"Luther’s use of 'theology of the cross' at the time of these early writings was not quite Gospel. Dr. Norman Nagel is reported to have commented more than once that Luther’s theology of the cross in 1518 was still sublutheran because he hadn’t yet gotten salvation extra now [outside of us]. It was more along these lines: God saves us through putting us through suffering just as He put His Son through suffering; if you flee the suffering, you flee the saving work of God’s bulldozer plowing you down. So the cross is our only theology: God saves us by sending us suffering."This is an interesting perspective. The comment though depends on how one dates Luther's evangelical breakthrough. There are three main perspectives on this:
View A: 1514 or earlier
View B: 1515 or 1516
View C: 1518 Which would obviously be after the 95 thesis.
There was a tower at Luther's Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg where Luther experienced his evangelical breakthrough. The date for this experience is unknown, and there is no primary source that explicitly documents it with a reliable fixed date. As the Cyberbrethren post implies, the development of Luther's theological insights were slow, so the notion that there was a theological "lightning bolt" is perhaps unwarranted.
Some years ago I listened to some lectures by Dr. Kolb. He stated that Luther discovered something about the grace of God quite early (perhaps in his early lectures on Peter Lombard's Sentences in 1509). One finds a strong emphasis on the grace of God in these early lectures. Dr. Kolb said that Luther's theology finally came together in 1518 and 1519 with his solidifying his concepts of promise, faith, justification, and the proper distinction of the law. Dr. Kolb said the contemporary debate on this topic originated with Roman Catholic historian Hartmann Grisar, and was furthered by the scholarship of U. Saarnivaara, E Bizer, and L. Green.
While I find the Cyberbrethren post interesting, it requires a bit of work to substantiate.
"The dating of Luther’s discovery and its meaning for his theology have been the subject of wide discussion and debate. In his Road to Reformation (Philadelphia, 1946, pp. 87–117) Heinrich Boehmer says that Luther’s discovery took place in April or May, 1513. Uuras Saarnivaara argues that the great discovery took place as late as the autumn or winter of 1518–1519. He makes this assertion in his book, Luther Discovers the Gospel (St. Louis, 1951, especially pp. 92–120). In Luther’s Progress to the Diet of Worms (Greenwich, 1951, p. 39) Gordon Rupp says, “It is clear, in all essentials, his [Luther’s] theology was in existence before the opening of the church struggle in 1517.” Robert Herndon Fife, siding with Boehmer’s dating, provides documentation, bibliography, and discussion of Luther’s discovery in The Revolt of Martin Luther (New York, 1957, pp. 197–202). For introductory and interpretive material, cf. WA 54, 176–178, and Ernst Stracke’s Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte (Leipzig, 1926), Vol. 44, No. 140: “Luthers groszes Selbstzeugnis 1545 über seine Entwicklung zum Reformator historisch-kritisch untersucht.”" (LW 34:326)
Rev. Dr. Benjamin Mayes said:
Luther’s theology of the cross was discovered by researchers in the 20th century. Why? Because except for a few spots in his early writings, Luther didn’t speak of a “theology of the cross” . . . most notably we see it appearing in Luther’s early work, his discussions of the Heidelberg Disputation and in the still-not-translated Operationes in Psalmos, WA 5:176.32-33 . . Luther didn’t use crux sola est rostra theology [the cross alone is our theology] much, even though of course the cross (or rather, Christ’s work on the cross) is central to his theology. Luther’s use of “theology of the cross” at the time of these early writings was not quite Gospel. Dr. Norman Nagel is reported to have commented more than once that Luther’s theology of the cross in 1518 was still sublutheran because he hadn’t yet gotten salvation extra now [outside of us]. It was more along these lines: God saves us through putting us through suffering just as He put His Son through suffering; if you flee the suffering, you flee the saving work of God’s bulldozer plowing you down. So the cross is our only theology: God saves us by sending us suffering. At least that is how the discussion has been related to me.