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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross

I often remember a quote from a sermon preached at my old church: "Coming to church isn't about what you can get, but what you can give." At the time I felt uncomfortable with the statement, but figured I agreed. The minister was preaching to a crowd of unmotivated, entertainment-hungry college students, and wanted to push them out of their mediocre faith into Christian action.

But when it comes to God, what do we have to give? Aren't we merely beggars at the foot of God's door, to paraphrase the Normals (who were paraphrasing Martin Luther, I would find years after first hearing the song)?

A confounding of law and gospel has worked its way into many, many churches. The theologian of glory has been whispering in the church's ear and many of her teachers and congregants haven't a clue.

John H. has done a great job of contrasting this theology with a more accurate theology of the cross here. His words resonate in my heart of hearts. They illustrate well the last few years of my personal reformation.

A few years ago, I would climb out of bed in the morning determined to live a truly Christian day. I spent the first hour of my day "prepping." Athletes psych themselves out before a big game. I was psyching myself out for another day of being a Christian.

Sin? Today, I just wasn't going to do it. Sure, I knew that I'd messed up yesterday. But sometime between sunset and sunrise God must have given me the power to eliminate any trace of sinfulness from my life, right?

As John H. writes, the theologian of glory says "The gospel is what gets you saved - then other things take you forward in the Christian life." This was my life. Remembering the cross was alright, I thought, but properly living day-to-day meant asking "what would Jesus do," and pressing onward.

Burnout is almost inevitable in a life like this. Questions like these (posed by a good friend and former mentor who once worked at my previous church) will often eventually bring the believer to question the core of his relationship with God. If life is worship, and I don't know how to worship very well, what the heck is my life?

Of course, everyone gets burned out. In that valley, where does a Christian find his comfort? Inside himself and the connectedness he feels? Inside his small group, and the feelings of belonging there? Perhaps to prayer, and meditative silence?

At the cross. Where Christ (and Christ alone!) finished his marvelous work of our justification and redemption. Afflicted sinners will find lasting comfort in no place else.

Have we drifted so far we can't even remember where to find the cross? Hear the word. Receive the sacrament. Believe that forgiveness freely offered is ours. The church must return, or she will cease to be the church at all.