Theology of Glory or Theology of The Cross

In our spiritual journey, Penny and I are currently taking a Lutheran course for new members. This week we talked about something that is very important to Lutherans, and the emphasis on this subject seems to be a Lutheran distinctive. The differentiation between the Gospel of Glory and the Gospel of Grace is essential to the Lutheran belief system. The Gospel of Glory focuses on works that we do. It assumes that if we do a certain act, God will respond with a blessing. The glory in the Gospel of Glory goes to the individual and not to God, because the effort is on the individual’s part. The Gospel of the Cross, on the other hand, is the act that Christ performed on the cross, independent of any action that I (or another other member of mankind) has done. The glory is for God, because God, in the persons of the Trinity, performed the action on the Cross and gave the gift to me. My understanding is that every Lutheran seminary seeks to place a strong emphasis on this differentiation in the education of every one of its pastors.
A lack of understanding of this spiritual truth seems to be at the heart of the problem that needs to be reformed in evangelism. Almost every church growth movement over my lifetime is based on the Gospel of Glory. Let’s list a few examples I have encountered from sermon series, conferences, and classes taught at most evangelical churches.
  • Pastor portrays that he has a wonderful family, and if you do _____ you will have a wonderful family like he has. Sometimes this is directly said in sermons, but usually it is inferred from his general teaching and his portrayal of his family life.
  • Sermon series entitled “How to battle depression” or “How to be a better husband/wife/father in 5 easy steps”. These series place the glory on mankind, because the lesson is that if we follow these steps, we will have a better life.
  • Marriage conferences that teach that if you do the works mentioned in the conference, you will have a happy marriage.
  • Classes on “Financial Peace”. These teach that if you follow the steps in the class, you will have a happier and more fulfilled life.
  • Sermons that imply that if you tithe to the church, God will bless you financially.
  • An all out battle on the culture of America. Listeners are encouraged to fight (or retreat from) any act that reflects American culture. This usually involves not watching most movies, listening to most popular music, or reading many popular novels. The focus is on the acts that the person avoids.
  • Music in churches and concerts that focus on the individual’s actions, and not on God’s. This music mentions actions that that individual performs (for example, holding on to God), and not on what Christ does for us.
  • Sermons that clearly state that theology is clear, and never has mysteries. Those that believe that all theology is clear believe that mankind is capable of understanding the mind of God. Little room is left for mysteries. One very common example of this is “God let this happen because he has something better planned for you.” instead of admitting that we cannot understand God’s purposes or plans. Another common example is claiming to completely understand God’s sovereignty or mankind’s free will, without acknowledging the mystery of the intersection between God being in control and mankind’s ability to make decisions.
When I have listened to pastors and church growth leaders advocate these approaches, they acknowledge that the Gospel of Glory is much more likely to draw a crowd than the Gospel of the Cross. They defend this approach by saying once they have the crowd, they will actually teach the Gospel of the Cross during the sermon. In reality, though, this never works. Over time, the Gospel of Glory always takes precedence, and the Gospel of the Cross fades into obscurity.
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About Allen Krell

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