September 25, 2020

Glorious Ruin: Theology Of Glory Vs. Theology Of The Cross

We continue our iMonk book club discussion on Tullian Tchividjian’s Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free. Today, let’s discuss chapters one through three and his look at the “theology of glory” vs. the “theology of the cross.”

These are terms coined by Martin Luther in his Heidelberg Disputation of 1518. You can read Luther’s theses in this disputation here. The basics of these two theologies are that “glory” is us trying to please God with our efforts, and “cross” being us letting go of our efforts and trusting the work of Jesus alone for salvation.

Tchividjian writes,

Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end—an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential. As Luther put it, the theologian of glory “does not know God hidden in suffering. There he prefers work to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.” The theology of glory is the natural default setting for human beings addicted to control and measurement. This perspective puts us squarely in the driver’s seat, after all.

So, how does that play into suffering?

Do you agree with the author’s distinction between Law (big “L”) and law (little “l”)?

Tchividjian says we can do away with accountability partners. Do you agree with his discussion of the harmful effects of this type of “discipleship”?

And just why is it important to be honest in our suffering?

Ok, iMonks. The floor is open for your discussion. Let’s hear from you.


  1. I would like to know how much “Theology of Glory” versus “Theology of the Cross” is discussed outside of Lutheran circles. Before I came to this site I had never heard of it. Each denomination seems to have its own pet theologies. Is this one of the Lutheran ones? I would like to hear from other traditions. Is this a theme that gets a lot of attention in your churches?

    • Clay Crouch says

      This Episcopalian discusses it quite often with my evangelical friends, who look at me as if I come from another planet.

    • Keep in mind the author is a Presbyterian. White Horse Inn fans are well aware of this doctrine. It came from Lutheranism, but many reformation-oriented churches are free to embrace it. But it’s not a pet-theology in the way that complementarianism or a polity structure is. It’s not a rule to be obeyed, but water for the thirsty soul.

    • No Michael Bell, I had never heard of it until I began to have a longing I couldn’t name after numerous major losses in my life in a very short time. I was staggered and what had “kept me” before seemed to have disappeared. I questioned if I had built my life on sand instead of on the Rock as in the parable. I was in agony and then the Lord began to turn my attention to the cross. This took place over about a 2 year time period. And finally I began to find rest. My longing made sense in a way and my “evangelical addiction to answers” began to be “rehabilitated.” Then, being a book person, I searched on Amazon for a book on the cross and I found “The Spirituality of the Cross” by Gene Veith Jr. as well as finding the Internet Monk site. God was truly leading and centering me. And in that book I learned about the 2 theologies. And I was set free from an agonizing spiritual darkness. Not quickly, but gently and slowly. It truly changed my life. So when I saw these chapters in Tullian’s book I literally laughed out loud.

      I read in one of his mother’s books that when she married Stephan Tchvidjian he had engraved in their rings, “The Same Spirit Says the Same Thing.” And I feel that happening today. Tullian and I (and countless others) are hearing the Spirit say the Same Thing.

  2. Never heard it discussed, never heard of it. But I may need to get another book. The cross gets talked about but the focus is on ‘glory’. I can see how the theology of glory is appealing; allows us control and makes bible teaching easier because of all the little steps we can point towards, the ‘good christian’ things.

  3. This seems like a false dichotomy to me. We will suffer in this life. We can learn from it whether it is God induced, satan induced, or self induced. I personally want to suffer as little as possible. I am pretty sure that God looks at it that way too. Most suffering is because of choices we or others make.

    • That’s an incomplete and not very good excerprt from the Heidleburg disputations.

      The point is that humans want glory for themselves, and assume God works the same way. The theology of glory looks at the patriarchs, Israel, and Jesus as proto-superheros, the same way pagans view the gods. The theology of glory insists that a person do something to earn his own salvation. It refuses to acknowledge the “folly” “evil” etc. of the cross and tries to make the cross into a glorious example we can mimic, if it acknowledges the reality of the cross at all.

      The theology of the cross is the opposite. It admits total weakness in response to God’s grace and that we can’t mimic Jesus. It acknowledges the idea of God in Christ dying a sinner’s death is “folly” but trusts in it anyway, excluding any works.

