From time to time I like to post some of what I am working on in seminary. The following is an excerpt from my final exam for my systematic theology class at Luther Seminary. One of the major distinctions that we worked on this semester was the difference between law and gospel and between a theologian of glory and a theologian of the cross.
The theologian of glory and the theologian start out from a very different place in their paradigm. The theologian of glory assumes that we “fell” from a high place of glory and we are destined to return to that place, and to do so, must only follow the law (doing the prescribed “right things”). A theologian of the cross knows that we were born sinners from the very dawn of creation and that we are constitutionally incapable of saving ourselves, we need the actions of a radical incarnate God who would sacrifice his own son on the cross.
The theologian of glory desires to activate the will to do things and reads scripture as a series of precepts (if you do this…you will receive this…). This theologian believes it is entirely possible to return to glory eventually and will engage in this relentless striving until their death. They believe that their spiritual aspirations, and all associated actions, will draw them closer to God. They also believe that they can understand what God is doing and see the cross as making up for their failures along the path of glory. The theologian of the cross knows that their own actions are futile in salvation and only the justifying act of the cross saves. A theologian of the cross is always at risk of becoming a theologian of glory, for this is the natural temptation of the human creature. The glory story is addictive, because it becomes about me and what I want and what I believe I am capable of doing. The theologian of the cross understands that the law was not given for us to return to glory, but rather to maintain order in this old creation, while we are yet dying. A theologian of the cross knows that the law and our attempts to justify our lives through it were forever put to death on the cross, and acknowledges that there are no more loopholes in this justification by faith alone.