And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. – 1 Corinthians 2:1–5 (ESV)
It may seem like there are an extraordinary number of different theologies within the Church, but ultimately there are only two: A theology of glory and a theology of the cross. These two theologies are locked in mortal combat with one another. What is a theology of glory? Gerald O. Forde writes:
The most common overarching story we tell about ourselves is what we will call the glory story. We came from glory and are bound for glory. Of course, in between we seem somehow to have gotten derailed – whether by design or accident we don’t quite know – but that is only a temporary inconvenience to be fixed by proper religious effort. What we need is to get back on “the glory road.” The story is told in countless variations. Usually the subject of the story is “the soul.” Philosophers speak of the soul being trapped in the world of matter, decay, and death through some cosmic misadventure on the part of either the gods or mortals. The basic scheme is what Paul Ricoeur has called “the myth of the exiled soul.” The soul is exiled from its home. It is slumbering or has forgotten its way. Its true destiny is to return. He way of return is by knowledge, gnosis, he awakening of the soul to its immortal destiny, and consequently, behavior appropriate thereto – which usually means a purging or shucking off of the flesh and its lusts. But through all its variations, the scheme remains pretty much the same: the exile of the soul from the “one” and its return. …
The fateful amalgamation of the glory story with the cross story is the hidden presupposition for the deadly combat between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. Indeed, one of the difficulties in the attempt to set the theology of the cross apart from the theology of glory is that the differences between the two are often very subtle. Obviously they use much the same language in Christian theological circles. … The theology of the cross arises out of the realization that it is simply disastrous to dissolve the cross in the story of glory. Jesus was crucified “outside the camp,” not in the temple, as the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us. The cross insists on being its own story. It does not allow us to stand by and watch. … Just as Jesus was crucified so we also are crucified with him. The cross makes us part of its story. The cross becomes our story. That is what it means to say, as Luther did, “The cross alone is our theology.”
While the theology of glory is quite content to acknowledge our weaknesses (less and less frequently actually called sins); the theology of the cross calls us to repent of those things we naturally consider to be our virtues. With Paul, we are to take those things that we counted as our greatest points of boasting and reckon them all as loss for the sake of Christ (Philippians 3:8). How can we possibly proclaim such a theology as good news? Because it truly is! The problem with the theology of glory is not that it is too great but that it is far too weak. It is all rainbow and no pot of gold. The theology of glory offers sophistication but not genuine salvation from sin. The theology of glory titillates the senses, but is powerless to bring about sanctification. The word of the cross offers both salvation and sanctification. The reason we cling to the Old Perspective on Paul is not out of stubbornness or nostalgia. We cling to the word of the cross because it is true and therefore the power of God unto salvation. The challenge with becoming theologians of the cross is that we never arrive on this side of heaven. The dividing line in the battle between the theology of glory and the theology of the cross runs through every human heart. The only way to advance in this battle is to keep preaching both Law and Gospel to our own hearts, to attend to the means of grace, putting no confidence in the flesh but boasting only in the LORD.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 86
Q. 86. What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A. Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.