradox saw a young monk named Martin nail revolutionary theses on a Wittenberg door; a young pastor-theologian begin underground seminaries in a Europe gripped by fascism; and a young Baptist preacher, also named Martin, proclaim justice, reconciliation, and peace in a United States trapped by inequality, racism, and war. Naming the paradoxical and Christological truth that God’s strength, wisdom, and glory is perfected in human weakness, folly, and suffering in these historical contexts is relatively easy, with the beneficial perspective called hindsight. Naming the paradoxical and Christological truth that God’s strength, wisdom, and glory is perfected in human weakness, folly, and suffering in the context of pastoral ministry is always hard. It is natural for pastoral supervisees to wonder where God is found in the middle of crisis and confusion. It is normal for pastoral supervisees to expect some spiritual strength, wisdom, and maybe even a glimpse of God’s glory from their supervisors. Luke 24:13-34 and Luther insist on the paradoxical way of the revealing Jesus: sub contrariis. Luther’s theology of the crucified and hidden God, revealed in Jesus Christ, is the central theme throughout his extensive writings. Perhaps McGrath summarises this best with:
God is revealed in the cross of Christ. Yet as the Christian contemplates the appalling spectacle of Christ dying upon the cross, he is forced to concede that God does not appear to be revealed there at all. This insight is fundamental to a correct appreciation of the significance of Luther’s theology [of] the cross. The God who is crucified is the God who is hidden in his revelation. . . . Any attempt to seek God elsewhere than in the cross of Christ is to be rejected out of hand as idle speculation: the theologian forced, perhaps against his will, to come to terms with the riddle of the crucified and hidden God. ‘Truly you are a hidden God’ (Isa. 45:15)?
The life of contemplation and action that is centred on the cross was described in the previous chapter as cruciformity.4 How does Luther’s revealing Jesus shape the practice of pastoral supervision? Supervision practice, with a theological framework of walking, often begins in disillusionment (the two on the way to Emmaus), exhaustion (the disciples in the garden), and failure (the apostle Peter on the beach). The revealing Jesus informs and inspires the three practices for pastoral supervision—contemplating, critiquing, and converting—that can be grounded theologically.