Thursday, 05 March 2015 01:04

Embracing the Cross: Exchanging a Theology of the Glory for a Theology of the Cross

Written by  Mandy Pascal
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Easter is the most celebrated day on the Christian calendar. Church attendance is high, shouts and greetings of “He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!” are heard in churches across the land, there is a lot of joy - in addition to really nice clothes! I have heard people say how they love Easter because of the Resurrection, but how some do not like to focus on the Cross as much because it is more depressing. This is an unhelpful perspective, of course, and most mature Christians would see it as being poor theology. For many Christians, though, Easter gets the focus and Good Friday is often overlooked.

But, without the Cross, there is no Resurrection Day. And, without the Resurrection, the Cross loses its meaning. I think that Paul used “the Cross” as shorthand for the entire event of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, upon which our salvation stands. While we glory in the Resurrection and rejoice over the victory of it, I do think that we can only understand what really happened if we go to the Cross and share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Phil. 3:10-11). It is the Cross that demonstrates who God is and what He is doing in the world.

 

Renounce “Glory” Theologies

Martin Luther warned us against our ever present tendency to create a “theology of glory” and he encouraged us to instead, embrace a “theology of the cross.” What he meant was that the natural tendency of man is to seek his own gain, benefit, and victory and try to commend himself to God through His good works so that suffering can be escaped. In trying to commend himself to God and make a name for himself and ultimately trust in himself, man constructs multiple kinds of “theologies of glory.”  We think that if we live the right way, then God will surely bless us and we will gain some kind of meaning/purpose and escape suffering. At the end of the day, it is a “theology of glory” - a way that we seek to control God through our behavior and use Him as the means to secure the end of the blessing that we really desire. In taking this approach, we miss what God is really saying to us at the Cross. And, we miss the Good News that Jesus is our only savior.

 

In his excellent little book, On Becoming a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518, Lutheran theologian Gerhard O. Forde explains that the Cross is the end of all human striving and it is God’s attack on the sinner and the sinner’s theology which is an attempt at self-justification and advancement. He says that the “Cross insists on being its own story,” and it calls us to participate in that story. As Luther said, “The Cross alone is our theology,” echoing the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 when he said, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” This does not mean that Paul did not talk about other things. But, it does mean that every aspect of Christian life and theology goes through and flows from the Cross of Christ where it is submitted to Christ alone. It is by the Cross that we die to the world and its aspirations and we put away the desires of the flesh. It is at the Cross that we meet Christ suffering sacrificially on our behalf. Our best efforts die at the Cross. We die to the world and the world dies to us.

 

 

Find God in the Suffering.

He is There.

As Tullian Tchividjian said in his book, Glorious Ruin, “’Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity (and to life) that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or to move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end—an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential.”

 

 

A theology of glory always puts the focus on what the person has done and surrendered and put away, and the resulting benefits of those works in securing a good life and blessing, instead of on what God has done for us. The Cross becomes a way for them to get where they want to go as they pray, “God, thank you that I am not like those sinners over there.” The Cross of Christ ceases to be the story and instead becomes the means to some other end - the glory story of the person’s return to a state of blessing.

 

 

Tchividjian goes on to say,  “A theology of the cross, in contrast, understands the cross to be the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world on this side of heaven. A theology of the cross accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or use 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.’ Luther actually took things one key step further. He said that God was not only hidden in suffering, but He was at work in our anxiety and doubt. “When you are at the end of your rope—when you no longer have hope within yourself—that is when you run to God for mercy.”

 

 

So, instead of seeing the Resurrection as the end of all suffering for us and the way to prosperity now if we just apply it right, we see God at work in the suffering of the Cross and recognize that He will work in our suffering and failure too - because that is where we meet Him. Christ is our blessing, not the absence of suffering, pain, or frustration. Those blessings will come one day when Jesus wipes every tear from our eye, but for now, we boast in the Cross of Christ.

 

The Theology of the Cross makes it clear that God is most clearly displayed in the suffering of Christ and that this is the story of God. It is in weakness and the “foolishness of the Cross” that God is revealed. As Forde says,

 

“A theology of glory always leaves the will in control. It must therefore seek to make its theology attractive to the supposed ‘free will.’ A theology of the cross assumes that the will is bound and must be set free. The cross story does that. Either it claims us or it doesn’t. If it does, it is the end of the glory story. We see in the death of Jesus our death, and we remember that we are dust. We can begin to take the truth. We learn dying... The cross ... ‘destroys the wisdom of the wise.’ ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ That marks the parameters of our story as far as human possibility is concerned. We see, as Luther puts it, the way things really are. We look at all things through ‘suffering and the cross.’ We live only on the strength of the fact that the Creator breathed his Spirit into the dust and gave us life. We live on ‘borrowed time’ - time lent us by the Creator. Yet we also see in the death of Jesus on the cross our rebellion against that life, and we note that there is absolutely no way out now except one. God vindicated the crucified Jesus by raising him from the dead. So the question and the hope comes to us. ‘If we die with him shall we not also live with him?’ That is the end of the story - for the time being. But it is the beginning of faith.”

 

Celebrating the Resurrection of Christ is a wonderful act of worship. But, as we do so, let’s worship in weakness as we are humbled by the suffering of Christ. Let’s see the Cross as the Story of God - how God reveals Himself to us. “But God demonstrates His love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). The Cross happens to us when we have nothing but sin and weakness to offer God. Let’s see the Cross for what it is and embrace it, dying to every aspiration that we can reform ourselves or that, if we just had a little grace and help, we could make a go of things here in this life. The Cross is about Jesus and His work on our behalf.  He is better than any other blessing we could grasp in both the power of His resurrection and sharing in the fellowship of His sufferings.

 

We are weak and God is strong. Jesus’ Resurrection destroys death, sin, and Hell. That is the true nature of things. The Cross tells us so. Let’s meet Jesus there.

 

 

 

Alan Cross is senior pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Montgomery, and author of When Heaven and Earth Collide: Racism, Southern Evangelicals and the Better Way of Jesus. Check out his blog at www.downshoredrift.com.

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 19 March 2015 01:11
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