Theologians of Glory vs. Theologians of the Cross: An Intro and Definition

Here at Mockingbird we use the terms “theology/theologian of the cross” and “theology/theologian of glory” […]

Sean Norris / 6.18.09

Here at Mockingbird we use the terms “theology/theologian of the cross” and “theology/theologian of glory” quite a bit. As a result, we thought they would be the perfect terms to explore this week. In order to do so, I want to reference the late, great theologian Gerhard O. Forde. I think his definitions of the two terms found in his excellent work On Being a Theologian of the Cross (an in depth look at Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation) are just about perfect. SO, away we go!

Theologians of Glory – “operate on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem. Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted to sin, and that our improvement is both necessary and possible. We need a little boost in our desire to do good works. Of course the theologian of glory may well grant that we need the help of grace.

The only dispute, usually, will be about the degree of grace needed. If we are “liberal,” we will opt for less grace and tend to define it as some kind of moral persuasion or spiritual encouragement. If we are more “conservative” and speak even of the depth of human sin, we will tend to escalate the degree of needed to the utmost. But the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to whatever is left of human will and power. It will always, in the end hold, out for some free will.” (Forde, p. 16) – in short a theologian of glory sees the cross as a means to an end rather than the end itself. He/ she is interested in progression to glory as opposed to death and resurrection.

Theologians of the Cross – “operate on the assumption that there must be – to use the language of treatment for addicts – a ‘bottoming out’ or an ‘intervention.’ That is to say, there is no cure for the addict on his own. In theological terms, we must come to confess that we are addicted to sin, addicted to self, whatever form that may take, pious or impious. SO theologians of the cross know that we can’t be helped by optimistic appeals to glory, strength, wisdom, positive thinking, and so forth because those things are themselves the problem. The truth must be spoken. To repeat Luther again, the thirst for glory or power or wisdom is never satisfied even by the acquisition of it. We always want more – precisely so that we can declare independence from God. The thirst is for the absolute independence of the self, and that is sin. Thus again Luther’s statement of the radical cure in his proof for thesis 22: “The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.” The cross does the extinguishing. The cross is the death of sin, and the sinner. The cross does the ‘bottoming out.’ The cross is the ‘intervention.’ The addict/sinner is not coddled by false optimism but is put to death so that new life can begin.

The theologian of the cross ‘says what a thing is’ (thesis 21). The theologian of the cross preaches to convict of sin. The addict is not deceived by theological marshmallows but is told the truth so that he might at last learn to confess, to say, ‘I am an addict,’ ‘I am an alcoholic,’ and never to stop saying it. Theologically and more universally all must learn to say, ‘I am a sinner,’ and likewise never to stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true.” (Forde, p. 17) – in short a theologian of the cross sees the cross as the end where we die to our sin with Christ and are raised a new creation with Christ. The work is truly finished as Christ promised and there is no moving on from His cross.