A Theology of Glory

So I’ve spent the better part of this week writing a sermon that wrestles with suffering. Actually I’ve spent longer than that wrestling with it. Sometimes a teaching is birthed out of a need to have something to say, and sometimes it comes out of having to say something. This week is one of the latter.

A couple of days ago I got the book, Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide, written by Karen Spears Zacharias. The book is the product of several years of interviews as she alternates interviewing people who preach a Health and Wealth gospel (also known as the Prosperity gospel) and people who have been burnt by that kind of perspective of God.

At one point she recounts speaking to a well known female televangelist who explained her lavish Jesus following lifestyle by saying, “Who would want to get in on something where you’re miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven? I believe God wants us to have nice things.”

Anytime I talk about this, I always feel torn to back up and say, God doesn’t hate wealthier people. And the longer I live the more I realize how wealthy I am. But I hope Jesus followers, especially wealthy Jesus followers (read people who have  a roof over the heads) feel the great responsibility that comes with their wealth.

Because this really isn’t about money, it’s really a topic about how God works.

I like the way William Willimon talks about this:

“Martin Luther was fond of contrasting a “theology of glory,” in which the cross was seen as avoidable, optional equipment for Christians, a mere ladder by which we climb up to God with a “theology of the cross” which, according to Luther, calls things by their proper names and is unimpressed with most that impresses the world. A theology of glory (the current “Prosperity Theology”?) preaches the cross as just another technique for getting what we want whereas a theology of the cross proclaims the cross as the supreme sign of how God gets what God wants. The cross is a statement that our salvation is in God’s hands, not ours, that our relationship to God is based upon something that God suffers and does rather than upon something that we do. To bear the cross of Christ is to bear its continual rebuke of the false gods to which we are tempted to give our lives. Autosalvation is the lie beneath most theologies of glory. When self-salvation is preached, reducing the gospel to a means for saving ourselves — by our good works, or our good feelings, or our good thinking – then worldly wisdom and common sense are substituted for cruciform gospel foolishness and blasphemy is the result.”

In other words, the prosperity gospel is just as much a heresy as someone who thinks they can be saved based on their own merit, because both ways of talking about God skip over the Cross. It is to stand in the desert with the Satan listening to his offers for world domination, or bread, or flying lessons and think, “This guy’s really sounding reasonable.”

Phillip Yancey talks about a conversation he had with a man who visits unregistered house churches in China. Yancey asked the man whether these Chinese Christians pray against the government’s harsh policies toward them to change, or for relief. He replied, “No, they  don’t. I’ve never heard them pray for relief. They assume they’ll face opposition. They can’t imagine anything else.”

The prosperity gospel can fool us into thinking that God’s best life for us can be measured in dollars and dimes, or square footage. But I think the deeper danger is that it can forget the very essence of the way of Jesus. That suffering can be redemptive. That God can take even our worst moments and do something beyond our wildest dreams with it.

That is, after all, what happened at the Cross. We can try to sidestep the true implications of the cross for a Theology of Glory, but we might never realize that the unexpected Glory of God was there all along.

About jonathanstorment

My family and I love reading, traveling, daddy/daughter dates, playing hide and seek, good music, and long meals with friends. We still miss LOST, and all four of us have Superman uniforms. We are passionate about bringing Heaven to Earth and want to follow Jesus while repainting discipleship for those around us. We are followers of Jesus and I preach at the Highland Church of Christ. We participate in something called A Restoration Movement, and we've come to realize that might be larger than we thought.

12 thoughts on “A Theology of Glory

  1. It’s interesting that these “theologies of glory” seem to neglect the very means by which Christ was glorified: suffering and death. Not to mention a neglect of what Paul says in Galatians 6:14, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” I like how the ASV and KJV retain the word “glory” in place of “boast.”

    Surely the glory God promises for us is much better than “having nice things.” If it’s not I think I’ll give up now.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    Clint

  2. Storment, you’re on a roll, man.

    My heart is for social justice and for people who aren’t any part of the Christian sub-culture or Bible Belt culture to receive the Good News that is Jesus. Having said that, and I feel a little sheepish to continue this thought. . . but the faith background from which I come was so anti- any minute aspect of the Health and Wealth Prosperity Gospel, that their message/s really appealed to me and opened the door for me to reconsider Christianity.

    The female televangelist of whom you speak has really ministered to me and a great many that I know, so I can’t dismiss her, though I have often been troubled by things in her ministry that to me appear to be inappropriate in a world that Jesus died for where children go to bed unnecessarily hungry and sick.

    I can’t say that I can make sense of this for anybody else, but for me I continue to learn and grow a lot from many of the Health and Wealth teachers. However, fed only on what they offer. . .I don’t like how my thinking becomes, but I also don’t like the poverty is purity powerless doctrine that I came from, either.

    A book that I’d recommend that brought me back to reality after an overdose in Prosperity Gospel is Bob Sorge’s The Fire of Delayed Answers.

  3. I have always had a hard time understanding how those who preach a prosperity Gospel can do so in light of what happened to the Apostles. They didn’t die of old age, rich and in a fluffy bed.

    I wish, though, that Luther hadn’t used the phrase “Theology of Glory” to label that kind of thinking. For I do think we have a glory, a glory that is a reflection of God.

