A helpful way of understanding being a ‘theologian of the cross’ is in contrast to what Luther calls being a ‘theologian of glory’. Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity and to life that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or else to defeat and move past them, rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. In particular, they acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end – an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to good things in the future, especially salvation, the transformation of human potential by God and the triumph of the Kingdom of God in the world. As Luther puts it, the theologian of glory ‘does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil’ (The Heidelberg Disputation, Proof to Thesis XXI). This is the natural default setting for human beings. A theology of the cross, by contrast, sees the cross as revealing the fundamental nature of God’s involvement in the world this side of heaven.
A window into understanding this is to look at the ways people talk about painful experiences. If someone has just undergone a difficult and unwanted break-up, for example, they often say things like ‘well, it wasn’t a good relationship for me anyway’, or ‘but I’ve really learned a lot from this whole experience’. This kind of thinking is rationalization – it basically tries to make something sound like a good thing that is in fact a bad thing. It is a strategy for avoiding having to look pain and grief directly in the face, and for not having to acknowledge that we wish life were different but are powerless to change it. This is what a ‘theology of glory’ looks like. A theology of the cross, by contrast, accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or transmute it. It looks directly into pain, and ‘calls a thing what it is’ instead of calling evil good and good evil. It identifies God as ‘hidden in [the] suffering’.
In the church, one hallmark of theologies of glory is unwillingness to acknowledge honestly the reality of ongoing sin and lack of visible transformation in Christians. A sign that you are operating with a theology of glory is when your faith feels like a fight against these realities instead of a resource for accepting them.
We hope the following guide will explain how certain technical terms are used on the Mockingbird site.
None of these definitions are, or could possibly be, comprehensive. Hundreds of books have been written on each. We are aiming, instead, via a few broad strokes, to give a sense of how the terms are being used. It should be noted that these terms are sometimes used as shorthand for their philosophical implications, or centrifugal outworkings.