Theology of glory/Theology of the cross

One of the many contrasts in Christian thought is the difference between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Generally these are presented as either-or, as two poles between which one must choose. In the last few days, I have started to regard them as a spectrum along which many different positions can be found.

The most extreme version of the theology of glory I can imagine is promising a Christian full glory in this lifetime—great worldly wealth, perfect physical and mental health, unending joy and peace, and victory over all enemies, whether earthly or spiritual. Some preachers and writers approach this extreme as they describe Christianity and its benefits. The most extreme version of the theology of the cross I can imagine is a dour, frowning Christianity, one which forbids all worldly pleasures. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic holy orders have included some groups which encourage that sort of asceticism, but Protestant Puritan movements also have a reputation of moving toward that extreme.

The proper place on this spectrum is not at the middle. Christian living focuses more on the cross of Christ than on the glory. The theology of the cross does not deny the reality of glory—God’s glory and the glory of the new creation—but it discourages focusing upon that glory today. When a Christian is so obsessed with glory that he or she has forgotten the cross, that Christian is vulnerable to the attacks of evil.

This particular train of thought began with a post by InsanityBytes (which you can read here) and a lengthy conversation in the comments to that post, a conversation in which I participated. IB asked whether a Christian should hate wickedness. She concluded that hate should not be part of a Christian’s life. The Bible says that God hates wickedness, but IB suggested that a perfectly holy God can properly hate evil. She suggests that permitting ourselves to imitate God’s hatred for evil is akin to permitting a four-year-old child to operate a car.

IB and I have exchanged thoughts for a while, and I know that she is no heretic, no threat to genuine Christianity. She is not oblivious to pain and suffering—on her blog she has spoken of difficult and painful experiences in her past life, and she describes her present dwelling place as the seventh circle of hell. Perhaps that is why IB appears to tilt in the direction of the theology of glory. Perhaps for her it is comfort in the face of evil or contrast to the evil she has seen. Make no mistake—IB has a clear and vivid understanding of the power of Christ’s cross. She recognizes it as the only source of redemption for sinners and reconciliation with God, the only hope for fellowship with God in this lifetime and in the new creation. On the other hand, IB speaks far more than I do of the glory in Christian life today. In our conversation, she said, “we are called to be over comers, to be seated with Him in victory. Even now death has no sting.”

While I agree that we are called to be overcomers—we are even described as “more than conquerors”—I suggest that the Christian in this world must regard life as being lived on a battlefield. Our enemies are beaten, but at the same time they are alive and well, always on the prowl, prepared to attack. Jesus did not promise unending glory in this lifetime—he spoke of persecution, blessings for those who mourn, having enemies whom we should love instead of hating them. He spoke of denying ourselves, taking up a cross, and following him.

Before his crucifixion, Jesus had to deal with a group of disciples who preferred the theology of glory. When three of them saw Jesus glow with light one night while he visited with Moses and Elijah, Peter wanted to capture the experience by setting up booths for the three heroes. Later, not to be outdone, James and John asked Jesus to promise that they would sit at his right and at his left when he came into his kingdom. Jesus told that that those positions were not his to assign, and that they would be given to other people.

But all this theology becomes tangled as soon as we realize that, for Jesus, the cross is the glory. He tried to explain this to his disciples, but they didn’t understand what he said. After Pentecost they understood, and they rejoiced to be considered worthy to suffer for the sake of the kingdom. When Jesus said, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23), he was speaking of his death on the cross, not of glowing with light or of sitting on a throne to rule the nations.

When Jesus came into his glory, when he claimed his kingdom, who was seated at his right and at his left? Two thieves—one who mocked Jesus, and another who recognized Jesus and confessed faith in him. “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” he asked, and Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth—today you will be with me in Paradise.” Pontius Pilate determined who would be to the right and the left of Jesus when he claimed his kingdom, but Jesus did not want James and John to be in those places. He went to the cross to spare them from receiving what sinners deserve.

This observation does not answer the question about whether or not Christians should hate wickedness. It still seems to me that acknowledging wickedness without hating it—without regarding it as a danger and an enemy—risks apathy and a failure to love our neighbors. For when Jesus commanded us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, he was not including the devil, the world, and our sinful natures within that command. When Jesus entered the battle to fight for us, he did not take on the Romans or other human enemies. He fought the devil, the sinful world, our sinful natures, and death itself. He won that victory, and he shares it with his people. We are “more than conquerors” because we have a victory we did not fight to win and do not deserve to own.

Why does God hate wickedness? Does he hate it only because wickedness is rebellion against him? No, God hates wickedness because it damages the good creation he made. He especially hates wickedness because it damages the people he loves. Not only does it bring physical suffering to people, but wickedness also becomes a barrier between God and the people he loves. He hates wickedness because it separates sinners from the God who loves them, threatening them with eternal death and suffering.

