The Mythology of the Academicians: They’re Just Regular People

The following was recently tweeted by Dr. Peter Sloane:

In response to things I see here: academics are no more intelligent than the general population and no more skilled than a plasterer or electrician. We don’t do a PhD because we are super bright, or become so because of it, we just happen to love our vocation as others do theirs. I don’t enjoy the narrative that universities are filled with exceptionally bright people. They are filled with people highly specialised and with time to devote to the intricacies of a discipline and no more.[1]

Sloane is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of Buckingham in the UK. I could not resonate more with the sentiment he has articulated above. Indeed, as any reader who has followed me for any amount of time knows, I have oft criticized the theology of glory that often attends theological academia (and all of academia in general). As Sloane rightly notes, the academic is not necessarily smarter than anyone else; indeed, they generally aren’t. Just as any swath of humanity will demonstrate, there are smart people, mediocre people, and dumb people along said continuum of humanity; this holds true among the academic guilds just the same. As Sloane’s tweet also highlights, and rightly so, is that the academic is a specialist; especially in the 21st century (indeed, to a fault these days). And so, when we apply this principle to theological academia what someone can expect is some level of technical and specialized language as that relates to the artistry of theological communique. Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the specialists in this particular craft, as in any craft, begin to buy into the idea that their specialization, because of its already limiting and liminal language (and the conceptual matter it symbolizes), by definition narrows the discussion to “them.” That is to say, when the non-specialist Christian attempts to enter this particular fray, what ends up happening is that they might end up sounding unintelligible, maybe even dumb, because they aren’t schooled in the linguistics, logics, and lexical aspects that go into the theological academic game. As such, a type of boundary is set up, such that the academics talk among themselves, using their technical parlance, which necessarily, in a certain way, keeps the laity, in the ecclesia outside of the “deeper” discussions that only the specialists can really have (or so the specialists pride themselves into thinking).

As I have described the above scenario, what I haven’t engaged with yet is what makes theology unique. Theology, if it is genuinely Christian theology, is not for the so-called specialists alone. The specialists, if there are such a thing in the theological sphere, are really supposed to be “doctors for the Church.” That is to say, they have a teaching role to play, a role that really reduces to, as its sine qua non, discipleship. And yet because of the strictures that help define academia in general, and then theological academia in particular, the theological specialist starts to live and breathe in an atmosphere that never “comes down” and attempts to be “non-specialist.” As a result, an ethos of elitism takes hold in the hearts of the specialists, such that they often either retreat back into their ghetto, with “their people,” or they attempt to drop into the fray of “regular church people” only to feel rejected, or so misunderstood that they begin to think that either they are too smart for such people, or that the people they are attempting to engage with in the churches are just too dumb to really understand what they, as the trained specialists, can grasp.

The gap between the academic and the regular church person is reinforced by many variables, a complex that is not easily addressable. Even so, at the end of the day, as Sloane has rightly noted, as far as intelligences go, neither the academic nor the regular church person is necessarily smarter or dumber than the other on a continuum.

Ultimately, it is sin that keeps these seemingly disparate groups from a meeting of the minds and hearts that is supposed to obtain among the fellowship of the people of God. The Lord, ultimately, is not concerned about smarts, but the state of the heart. God wants our whole being (which the heart, in Hebrew and Greek represents in canonical Scripture) to be overcome with the beauty and ways of God in Christ. He loves us as a Father loves His Son. It is this relationship that funds anything following, including intellection. The Father shows no partiality, neither to the smart or dumb person (intellectually). His relationship to, for, with, and in us, in Christ by the Spirit, has nothing to do with what we so often wrongly place priority on. He doesn’t look outwardly, but at the heart; He loves the total person. There is no elitism in the Kingdom. If anything, the elect in the Kingdom are the impoverished, the bruised reeds, the so-called “dumb” among us. When any air of elitism, no matter how that is given expression, enters into the Church as a bad yeast, God is not there. He is with the broken, downtrodden, and humble.

23 Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. -Jeremiah 9:23-24

[1] Peter Sloane, Twitter, accessed 05-30-2023.

‘The Father’s Theology’: An evangelical theology versus a philosophical theology

I am a proponent of an evangelical theology. ‘Evangelical’ in the sense that the starting point for theology, I contend, ought to be the Evangel or Gospel Hisself. This is contrary to the philosophical, or hard metaphysical theologies that have characterized much of the Western tradition’s theologizing for centuries (i.e., we could think of Thomas Aquinas all the way into Nietzsche et al.) An ‘evangelical theology’ is a kerygmatic theology; particularly when we understand that the kerygma is the pronouncement and announcement that Jesus is Lord. It is a theology of the Father who declares, “this is my dearly beloved Son, hear Him!”

