Rupturing Eschatology: Divine Glory and the Silence of the Cross (Fortress Press, 2014)

[1] Along the way, I’ve learned that the best stuff of a book is often stashed away at the bottom of the page in the footnotes, delectable treats hidden a bit like an almond at the bottom of a bowl of Christmas rice pudding. In this way, Eric Trozzo’s book Rupturing Eschatology: Divine Glory and the Silence of the Cross serves up dessert.

[2] By no means do I suggest that the book proper is a flimsy meal, one that doesn’t fill up a person in its own right. It’s rather that the delight of detecting the almonds of Trozzo’s writing reveals that the entire meal causes the reader to root around in the text, to discover all the morsels of thought and insight strewn about, and to see that the whole spread ties together and does not disappoint.

[3] Trozzo tackles a theme that has not been absent from recent theological reflection, this “thin tradition,” as Douglas John Hall has named it, the theology of the cross. Jürgen Moltmann was the first to broadly re-introduce Luther’s phrase into regular consideration about its meaning and import, and Hall was but one of many to continue to advance the idea that the theology of the cross was neither incidental to Luther nor to the life of a Christian, but is rather essential to both.

[4] But Trozzo takes the idea in a new direction. In the first four chapters, Trozzo engages Luther, Moltmann, Jacob Boehme, Paul Tillich, and John Caputo, finding common themes and divergences between them all. As is fitting, he uses Luther as the basis for the conversation, but hones Luther’s—and these other theologians’—thoughts for a new time.

[5] In this tome, Trozzo seeks to develop a theology of the cross that, while anchored in a tradition (thin or not) embraces the post-modern era’s comfort with—or at least awareness of—ambiguity. To do this, he takes on some sacred cows of both Lutheran and, more broadly, Protestant thought. For example, he is not content with Gerhard Forde’s reduction of the theology of the cross to matters of personal salvation, nor is he comfortable with what he perceives to be Moltmann’s exclusion both of uncertainty and the possibility of uncertain resolution.

[6] To accomplish his hope of engaging various takes on the theology of the cross, Trozzo makes ample use of questions. Anyone who has written a paper for academic purposes (and this is a re-purposed dissertation) knows the Art of the Rhetorical Question. However, one gets the sense that Trozzo is not using questions in a manipulative manner. Instead, the reader realizes that he is honestly carrying forth his curiosity into his writing. He is really wondering out loud, and makes these questions shared.

[7] His humility is also evidenced in his broader theology. Trozzo rebels against the simple phrase “God is Good, all the time,” and seems to be more comfortable simply saying, “God is God.” Moments, that is, and certainly as any given moment is occurring, can’t be decisively assured to be good or bad an sich. “My aim,” he says, “is to find a theology of the cross that affirms the uncertainty and ambiguity not just of the world as it is but also in what is to come,” (153).

[8] A few minor critiques: although his Table of Contents seems to reveal a theological survey that is dishearteningly male-oriented, in fact his last chapter, and therefore the bulk of his own theological claim, is filled with work by female theologians: Sigridur Gudmarsdottir, Pheme Perkins, Marie Noonan Sabin, Mary-Jane Rubenstein, and Serene Jones make more than cameo appearances. It would have been a mark of respect to highlight these women in the beginning overview of his book. Asian voices were lacking, not least of all a nod to Kazoh Kitamori, whose contribution to the history of the consideration of the theology of the cross would have been helpful even to Trozzo’s point. Too, although inexpressibly tedious to create, a scripture and subject index helps the reader make further connections, and in that way helps the author complete his task of making a point.

[9] In the end, the point that Trozzo wishes to make is this: using the gospel of Mark as a textual basis, the theology of the cross could rather better be understood as a theology of the silence of the cross. Jesus cried out on the cross and was met with silence, and those who yet suffer cry out and are met with silence. The women left the risen Jesus in silence, and resurrection—an inexpressibly impossible event—cracks open a silent space still where we might discover “haunting hope for the coming of the resurrected Christ.” We meet God’s silence, he says, on the cross, whereas behind it, we meet that of the haunting Christ.

[10] In this way, his theology of the cross seems to be a form of a Holy Saturday, an acknowledgment that death is real and abysmal and absurd, and also that there must be something lurking through and in it, even to the degree that we find ourselves throwing ourselves into the abyss in hope of it.

[11] Trozzo closes with words that reflect both the tenaciousness of his thesis and his humility before the mysteries of God, “…it is precisely here, in the soundless sounds of uncertainty, that we may sound our faith and muster our hope in the im-possible glory of God, a glory whereby God’s revelation is made real in the world. But only undecidably.” (179).

And there, of course, is an almond for every reader to savor.

Anna Madsen

Anna Madsen, Ph.D. is a Lutheran pastor, theologian and director of the OMG Center for Theological Conversation, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.