We’re not shy about our affection for the work of theologian Gerhard Forde. The man possessed not only a piercing insight into the radicality of the Gospel, he had a rare gift for communicating it in ways that make sense to those without advanced degrees. The place to start, not just with Forde but with Christianity in general(!), is his short book On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. A mouthful of a title, I know, but not remotely indicative of the tone of the contents, which is highly accessible. Not to mention extraordinarily exciting and – dare I say – liberating. If we were ever to put together a Mockingbird 101 class, it would be at the very top of the syllabus. Try this quote on for size, from pages 94-95:
“The desire, the thirst for glory or wisdom or power or money, is never satisfied by the acquisition of what is desired. The more we get, the more we want. There is never real satisfaction, never the confidence that we have done enough. ‘How much money does it take to make one happy?’ ‘Just a little more!’ As sinners we are like addicts – addicted to ourselves and our own projects. The theology of glory simply seeks to give those projects eternal legitimacy. The remedy for the theology of glory, therefore, cannot be encouragement and positive thinking, but rather the end of the addictive desire. Luther says it directly: ‘The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.’ So we are back to the cross, the radical intervention, end of the life of the old and the beginning of the new.
Since the theology of glory is like addiction and not abstract doctrine, it is a temptation over which we have no control in and of ourselves, and from which we must be saved. As with the addict, mere exhortation and optimistic encouragement will do no good. It may be intended to build up character and self-esteem, but when the addict realizes the impossibility of quitting, self-esteem degenerates all the more. The alcoholic will only take to drinking in secret, trying to put on the facade of sobriety. As theologians of glory we do much the same. We put on a facade of religious propriety and piety and try to hide or explain away or coddle our sins…
As with the addict there has to be an intervention, an act from without. In treatment of alcoholics some would speak of the necessity of ‘bottoming out,’ reaching the absolute bottom where one can no longer escape the need for help. Then it is finally evident that the desire can never be satisfied, but must be extinguished. In matters of faith, the preaching of the cross is analogous to that intervention. It is an act of God, entirely from without. It does not come to feed religious desires of the Old Adam and Eve but to extinguish them. They are crucified with Christ to be made new.”