Theologians of Glory or the Cross?

Written by Mark Farnham

On November 7, 2011

In the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Martin Luther set forward his radical new theology publically for the first time. This prompted two significant responses. First, the Strasbourg reformer Martin Bucer became a follower of Luther, and second, Johann Eck was moved to debate Luther the next year in Leipzig, a debate that moved Luther to greater clarity regarding the nature of the gospel and the Reformation.

Most significantly at Heidelberg, Luther distinguished between theologians of glory and theologians of the cross. Theologians of glory see the things of God as a path of glory, whereas theologians of the cross see the path as one marked by suffering. In application, the former sees ministry as a way to glory, outward success, large numbers, adulation. The latter see the ministry as a path of self-sacrifice and deferring glory until God judges one’s ministry by his standards. The theologian of glory, says Luther, is “completely puffed up, blinded, and hardened” and “misuses the best in the worst manner.” A theologian of the cross, on the other hand “comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.”

Carl Trueman applies this to present day churches and pastors:

Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found.  Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of — well, the culture.  They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross.  An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them’: in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory.  Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

Trueman is right. It is rather easy to spot ministries led by a theologian of glory. They are everywhere and their ugliness stands in sharp contrast to the beauty of the cross. It is harder, though, to see it in ourselves. When we do recognize it in ourselves, says Trueman, there is only onw remedy:

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary.  It is repentance.    

Read it all here.

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