Superficial optimism ultimately breeds despair. A theology of glory works like that. It operates on the assumption that what we need is optimistic encouragement, some flattery, some positive thinking, some support to build our self-esteem.
Theologically speaking it operates on the assumption that we are not seriously addicted to sin, and that our improvement is both necessary and possible. We need a little boost in our desire to good works. Of course our theologian of glory may well grant that we need the help of grace. The only dispute, usually, will be about the degree of grace needed. If we are a ‘liberal’, we
will opt for less grace and tend to define it as some kind of moral persuasion or spiritual encouragement. If we are more ‘conservative’ and speak of the depth of human sin, we will tend to escalate the degree of grace needed to the utmost. But the hallmark of a theology of glory is that it will always consider grace as something of a supplement to
whatever is left of human will and power. It will always, in the end, hold out for some free will.
Theology then becomes the business of making theological explanations attractive
to the will. Sooner or later a disastrous erosion of the language sets in. It must constantly
be adjusted to be made appealing. Gradually it sinks to the level of maudlin sentimentality.
They operate on the assumption that there must be, to use the language of treatment for addicts, a
“bottoming out” or an “intervention”. That is to say, there is no cure for the addict on his
own. In theological terms, we must confess that we are addicted to sin, addicted to self, in whatever form that may take, pious or impious. So theologians of the cross know that we can’t be helped by optimistic
appeals to glory, strength, wisdom, positive thinking, and so forth… because those things
are themselves the problem. The truth must be spoken. To repeat Luther again, the thirst for glory
or power or wisdom is never satisfied even by the acquisition of it.
We always want more…precisely so that we can declare independence from God. The thirst
for the absolute independence of the self… and that is sin. Thus, Luther’s
statement of the radical cure in his proof for thesis 22: ” The remedy for curing desire does not
lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.” The cross is the “intervention.” The addict/sinner is not coddled by false optimism but is put to death so that a new life can begin. The theologian of the cross
:says what a thing is”. The theologian of the cross preaches to convict of sin. The addict
is not deceived by theological marshmallows but is told the truth so
that he might at last learn to confess… to say, ” I am an addict… I am an alcoholic”,
and never stop saying it.
Theologically, and more universally, all must learn to say,”I am a
sinner “… and likewise never stop saying it until Christ’s return makes it no longer true.
– Gerhard Forde