What’s Wrong With A Theology Of Glory? (1)

Many Christian leaders have decided that Luther was wrong.

Ask yourself these questions: Was our Lord a theologian of glory or a theologian of the cross? Did he promise an earthly utopia where all social ills are remedied? Did he promise perfection in this life? Did he promise 7 steps for anything, ever? Was Paul a theologian of glory or a theologian of the cross? To ask the question is to answer it.


At the 1518 Heidelberg Disputation (academic presentation), Martin Luther (1483–1546), the father of the Protestant Reformation, as he was coming to his Protestant convictions, argued: “One is not worthy to be called a theologian who looks upon the ‘invisible things of God’ [Rom. 1:20] as though they were clearly ‘perceptible in those things which have actually happened’ [1 Cor 1:21–25] But the one who knows the visible things and the backside [Ex 33:23] of God seen through the passions and the cross [is a theologian]. The theologian of glory calls evil good and good evil. The theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is.” These are some of the most important words that any theologian in the Christian tradition have ever written. Sadly, they are mostly unknown to contemporary Christianity largely because many Christian leaders have decided that Luther was wrong. Many Christian laity, however, have never been exposed to these words nor to the ideas they mean to teach.

Luther explicitly mentioned theologians but he was implicitly addressing a doctrine, the theology of glory. This is not a reference to a 1989 film, of course. It is not a denial of the existence of heavenly glory. Luther certainly believed in heaven and in glory. By these short statements, Luther was criticizing three things that still need to be criticized:

Rationalism: What My Net Cannot Catch Is Not A Butterfly

The first aspect of a theology of glory is rationalism. The rationalist thinks that his mind (intellect) is the measure of all things. He might think too that God agrees with him, that he knows what God knows, the way God knows it. By contrast, even the great medieval theologian, Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224–74) taught that we are analogues to God and that our understanding of things is like God’s but it is not God’s. He argued that we cannot know what God knows, the way he knows it, because we are not God. This is what the Dutch Reformed theologian, Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987) called the Creator/creature distinction. To be sure, Thomas was not always consistent in this theology with this distinction and that created serious problems that had to be remedied by the Reformation.

In the Modern period, the rationalist has said that the human intellect is the measure of all things. It is a law unto itself (autonomous). For the rationalist, God, if he exists, must conform to our understanding of things. The rationalist thinks he knows how the world works. He knows what can be and what cannot be. He has tried to put God in box.

The theologian of glory places his intellect over divine revelation in Scripture. It judges scripture. The rationalist, when he is consistent, has no difficulty saying that Scripture errs when it says this or that. The Christian, on the other hand, submits his intellect to Scripture. The Christian knows that God cannot be put in a box and that, indeed, God is incomprehensible. Any God who could but put in that figurative box is nothing but an idol. The God who is has, from nothing, spoken the world into existence and by the same sort of power whereby he creates and governs all things, the God who is saves his people.

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