The Cross for Glory Addicts

Excerpt from: 
Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross,(Erdmans Publishing, 1997), 94-96.

Theology of Glory  =  Man-centered Spirituality
Theology of the Cross = Christ-centered Spirituality

What is interesting here is that Luther likens the dilemma of the theologian of glory to that of an obsessive lover or a miser.  In our day the drug addict or alcoholic would be the closest parallel.  The desire, the thirst for glory or wisdom or power or money, is never satisfied by the acquisition of what is desired.  The more we get, the more we want.  There is never real satisfaction, never the confidence that we have or have done enough.  ‘How much money does it take to make one happy?’  ‘Just a little more!’  As sinners we are like addicts—addicted to ourselves and our own projects.  The theology of glory, simply seeks to give those projects eternal legitimacy.  The remedy for the theology of glory, therefore, cannot be encouragement and positive thinking, but rather the end of the addictive desire.  Luther says it directly, ‘The remedy for curing desire does not lie in satisfying it, but in extinguishing it.’  So we are back to the cross, the radical intervention, end of the life of the old and the beginning of the new. 

Since the theology of glory is like addiction and not abstract doctrine, it is a temptation over which we have no control in and of ourselves, and from which we must be saved.  As with the addict, mere exhortation and optimistic encouragement will do no good.  It may be intended to build up character and self-esteem, but when the addict realizes the impossibility of quitting, self-esteem degenerates all the more.  The alcoholic will only take to drinking in secret, trying to put on the façade of sobriety.  As theologians of glory we do much the same.  We put on a façade of religious propriety and piety and try to hide or explain away or coddle our sins.  In our day we will even curry affirmation and acceptance.  We may listen to the voices that please us most, those of optimists who peddle ‘The Power of Positive Thinking, Possibility Thinking’ and similar theological marshmallows.  We may even be temporarily encouraged.  But in more lucid moments, we, like the addict, suspect it won’t do, that we aren’t really up to it.  Instead of building self-esteem the voices of optimism eventually undermine and weaken it.  Ultimately they destroy.

As with the addict there has to be an intervention, an act from without.  In treatment of alcoholics some would speak of the necessity of ‘bottoming out,’ reaching the absolute bottom where one can no longer escape the need for help.  Then it is finally evident that the desire can never be satisfied, but must be extinguished.  In matters of faith, the preaching of the cross is analogous to that intervention.  It is an act of God, entirely without.  It does not come to feed the religious desires of the Old Adam and Eve but to extinguish them.  They are crucified with Christ to be made new.