I just finished Gerhard Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross based on the recommendation from a few friends and Mark Driscoll’s blog recommendation on five books every youth pastor should read.
Forde’s book is a reflection on Martin Luther’s Heidleberg Disputation. Essentially, Forde expands on Luther’s idea that there are two theologies one can land on: A theology of glory or a theology of the cross. This was an incredibly challenging book because I find myself naturally drifting to a theology of glory all the time! I guess I’m a fallen creature, huh? 🙂
What is a theology of glory? It’s essentially a belief that the soul is destined to return to glory. People are simply exiled souls and if they make the necessary reparations and purge themselves of whatever is in the way, they’ll return to glory.
In the glory theology, people are always seeking to understand. They are always looking through the cross to see what’s on the other side. They attempt to answer Jesus’ final question: Why has God forsaken him/me?
Glory theology believes the will is in control. Therefore, people can essentially exert themselves just enough through positive thinking or optimistic belief to reach glory. Forde hammers, and rightfully so, a lot of the New Age and pop psychology “marshmallow” theology expressed by Joel Osteen, emergent folks who don’t want to talk about the cross, and “power of positive thinking” type theology (i.e., The Secret). As Luther understands, “Superficial optimism breeds ultimate despair.”
The point Forde makes about glory theology is that we are constantly preaching about how life is going to get better, especially if you just think positively. This crappy theology ultimately leads to MORE despair because how do you explain that to someone in Haiti? Did they just need to think more positively? The answer to elude ultimate despair is to embrace the cross. There is no other hope, no other way.
Theology of the cross, on the other hand, admits addiction to sin and addiction to our selves. We can’t answer Jesus’ final question; we can only die with him. We can only enter INTO the cross story and crucify ourselves with him. More clearly, Jesus enters into our story by what he suffered on the cross. Jesus enters US through this story…It’s never about what we’re doing.
Instead, it’s all God. A person who understands the theology of the cross understands that we must call a spade a spade, and say what a thing is. Therefore, we don’t pepper people with marshmallow sermons on positive thinking and optimism. We don’t sugarcoat suffering and sin because it’s not about our glory anyways.
The cross (suffering) isn’t transparent; it’s like a mirror. Once we embrace our ultimate despair and die to any hope found in ourselves, only then can we see the hope of the resurrection. To understand the theology of the cross is to truly fear God. Fear of God means letting God simply be God (Why Haiti? We don’t know! All we can know is that we are supposed to, out of what Jesus has done to us, enter into suffering with people).
In conclusion, this challenge from Francis Chan ties perfect into what Luther and Forde are trying to explain. In a theology of glory, we are always trying to explain the invisible qualities of God. Why did this happen to me? What can I do? How can I reach glory once again? Instead, we must embrace the theology of the cross which claims that we don’t know nor should we care. Jesus suffered. So do we. We embrace this very nature which Jesus embraced.
So the question is, according to Francis Chan, is: “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?”
If God doesn’t move you back to financial security, will you still love Him?
If you don’t get that job you wanted, will you still love Him?
If your soul doesn’t return to the glory Americans are promised (prosperity and long life), will you still love God?