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The Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross

December 20, 2008

It’s a distinction that Luther makes in the Heidelberg Disputation and that Gerhard Forde wrote a great book about. I mentioned it for the first time in a sermon last week. If you’d like to read more, here’s a helpful chart made by my virtual friend John, a Lutheran from London.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2008 3:35 am

    Great post.

    You start down the Forde road and you won’t be making many friends (in Christian circles).

    The ‘Jesus only’ theology that Forde espoused is likened to kryptonite for the ‘little bit of God, little bit of me’ self-obsessed idolator that inhabits the human frame.

    You will definitely find yourself in trouble with the doer’s (for justification/sanctification). But as someone much more astute than I said, “it’s the right kind of trouble.”

    The theology of Glory is the dominant theology (by far) in American Evangelicalism and is a force to be reckoned with. But as my pastor likes to say, “just hand Christ over and His forgiveness, and let the chips fall where they may…don’t blink in the face of those that would add one iota to what Christ has done…don’t blink.”

  2. December 26, 2008 8:02 pm

    So not trying to cause mischief here – but a quick question, does John Piper have a “theology of glory” or a “theology of the cross”?

  3. December 27, 2008 9:50 pm


    If you look down the list of the characteristics of the theologian of glory, I think you’d have to say “no way” when it comes to ascribing them to Piper. And you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone who’s been exposed to him for very long that he isn’t very cross-centered.

    But, (and perhaps he would acknowledge this himself), he may be open to some criticism for saying things at times that make the cross sound like a means to an end. Or, trying to look through the cross to see the glory of God, rather than seeing the glory of God on the cross. Check out this post, especially the third fourth comment.

  4. December 29, 2008 10:35 am

    Having been taught what to listen for in preaching and teaching, I must say that when I hear Piper preach, I am hearing someone who does not know how to separate the law from the gospel.

    He knows the law..and he knows the gospel. But he constantly pours the law on the hearer to obtain , or cultivate a certain ’emotion’ about God, or certain ‘feelings’ about God. He uses the law (anything that we should, ought, or must do) in a way to make the Christian better.

    I believe that a proper (theological) use of the law is to kill off…so that the gospel can go to work.

    From my understanding, he (Piper) claims to be a Baptist/Calvinist (or vice versa). His preaching and teaching lines up nicely with that description.

    I would say that emphasis on trying to make the Christian “better”, or more “Christlike”, or “more serious”…is a theology of Glory.

    The theolgy of the Cross recognizes that we do NOT desire God…but that He desires us. Big difference.

  5. December 31, 2008 2:15 pm

    I have to say that after looking at John H’s chart, reading Glen Scrivener’s post & the following comments, and thinking back on the discussion over at BHT … I think I understand the distinction between the “theology of glory” and the “theology of the cross.” One is self-centered, one is focused on Christ. One is about what God is doing for us, the other is on how God makes use of us. Some of these distinctions seem arbitrary, but I think I get what Luther and Forde are getting at (I do need to read Forde’s book now).

    That said – now that I’ve thought about it more, I don’t think the discussion about John Piper quite applies. The trouble there seemed to be Piper’s single-minded focus on God’s glory, God’s glorification of himself, and basically God’s self-centeredness. To say that God is self-centered and self-glorifying is true, but a lot of Christians wouldn’t like saying this. And it’s also possible to let your focus on God’s glorification of himself to overshadow the Biblical teaching on God’s love and God’s selflessness. God is both. And Christ’s death on the cross shows this. But it sounds to me now that making this distinction is different from making Forde’s distinction – even though both involve the words “glory” and “cross.”

  6. January 2, 2009 3:01 am


    You make some good observations. I would be interested how they might differ (if at all) after you’ve read some of Forde (namely, ‘On Being a Theologian of the Cross’).

  7. January 2, 2009 4:54 pm

    yeah, I’m putting it on the top of my my “books to order on Amazon since they are absolutely impossible to find at your local Christian bookstore” list

  8. January 7, 2009 2:51 pm


    “The theolgy of the Cross recognizes that we do NOT desire God…but that He desires us.” That’s an interesting statement. Would you mind expanding on it a little?

  9. January 7, 2009 5:43 pm


    I guess you are right, that is interesting, at the least.

    When God showed up here in the form of Jesus bringing His mercy and grace, we wouldn’t have it…and put Him to a death. A death in which we are all complicit in our sin.

    The scriptures remind us that, “no one seeks for God.” (Romans)

    The gospel of John reminds us that we are not born(again) of the blood of man, nor of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” (paraphrased)

    Our own lives prove how much we desire God. We routinely ignore His commandments in order to do our own thing. We do not trust Him . We worry when He tells us not to. We do not love Him or our neighbors as ourselves.

    “But, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans)

    He knows that we are more interested in our own projects than we will ever be about Him…but decided somewhere along the line that He didn’t care who and what we are…He still loves us.

    I’m probably not the best person to explain it, but that might be a decent start.

    Thanks Jeff.

    – Steve

  10. January 7, 2009 8:19 pm

    Thanks for the clarification Steve!

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