Carl Trueman on “the most glorious contribution of Martin Luther to theological discourse,” first revealed in Heidelberg during a meeting in 1518:

At the heart of this new theology was the notion that God reveals himself under his opposite; or, to express this another way, God achieves his intended purposes by doing the exact opposite of that which humans might expect.  The supreme example of this is the cross itself: God triumphs over sin and evil by allowing sin and evil to triumph (apparently) over him.  His real strength is demonstrated through apparent weakness.  This was the way a theologian of the cross thought about God.

The opposite to this was the theologian of glory.  In simple terms, the theologian of glory assumed that there was basic continuity between the way the world is and the way God is: if strength is demonstrated through raw power on earth, then God’s strength must be the same, only extended to infinity.  To such a theologian, the cross is simply foolishness, a piece of nonsense.

Trueman goes on to ask where the theologians of the cross are to be found today:

At this Reformation season, we should not reduce the insights of Luther simply to justification by grace through faith. In fact, this insight is itself inseparable from the notion of that of the theologians of the cross. Sad to say, it is often hard to discern where these theologians of the cross are to be found. Yes, many talk about the cross, but the cultural norms of many churches seem no different to the cultural norms of—well, the culture. They often indicate an attitude to power and influence that sees these things as directly related to size, market share, consumerist packaging, aesthetics, youth culture, media appearances, swagger and the all-round noise and pyrotechnics we associate with modern cinema rather than New Testament Christianity. These are surely more akin to what Luther would have regarded as symptomatic of the presence and influence of theologians of glory rather than the cross. An abstract theology of the cross can quite easily be packaged and marketed by a theologian of glory. And this is not to point the finger at `them': in fact, if we are honest, most if not all of us feel the attraction of being theologians of glory. Not surprising, given that being a theologian of glory is the default position for fallen human nature.

The way to move from being a theologian of glory to a theologian of the cross is not an easy one, not simply a question of mastering techniques, reading books or learning a new vocabulary. It is repentance.

In another essay, Trueman writes:

This argument is explosive, giving a whole new understanding of Christian authority. Elders, for example, are not to be those renowned for throwing their weight around, for badgering others, and for using their position or wealth or credentials to enforce their own opinions. No, the truly Christian elder is the one who devotes his whole life to the painful, inconvenient, and humiliating service of others, for in so doing he demonstrates Christlike authority, the kind of authority that Christ himself demonstrated throughout his incarnate life and supremely on the cross at Calvary.

You can read both Trueman’s blog post and article.

See also Gerhard Forde’s On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518 and Alister McGrath’s Luther’s Theology of the Cross: Martin Luther’s Theological Breakthrough.

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15 thoughts on “The Difference between a Theologian of the Cross and a Theologian of Glory”

  1. Richard says:

    Dr. Trueman’s work on this is outstanding! Glad you are giving it attention, JT. Thanks. This is so good on a practical level–as my wife went through some brutal cancer surgery several years ago, this was of immense comfort to us–that God works His will through suffering. Dr. Michael Horton’s book, “Too Good to be True,” worked this concept of “two theologies” well. The irony for me is that the day I brought my wife home from surgery, I turned on TV to watch Joel Osteen for what I thought would be comic relief. He told the story of a friend who had cancer who “thought away” his cancer cells through positive thinking. Joel’s “theology of glory” has nothing to say to those who suffer.

  2. Another helpful book is Dennis Ngien’s “The Suffering of God According to Martin Luther’s ‘Theologia Crucis'” http://www.amazon.com/Suffering-According-Martin-Luthers-Theologia/dp/157383369X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345138022&sr=8-1&keywords=dennis+ngien

  3. Emerson says:

    Southern Baptist Convention

  4. Al Gordon says:

    This is a sobering issue. The error of “charismatic” Christians, of whom I am one, is that we have become theologians of glory only. Would it not be more correct to say that we need to be theologians of both the cross and the glory, and that its important to get the order right. A life without the cross is a myth. A life without the glory is incomplete.

  5. James S says:

    This is so good and I believe it is critical for every Christian and every church to understand and live out. It changes everything…how we live, minister, relate to one another and the world…esp. how we interpret the Bible!

  6. Richard says:

    Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross is best exemplified here:

    http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/08/17/pat-robertson-vs-the-spirit-of-adoption/

  7. This seems to be a bit of a false dichotomy.

    Cross and glory are inextricable elements of the nature of God. God is characterized by an internal, eternal cohesiveness that is manifest as mutual sacrificial submission. How else could Jesus define love in it’s greatest form as a man who “lay down his life for his friends?”

    Pilate had no power except what was given to him “from above” yet it was the people shouting “Crucify him!” who swayed his hand.

    As those possessing temporal minds, we need contrast to understand. So it is that God painted the background a different color than himself so we could see him. God is in control of the contrast for the purposes of displaying his glory.

    1. CG says:

      I think you’re using “glory” in a different way than Trueman, who seems to be specifically critiquing worldly notions of what God’s “glory” entails.

      1. CG, That’s entirely possible. My understanding of biblical glory is a simple one and I can’t say that I understand the world’s definition to be different. I’ll concede that there could be some differentiation I haven’t considered.

        I have to wonder, however, if the “theologian of glory” Martin Luther referred to based his theology on the world’s definition of glory as opposed to the biblical definition of glory given that as Trueman’s starting point. Luther was a theological pioneer back to the biblical theological thought that at the time had grown into a wilderness, but I find some of his theological considerations to be incomplete.

  8. Lucas says:

    Good read, thanks for sharing

  9. Owen says:

    Trueman really and truly should write a book on this. He returns regularly to this theme, and his writing on it is spiritually powerful.

    I hope he does.

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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