      So, it’s a real dichotomy.

      • I’ve gone around this a few times here, but I don’t believe it’s as dichotomous as some people make it out to be here. I believe that one can, for instance, say that we are in a state of total weakness and dependence, but yet we are still told numerous times throughout Scripture to imitate, or “mimic” as you put it, Christ. The thing is in order to actually imitate Christ, it means we have to die to ourselves, put others’ needs before our own, and be willing to be a servant. I don’t believe it means that God expects us to live morally perfect lives, but I do believe there is an ethical standard that should be a calling card of the Church. We are a living testimony that Christ is making all things new, after all.

        • Nobody who reads the Bible thinks there is no ethical standard. But nobody can satisfy that ethical standard apart from Christ, and Christians who attempt to follow that ethical standard earn no more grace than the very worst Christian. So why do Christians spend so much time beating each other up over morals, when its Christ alone that saves, and only Christ that motivates good works? Because too many Christians follow a theology of glory.

          • I don’t think a prophetic call for the Church to live within certain ethical bounds is the same as beating each other up. Certainly such things can happen, but I don’t think I’d accuse the apostle Paul of being a Church-beater when he told the people in his letters that he expected them to behave a certain way.

            To me the purpose of a Biblical standard isn’t to show how wrong we are, really. In one sense it’s to limit the amount of harm we can do to ourselves and others. It’s the same reason parents give children rules. To speak in terms like “satisfaction” seems to be putting a lot of medieval reasoning and language onto the Scripture that isn’t necessarily there.

        • Nelta & I spent 3 years as staff with Southern Cross Project (2006-2009) and we have never regreted folwilong God’s calling to the mission field. You become a warrior for Christ and each bible is just another seed that is being planted, that WILL be harvested somewhere in China. To GO is a blessings not only to the Chinese people, but also one that you will receive and never forget. Step out of your comfort zone and enjoy the Great Commission. Pray and listen for HIS voice, He may be calling you right now. Blessings and prayers always.

  4. Craig Peterson says

    I have been traveling a lot lately and one of the joys, amidst airports and taxis and irregularity, has been time to read The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor. What a treasure! Relevant to this discussion is her use of self-righteous, smug, legalistic protagonists juxtaposed against simple, humble and broken characters. I’ve never seen the theology of glory vs. the theology of the cross so vividly portrayed as in these grotesque and usually violent stories and would recommend them as one avenue to inform our imagination about the distinctions between the two.

    • O’Connor’s probably my favorite female writer of all time.
      In regards to this discussion, I think we can apply the Misfit’s famous quote from A Good Man is Hard to Find.
      We would all be good people if there was someone there to shoot us every day of our lives.
      That’s why we need the cross — to nail up our rotting flesh and crucify our reprobate minds on a daily basis.
      And it’s the brutality of the cross that jars us out of our dreamy delusions of self-made righteousness and awakens us to the reality of how utterly dependent we are on Him.

  5. Here’s a good primer on ‘The Theology of the Cross’ vs. the other stuff:

    Try it…you’ll like it!

  6. Josh in FW says

    I was very convicted when Tullian wrote, “The tragic irony in all this is that when we focus so strongly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become even more neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of God’s grace) makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. And what is Original Sin if not a preoccupation with ourselves?”

  7. Before I read this book, the distinction of a theology of Glory vs the Cross had never been clear to me (though I long felt uncomfortable with the former, often manifested in topical sermons about how to become a better X if you jump through a series of hoops.)

    Yes, God CAN use our sufferings to grow as people – but we needn’t assume that’s necessarily the reason for them (as he says later on, it’s easy for us to make an idol out of desiring an explanation for our suffering, because knowing the reason vindicates us in some sense.) But God doesn’t mainly use our sufferings as a means to our PERSONAL advancement (the Oprah-fication Tullian talks about), but as a means to grow closer to HIM, and lead us into a stronger relationship and dependence on Christ and his work.