    Maynard, thanks for your honesty as you struggle with this issue. You’re not alone by any means. It’s a struggle for most of us in one form or another. God blessed Abraham in material ways. Likewise he blessed Job, and Solomon, and . . . you get the point. I think of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof: “If riches are a curse, may God smite me with them and may I never recover.” Given the choice, I would prefer to be wealthy, healthy, and beautiful. Alas, it hasn’t happened, especially the last one. But it is just so easy for us to slip into the mode of thinking that God owes us that kind of blessing.

    Thanks for another thoughtful post, Jonathan.

  4. Clint, thanks for your thoughts. I couldn’t agree more. The glory of God can get really misinterpreted when it’s seen through the lens of what we’d like it to be. But this is the scandal of the cross, that what we thought was weakness was actually strength. Thanks!

    Maynard, I get reaction, I really do. And our particular tribe may have given us quite a bit to react to. But here’s the thing about that doctrine. It’s so anti-gospel. God become obligated to give something shiny if we follow a particular formula. But here’s how I can understand what you are saying…Most of what H&W preachers are saying is true (that sentence was hard for me to type) but where they come out at is my major problem. I don’t believe God rewards with dollars and plasma T.V.’s
    And when we start to think God operates like that we begin to talk like the friends of Job (not saying you do that at). Anyway, thanks for pulling me back somewhat Maynard.

  5. Bro. Danny, I guess we were commenting at the same time, sorry I wasn’t ignoring you! One of the things I’ve really had to struggle with is this basic truth that sometimes God gives a lot to people, and not to others. But what’s helped me with this, is the realization that when He blessed them e.g. Abraham, Solomon etc. it was always for purposes larger than just themselves. They were called (and held accountable) to what they had been given, for to whom much has been given, much will be required. Thanks for your thoughts!

  6. Don’t worry about ignoring me, Jonathan. I don’t expect a response to all of my comments. I don’t claim to understand why some of those God blesses get material things and others don’t. My best idea is that maybe these things aren’t as important as we would like them to be. I do know that we in this place and time have more than most people in the history of the world have had. And much is required of us.

    God never promised me a Mercedes. He never even promised me a Dodge. But I have a Dodge, so it’s my duty to use it as best as I can for the Kingdom.

  7. This is a topic that is on my heart because I am a recipient of lavish riches – I have a reward that is all about health and wealth, the health of eternal life and the wealth of sitting at the feet of God one day.

    That said, only in a few places like America can people proclaim the H&W doctrine. Can it be claimed in Tanzania or China? Then again, can it be claimed by my dear friend who just lost a daughter?

    I am going through one of the toughest, most emotionally draining, most spiritually averse times of my life and yet I see God more clearly than ever before. As I began to study the scriptures for a way out of the pain, I realized that my Bible heroes are the antithesis of H&W teaching. Abraham, he’s a pretty good guy, he started a war that continues to rage today. Moses, well how did things end up for him? Oh, but there’s David, a man after God’s own heart. It all worked out well for David except when he was hiding in caves or when he was having the husband of the woman he committed adultery with killed or when he lost his son and his family became a wreck. Now Job, he got the good deal. He lost his kids and suffered miserably but God loaded him up for all that, right? I guess the mental pain and scars didn’t just magically disappear. Wait, Peter got all the good stuff….no, he ended up on a cross upside down I believe.

    I have come to have great disdain for the prayer expressing thanks that we are free to worship in this country because that freedom has made many of us weaker. We want the government to teach our kids to pray and read scripture because we don’t do it at home. Dude, we need a little more suffering because I can tell you from experience, suffering makes you choose whether you want to follow God or find your own road and, if you choose to follow God, He illuminates His spirit within you.

    I’m tired of the pain and look forward to being called home but in the meantime, I’ll take the pain if it continues to pull me closer to my LORD.

  8. Well said, Jeff. You apply one of my standard tests to teachings: Does this hold true for a subsistence farmer in India? How about for a second-century Christian living under persecution? The Gospel is for ALL, not just wealthy, happy, shiny North Americans.

  9. Jeff, thanks for the well thought out post. Have you read Donald Miller’s new book? It has some great points about the value of conflict and suffering in our lives. I think you’d like it.

  10. Jonathon, I haven’t read it yet but it’s one on my list. I’m going through a good bit of conflict and suffering right now and always like to read things that help me remember I’m still not alone.

    I appreciate your blog. I hope I can stop by the church one day and meet you in person. I wondered if you were there for Jenny Bizallions funeral but it was a big crowd.

  11. From the article:

    “Anytime I talk about this, I always feel torn to back up and say, God doesn’t hate wealthier people. And the longer I live the more I realize how wealthy I am. But I hope Jesus followers, especially wealthy Jesus followers (read people who have a roof over the heads) feel the great responsibility that comes with their wealth.”

    I am certain many people who have wealth do feel the responsibility of it. Since you consider yourself weatlhy (and I would assume you are wealthy not by following the prosperity gospel, but by merely accepting and placing yourself in a position to be blessed by God as the provider of all things), could you explain what you mean by the prosperity gospel. I am sure everyone has their own idea of what it is based on their particular lot in life.

    How do you see it, as a wealthy person? Just curious.

    Best Regards

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