In the end, though, the question of hating wickedness pales in comparison to the question of where a Christian stands on the spectrum between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Should all singing be praise songs, or should Christians also sing hymns that describe our sinful condition, our inability to save ourselves, and the enormous price Christ paid to defeat our enemies? Should all preaching be promises of glory, or should preachers also threaten judgment upon sinners who do not repent, remind their hearers that all people are sinful and need a Savior, and then describe the cross as the instrument of salvation? To me, the answer is obvious. The cross remains front and center, not only as a symbol of victory, but also as a reminder of the high cost of sin and wickedness.

In the end, I hate wickedness, not because of what it has done to me, or even because of what it has done to the world, but because of what it did to Jesus. He had no sin, but he became sin for us and was treated accordingly. My Lord died at the hands of sinful men—not merely the Jews who rejected him, and not merely the Romans who mocked him and tortured him, but all the sinners from Adam down to me. I hate what we have done to Jesus, and I rejoice that his love has overcome that wickedness and reconciled us again to God. J.

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9 thoughts on “Theology of glory/Theology of the cross

  1. Interesting post.

    There is a passage Act 5 that tells of the apostle being beaten at the orders of the Sanhedrin. Their response was to rejoice because they had been found worthy to suffer on behalf of our Savior.

    If you read history you will find that the Christians begin the most for the present world are just the ones that thought the most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot. in the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark one Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so in effective in this. And that Heaven and you’ll get the earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you’ll get neither.

    ― C.S. Lewis, C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity

    If the Theology of glory only involves this life, the glory we gain won’t amount to much. I think insanitybytes22 knows that. The difference between insanitybytes22 and us involves whether or not it is ever appropriate for us to hate evil. Since hatred can rob us our joy, this is not a small matter.

    Frankly, I don’t think we can help hating evil, and I don’t see where the Bible says that hating evil is wrong. What the Bible tells us to do is to give our hatred to God and get about His business. To pray for even those who torment us. When we give our hatred to God, we can pray for our tormentors. If we keep our anger and feed it, we will only increase our pain.

    So what about our difference with insanitybytes22? I suppose I should give this a bit more thought and do my own post. However, I can only say with certainty that the Bible has the best answer, and we have to do our best to obey what we each think it says.
    https://quotesthoughtsrandom.wordpress.com/2017/09/22/dont-set-people-up-as-experts-over-your-life-letting-them-tell-you-what-to-do-save-that-authority-for-god-let-him-tell-you-what-to-do-jesus/

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  2. Interesting Salvageable. Ha! Thanks for mentioning I’m not heretic. A polemic perhaps,but not a heretic. 🙂

    I suggest that the theology of the cross is the theology of glory, that they are one and the same. That can be a tricky paradox to grasp, not unlike the paradox of being a sinner and a saint and the same time. I often want to speak of how glorious it is to be redeemed and claimed,and yet that can begin to present us as perfect beings who have no challenges. Conversely however, if all we talk about is dying to self and carrying our crosses, we start to sound like a cult of self misery worshippers. I stubbornly insist that we are called to joy, called to glory, that we are commanded to rejoice.The joy of the Lord is my strength. The Apostle Paul teaches us to rejoice,even when chained to a wall in prison,rejoice he says,and again he says it, in case we miss it.

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    • You and I are not in much disagreement–not enough for either of us to lose temper. I agree that the theology of glory and the theology of the cross are united in Christ. Sad to say, some Christians want the glory without the cross, like Peter at the Transfiguration of Christ. I disagree that we are commanded to rejoice. As when God says, “Don’t worry,” so also when God says, “Rejoice,” this is a promise and not a command. If I were commanded to rejoice or not to worry and I caught myself worrying and not rejoicing, that would be a sin I must confess. Instead, God invites us to rejoice and not to worry, and he tells us why we can do these things through the message of the Gospel. J.

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  3. Ahh…a subject near and dear to my heart! A theology of glory contrasted with the theology of the Cross sits beside the proper distinction between Law and Gospel as one of the keenest insights ever in unfolding and understand Scripture as a whole.

    If we want to see God’s glory at work, Jesus Himself tells us where it can be found – in the shame and agony of the Cross.

    We don’t normally think of shame and agony as glory-worthy, they imply to us an utter *lack* of glorycand yet God insists that this is precisely where his glory is found…in the inglorious death of God by His own Creation.

    Such a definition of glory turns everything we think we understand about glory in its head. Perhaps it is no wonder that we struggle to keep it straight. It’s hard to keep the glory that is behind the Cross in clear focus when the glory of this present life beckons in technicolor before our eyes.

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