Recently I came across an article written a few years ago by Tullian Tchividjian. The title of the article is “Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross.” These terms have been around at least since the 1500’s when Martin Luther wrote about these two ways of viewing God and human life.
While the reality that these two lenses exist through which to view our existence is complex and subject to much discussion, I like how Tchividjian summarizes them.
He writes, “Theologies of glory are approaches to Christianity and to life that try in various ways to minimize painful and difficult things or move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end, an unpleasant but necessary step to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential…
A theology of glory prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, and wisdom to folly. A theology of glory operates on the assumption that what we need is some optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem.
A theology of the cross, in contrast, understands the cross to be the ultimate statement of God’s involvement in the world on this side of heaven. A theology of the cross accepts the difficult thing rather than immediately trying to change it or use it. It looks directly into pain. A theology of the cross defines life in terms of giving rather than taking, self-sacrifice rather than self-protection, dying rather than killing. Such theology shows us we win by losing, triumph through defeat, and we become rich by giving ourselves away.”
If we spend time thinking about these two perspectives, you can see them play out in the lives of people day in and day out by where people focus, how people speak, and how people approach life. It has also been said that third world countries tend to adopt more of a theology of the cross than first world countries do. In fact, it is suggested that first and third world countries need to more closely understand and appreciate such differences in perspective.
Wherever one is with regard to these two approaches to life and God, I believe it is essential to embrace them both. If we don’t, we can become desensitized to pain and distort reality to such a point we become blind to widespread massive suffering. Conversely, we can focus so much on pain we can lose hope and our ability to see God powerfully acting in the world for good in amazing ways.
The theology of the cross reminds us who saves us and that we are wholly dependent upon God, while the theology of glory causes us to remember the talents God has given each of us to use in changing what is wrong in order to continue to bring about what is right. The theologies of the cross and the glory remind me too that while the sun sets, it also rises and that when the sun rises, it also sets.
Our views about ourselves, our opinions, our politics, our way of relating to God and others are all influenced by these two perspectives. I invite us all to see the necessary wisdom in both.