    It is a great tragedy that the western church has so often missed this, encouraging us to deny and keep a stiff upper lip about suffering – experiences through which God is trying to tell us something about HIMSELF – not necessarily (or even often) OURSELVES.

    I absolutely loved this line about out “trivial” sufferings. How many times have I beat myself up for being torn up over things that are important and hurtful, even if they aren’t as blatant as starving naked in Africa?

    “Sure, there’s not anything particularly dramatic or glamorous about such everyday misfortune, but that does not invalidate it. When we resist classifying it as suffering, we embrace the misconception that God is interested only in the more tragic situations of our lives.”

    “If the only things that qualify as suffering in your life are natural disasters or global warfare, you will soon find yourself plastering a smile on your face and nodding overenthusiastically whenever someone asks you how you are doing.”

    Accountability partners can be useful – but the system is easily abused, as Tullian mentions. Personally, I found myself surprisingly victorious over old sins ever since I started focusing on Jesus and God’s grace over my own performance. This stuff really works!

    “In fact, nowhere in the Bible do we find God sanctioning a “suck it up and deal with it” posture toward pain… Job’s unraveling wasn’t wrong or sinful; rather, it was emotionally realistic.”

  8. Apologies, as I haven’t been reading the book, so this may not be directly applicable, but as coincidently the sermon at my church last Sunday was on Hebrews 12, and while it may not be applicable to all suffering, the discipline of God definitely applies to a subset of such it is important to remember that we are disciplined because we are children of God. The main points from the sermon are that: like a race sometimes it is just hard work, but we are called to run in a way that we will finish it. Get rid of anything that may weigh you down. Never give up. Jesus is the one who makes it possible to run the race. About struggling with sin we need to remember that there is still more to go, and it’s going to cost you. It’s going to hurt, at times, yet as we are disciplined it shows that we belong to God; a parent only disciplines those who belong to them.

    Also, about the theologies of glory vs the cross I’ve heard it said that those following the former focus on the good that’s ahead, while the latter look to see Jesus now, along side them during their suffering.

  9. William Webber says

    It took me a while to see the connection between Tchividjian’s theological arguments and the topic of suffering, but when I did, I found the message liberating. Tchividjian is arguing that in the modern world, freedom from suffering, expressed as happiness and success, has become a (small-l) law. Acknowledging our own suffering, to others or ourselves, has become shameful, almost sinful. But this world is broken; living in it without a sense of suffering would be perverse. God does not expect us to live without suffering in the world; rather, God calls to us through suffering to live our lives in Him. God forgives our brokenness, and makes us whole as a gift of grace. This reminds me of passages from “The Sources of Taize” by Brother Roger, which I am also reading at the moment:

    When trials arise within you or misunderstandings arrive from without, never forget that in the same wound where the pangs of anxiety are seething, creative forces are also being born. […]

    Are you surrounded by things you cannot understand? When darkness grows deep, his love is a fire. You need only fix your gaze on that lamp burning in the darkness, till day begins to dawn and the sun rises in your heart. [2 Peter 1:19].

    On a more critical note, the author places much of this discussion in the context of a particular church setting (that of accountability groups and of the Theology of Glory), but I think it is even more applicable to the spirit of the modern, secular world, as the author’s Facebook example shows. Also, I found his constant turning back to topics of Reformed theology unhelpful and a little narrow. Does he think that Catholics and Orthodox have no conception of the connection between suffering and holiness? I’d say rather that it is strands of Protestantism that have made the connection between faith and worldly success.

  10. Bill Metzger says

    The Theology of the Cross is a game changer. It has kept me sane, in the faith and in the ministry. By looking at EVERYTHING through Cross-Eyes, God has enabled me to stay the course. Apparent defeat is really victory at the Cross. Senseless suffering is assigned meaning at the Cross. Unfairness reveals God’s justice at the Cross. Loss of friends/rejection/abandonment/betrayal can be embraced toward a greater appreciation of God’s unfailing love and faithfulness at the Cross. Mistreatment at the hands of the “most religious” can be tolerated at the Cross. The list goes on and on. Get a copy of Forde’s “On Being a Theolgian of the Cross” and devour it. For the sake of your faith as well as your ministry.