Cross or Glory?

In a seminar last week on Martin Luther, I commented that a theologian of glory could easily use the theology of cross for his own ends.  He would thereby utterly subvert its purpose while still using its form.  This provoked some discussion and even some resistance from my students but the point is relatively simple. Even the cross can be used as an opportunity for drawing attention to oneself.

Thus, the theology of the cross can be articulated as a set of dramatic statements (‘God is hidden in his revelation and revealed in his hiddenness’; ‘God achieves his proper work through his alien work’ and so on).  In an age of Tweets and Attention Deficit Disorder, these sayings have a certain cool chic to them and give the one using them an aura of profundity, rather like the cod-Confucian gibberish of Master Po in Kung Fu (‘If a man ignores the past, he may rob the future’; ‘To suppress a truth is to give it force beyond endurance’).   But if that is the theologian’s ultimate purpose – to sound learned, to appear profound, to enhance the appeal of his Twitter account, to make himself and his ‘ministry’ the main event – then however cross-centred the words he uses, he speaks as a theologian of glory. 

The real theologian of the cross knows that the theology of the cross exists for him only in the actual midst of the fallen human experience of (to use Luther's own terms) Anfechtungen and tentatio.  It cannot be tritely tweeted or indeed lazily separated from the overall shape of someone’s life and ministry. It is ironic, but just as the crucifix can be an item of costume jewelry, so the theology of the cross can be the tool for bolstering one’s own power and influence.