Eberhard Jüngel gets at these matters in the following way:

These two tasks, to learn to think God and thought anew, cannot be separated from one another theologically. It is therefore all the more important from which of the two tasks one approaches the other one. This question, which requires initial clarification, is in actual fact the issue of the self-understanding of theology itself. The first decision to be made will have to do with the difference between philosophical and evangelical theology. A theology which is responsive to the gospel, meaning a theology which is responsive to the crucified man Jesus as the true God, knows that it is fundamentally different from something like philosophical theology in this one thing: single-mindedly and unswervingly, based on its specific task, it attempts to think God from the encounter with God, and thus to think thought anew. For Christian theology, the decision about what thought means is to be made in relation to the possibility of thinking the God who is an event. The possibility of thinking God is, for evangelical theology, not an arbitrary possibility, but rather a possibility already determined by the existence of the biblical texts and claimed already by faith in God. Theology must think God in the concrete context of a history which, beyond the momentary aspect of the “I think,” implies experiences of God which have happened and are promised.

Evangelical theology is distinguished from philosophy in that it does not desire to be lacking in presuppositions, but rather implies certain decisions in its approach to being evangelical theology. A dialogue with philosophical theology, which is really conceivable only as an argument, or a disputation with atheism, must begin accordingly with the exposition of these hermeneutical decisions of evangelical theology. Only in this way does it proceed in a precise and scientific fashion. And above all, this is the only way for it to be honest.

Evangelical theology explicates its basic decisions immediately as decisions of thought, and not solely as decisions of faith. There is a difference whether faith believes or whether thought also understands this. When thinking becomes involved with faith, it will also understand that God cannot be thought without faith. That is the initial point from which evangelical theology proceeds.[1]

Ultimately, as Juengal intones, a genuine evangelical theology is really grounded in the concrete and blood of the cross of Jesus Christ; it is a theology of the cross versus a theology of glory (i.e., philosophical theology). This is the type of theology I am a proponent of. It makes a decision to be grounded in the “hard teaching” of Jesus Christ, and to begin its theologizing only after God has spoken, and not in some sort of artifactual antecedents discovered by a profane humanity and history (i.e., philosophical theology). So, it isn’t a theology of inherent self-possession, as if postlapsarian humanity has the vestiges of an analogy of God left to them. An evangelical theology understands and takes seriously the reality that humanity, after the fall, lost all capability to think and speak God. It understands that a theology that attempts to think God, prior to encountering God in the face of Jesus Christ, can only conclude in constructing a notion of God that is ultimately a projection of the fallen self; a Superman even. Further, it understands that its theology is one of dispossession and ecstasy, in the sense that it is fully contingent upon God, unilaterally, encountering us, as event, afresh anew, by the Holy Spirit’s fresh breath hovering over us with the re-creation power of the resurrection. The only stability in an evangelical theology is grounded in the subject of theology, who is the Christ and the triune God. Evangelical theology has a vulnerability to it that is willing to be considered foolish and weak; that is based in a God willing to be misunderstood as a mere mortal, hidden in the flesh of a man from Nazareth.

I commend to you an evangelical rather than a philosophical theology. The Gospel is the power of God. The Gospel disrupts and reorientates humanity’s telos towards the God who has spoken in Jesus Christ. The Gospel is dynamic, organic, and relational. Just be an evangelical theologian already, and leave the philosophy to the philosophers.

[1] Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World, trans. by Darrell L. Guder (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf&Stock [reprint], 1983), 154.

Christian Theology Done by the Sufferers


Theology done by people in the depths of suffering looks much different than theology done by people who are relatively comfortable.

When I say “theology” I mean anything anyone thinks or does towards the magnification of Jesus Christ. And this might not even be a conscious effort, especially for those in the thralls of suffering. Indeed, it is in these seasons, when “we have the sentence of death on us so that we will learn to trust the One who raises the dead,” that we are simply living out of the depths of Christ’s life for us (ecstatic existence); i.e., we know He is living for us, or we “wouldn’t make it.”

A Devotional with Martin Luther and his Theology of the Cross

The following is a repost I originally wrote approximately in and around 2009. I am currently, and once again, being pressed with a really challenging spiritual attack. I’ve walked through many years of these seasons in the past, but that doesn’t necessarily make the heat right now that much cooler. If you could remember me in prayer at this time I would really appreciate it. And with that I’ll leave you with the following word on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross, and some of its devotional implications for our edification and encouragement.

