Reflecting on Advanced Theology Degrees and a Theology of Glory

I know some tire of me opining on what has been called a ‘theology of glory’ (which is a negative thing), but for me it is seemingly something the Lord always has convicted me on ever since I started radically walking with him. This was of course a theme for Martin Luther who is known for his theology of the cross versus what he identifies as a theology of glory (that of the schoolmen). I believe, ultimately, the Apostle Paul is really the greatest advocate for living a life in the theology of the cross (which of course includes resurrection and ascension). In light of this theme let me repost something I wrote nine years ago for a now defunct blog of mine. You’ll see that I was responding to something a contact of mine, named Brian, was discussing at his own blog at the time. The sentiment in this still holds true for me.

I have had this same kind of tension in my own life for quite a few years now. Different from Brian though, I don’t have the resources to pursue PhD studies right now (even though I have been accepted to a program in South Africa), and even if I did, I’m am not sure at this point that this has ever really been the path for me (even though I read academic Christian theology all the time, and have the gift of teaching and evangelism, and love God’s people); at least it is not apparently the path the Lord has taken me down.

That said, I am not even sure that academics, and the way it is structured is even a viable and fruitful line to take, at least spiritually. Academia, even for Christians, means that you join a guild, and you really must publish or perish constantly to be building up your CV (your name and pedigree). So there is some gamesmanship to the whole affair; and inherent to this process is akin to something like what Martin Luther identified as a theology of glory, which is akin to what Jesus chided the religious leadership of his day of in say John 5. Inherent to the academic game is constructing novel ideas that nobody has noticed before, and seeking to persuade others of this novel idea, with your name tied to it, which provides you status and posture among your peers. I am not attempting to suggest that this is what motivates all Christian academics, but it is inherently hard to not fall into this over the years, no matter how good someone’s intentions are.

Anyway, ultimately, the Lord has worked through the channels of Christian academia through the centuries; but it would be a mistake (of natural theology) to presume and read directly off of this, that God endorses theological guilds (or any guilds, even pastor’s guilds) in a way that would make said guilds the gatekeepers to God’s treasures. Last time I checked Jesus Christ is the gatekeeper and mediator between God and humanity.

Obviously this is just a reflection of mine, and represents a personal struggle I have. Maybe if I was a guilded academic my perspective would be different, although I doubt it; I know one prominent one in my life, who has gotten out of the guild, and has only confirmed my suspicions as more valid (unfortunately) than not. And I have had my own experience, which is obviously what I am speaking from.

Even as I will be awarded a PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology, in the very near future (like maybe days), all of the above holds true. Maybe the way things have come about for me, as far as the “pedigree” of the school, relative to higher more prestigious ones, is by design from the Lord. Somehow, because He is God, He found a way to allow me to achieve a goal (to get a PhD in theology), but in a way that fits within the ambit of a theology of the cross rather than of glory. That is to say, most in the theological guilds, and those aspiring to be in them, will literally mock the PhD I am being awarded. Even though it is fully credible, backed up by guys who have accredited PhDs, there will always be a stigma attached to the PhD I get from this small newish school whose origins are indeed in the realm of the least of these. This seems to me to be the wisdom of God, the wisdom of the cross. How fitting, since I wrote my Master’s thesis on I Corinthians 1:17-25. If what it means to be a doctor for the church requires that you earn a PhD from a secular University with a divinity department, or maybe just a humanities’ department, then maybe I will never be a doctor for the church. But if what it means to be a doctor for the church comes from some type of “institutional” recognition given by people actually doing the work of the ministry in the poorest parts of the world, then maybe after all, I will be a doctor for the church; that is, in that “recognized” sense. Ultimately degrees should be a means to an end. Yes, any particular person who has earned them has presumably put in hard work to earn them, but of course: “what do we have from ourselves, what we have is from the Lord; so where is the boasting?” I am not suggesting that having a PhD in theology from a prestigious (“accredited”) school makes someone automatically a “theologian of glory.” But when in fact that becomes the standard for what it means to be a doctor for the church—that is to be measured by your accolades, your publications, “your work” etc.—then I am suggesting that something has gone seriously awry, and that once again perspective needs to be regained by taking said accolades to the foot of cross, and burying them there. It is at that time we need to re-learn to boast not in ourselves, even if done with great self-deprecation and objectivity, but to boast in the cross of Jesus Christ; as if the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.


3 thoughts on “Reflecting on Advanced Theology Degrees and a Theology of Glory

  1. Indeed! “….in a way that fits within the ambit of a theology of the cross rather than of glory.“ The cruciform reality, the reality of the cruciform life, that anticipates the reality of the resurrection life as our actual life! Amen!

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  2. Amen to all of this.

    As a young believer and reading from the prophecy of Jeremiah with others, I recall this poignant text:

    “And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not” Jer. 45:5

    And as I my spiritual heritage falls in several ways from the line of J. N. Darby, I will reference a scripture which is on his tombstone:

    “As unknown, and yet well known… ” II Cor. 6:9

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