Friday, May 25, 2007

Theologian of the Cross

What is a theologian of glory? How does a theologian of glory compare to a theologian of the cross? I will examine these questions in the light of the doctrine of salvation, in the light of the problem of tragedy and suffering, and finally in the light of Romans 9:6-24.

A theologian of glory wants to leave room for himself and his action in the doctrine of salvation. In other words, he wants to have at least a little control in his conversion and his salvation. To give an extreme case, the 5th century British monk, Pelagius, denied original sin and believed that one could be converted to God by an act of the will and live a life without sin, without the operation of the Holy Spirit. A less extreme example is the synergist who believes he co-operates with God in his conversion, and during the salvation process.

A theologian of the cross, on the other hand, believes that the doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the chief article of the Christian faith. In other words, he empties himself of everything, and completely depends on Christ’s righteousness alone in his conversion, justification, and salvation. In his conversion, he believes that he is totally passive because he understands how depraved his sinful nature is. In justification, he leaves no room for his own works since he knows that even his “good” works are plagued by mortal sin. He knows that Christ perfectly fulfilled the law on his behalf and Christ’s righteousness is freely imputed to him. In justification he receives all of Christ’s perfect work, and in sanctification he continues to look to the cross for the assurance of his salvation and never looks to himself.

A theologian of glory is a theologian of prosperity who believes that Christ will bring happiness and a good life. He often will try and sell Christianity to others by emphasizing how happy and good their lives will be if they would just give their life to Christ. When tragedy occurs in a Christian’s life, he rationally tries to explain God’s sovereignty away, or he believes that those who are suffering must not be blessed. The crowds recorded in Luke 13 were examples of theologians of glory. They thought the victims of the tower that fell in Siloam must not have been blessed, but Jesus replied: “Do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:4-5). Another example would be a theologian of glory that does not understand tragic events like that of September 11th. They would say: “How could a good and gracious God permit this to happen? This is embarrassing and horrible. God was not involved in this. But He knows what it is like to suffer.” A theologian of glory tries to explain everything.

A theologian of the cross, however, knows that Christ did not promise a life of happiness. In fact, Christ told us to expect the opposite. The theologian of the cross does not sell Christianity to others by emphasizing the good life that will occur after conversion. Was the Apostle Peter happy and joyful when he was crucified upside down under Nero? The theologian of the cross knows that Jesus Christ was born into a crap filled manger, was persecuted, scourged, beaten, and crucified. When tragedy occurs, the theologian of the cross suffers with others and assures them of God’s promises in the atonement and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He does not try and explain everything, but he simply points people to Jesus.

A theologian of glory will not let God be God and man be man. In Romans 9:6-24, the Apostle illustrates God’s sovereignty in bringing salvation to the Gentiles while being involved in the Jews’ crucifixion and rejection of Jesus Christ. The Apostle shows how this was God’s sovereign plan from the beginning of creation. A theologian of glory would have trouble with this passage because it leaves no control for man. He will likely say that the Jews crucified and rejected Jesus, and God had nothing to do with it. In the supposed unconditional election of the Gentiles, he will say that there must have been something good in them, like faith foreseen, which caused God to elect them. He will not allow for unconditional election. While a theologian of the cross would call unconditional election divine sovereignty, a theologian of glory would call it divine tyranny.

Alternately, a theologian of the cross knows that God was involved in the crucifixion and rejection of His Son. For example, St. Augustine wrote: “It is, therefore, in the power of the wicked to sin; but that in sinning they should do this or that by that wickedness is not in their power, but in God’s, who divides the darkness and regulates it; so that hence even what they do contrary to God’s will is not fulfilled except it be God’s will” (On The Predestination of the Saints, Ch. 33). A theologian of the cross trusts and relies on unconditional election in the light of the gospel. He knows that why God elects one and not another is mystery, and is not offended by his sovereignty. St. Augustine wrote: “The reason why this grace comes upon one man and not on another may be hidden, but it cannot be unjust” (On the Merits of the Forgiveness of Sins, And on the Baptism of Infants, Ch. 29).

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