I was first introduced to Martin Luther’s theologia crucis, or “Theology of the Cross,” in seminary, in my Reformation Theology class. Once I heard of it, I was hooked! It is absolutely brilliant, and represents the best of Martin Luther’s theological offering for the church. My previous post was a tribute to Rory Wheeler, who just went home to be with the Lord as a result of the effects of cancer. Death, even for the Christian, presents lingering questions; the primary one being “why dear Lord, cannot you just vanquish this curse, right now?” It is obvious to all of those with eyes of faith, that the Lord works in ways that would appear “hidden.” He became man, a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths in a manger. He was born into a poor-man’s family from ridiculed Nazareth. The list of God’s hiddeness (Deus absconditus), of course, can be enumerated over and again. Indeed, this is where Luther’s theology of the cross finds its footing; that God works in ways that to the naked eye seem foolish (see I Corinthians 1:17-25, the passage of my Master’s thesis, and motivated by Luther’s theology of the cross). Randall Zachman provides one of the best descriptions of Luther’s theology of the cross that I have ever read. Here is Zachman in full:

In the context of theologia crucis, faith means believing with certainty that God’s Word is true even when the whole world, the heart of the believer, and even God himself contradict the truth that is revealed in the Word, particularly the Word of promise. Thus, when God begins to show mercy, God does so by first revealing wrath (in law); when God makes alive, God does so by slaying. The same contradictions apply especially to those who have already come to faith. God promises the forgiveness of sins, yet our conscience feels nothing but sin and wrath; God promises life, yet we see nothing but death. Faith, therefore, is the art of believing the Word while experiencing, seeing, and feeling the opposite. We believe that Christ is the Son of God, even though we see and abandoned man on the cross; we believe that God cares for the church, even though we see nothing but a church persecuted by the world and apparently abandoned by God; we believe in eternal life, even though we see and feel nothing but death.

However, the primary locus of the theology of the cross is the experience of trial or tribulation (Anfechtung), when the very heart and conscience of the believer sense that God’s promise of grace and forgiveness is a lie. The believer must regard the promise of forgiveness as true and certain even though the conscience testifies to the contrary.

But under the cross which we experience, eternal life lies hidden. . . . We, too, experience the cross, and death appears to us, if not in fact, yet in our conscience through Satan. Death and sin appear, but I announce life and faith, but in hope. Therefore, if you want to be saved, you must battle against your feelings. Hope means to expect life in the midst of death, and righteousness in the midst of sins.

This is the very meaning of being simultaneously righteous and a sinner (simul iustus et peccator): to believe that we are righteous coram Deo even though we feel like condemned sinners.

Within the context of the theology of the cross, the grace of sanctification and its attestation in the testimony of a good conscience would necessarily be subordinated to the grace of justification and the promise of the forgiveness of sins. This is because the testimony of the good conscience confirms one’s faith in the promise, whereas the theology of the cross emphasizes that testimony of the conscience that contradicts faith in the promise; that is, Anfechtung. Therefore, although Luther continually insisted upon the necessity of sanctification and of the testimony of the good conscience, within the framework of theologia crucis he could not help but consistently subordinate the grace of sanctification to that of justification.

Luther’s concentration on the theology of the cross also accounts for his refusal to involve the Reformation directly in the external reform of the church. The Word of God does not deal with external, temporal things, but rather with invisible, eternal things; and such invisible things are revealed under an external appearance that contradicts what is being revealed. The theology of glory, in contrast—such as Luther found in the papacy—emphasizes externals to the point of neglecting the invisible truths revealed by the Word: indeed, to the point of calling God’s Word a lie. Thus, those in the Reformation who would introduce concern for externals—such as Karlstadt with his rejection of idols and the papal mass—misunderstanding the whole nature of the Word of the cross, and divert the attention of believers from the invisible, eternal things of God’s promises to the visible, temporal things of human reason and senses. Yet it is precisely reason and the senses that must be mortified if we are to believe that the Word of the cross is true.

Luther’s theologia crucis also explains his suspicion of those, such as the Anabaptists, who emphasized the external holiness and moral behavior of the church. If the Word of the cross reveals the truth of God under a contrary appearance, then one would expect the true church not to look like the church at all, but rather to look like God-forsaken sinners. The “synagogue of Satan,” on the other hand, with its theology glory, would look like the true church of God and would demonstrate a superior holiness externally—as in the monks and friars—but inwardly it would be rejected by God. The theology of the cross would therefore lead one not to stress the conformity of the appearance of the church with its faith, but rather stress the ways in which the appearance of the church denies its claim to be the people of God. The church looks like a gathering of sinners rejected by God and the world, whereas it is in truth the beloved people of God. The church cannot be judged by its appearance, but only by whether it has the Word of Christ crucified. Hence the primary task of the church is to preach the Word of God, while letting externals take their course.[1]

How can that not bless you?! There is a lot in this, too much to talk about in toto; as far as the implications and applications, let me grab just a couple. But first I should also notice something else for us. You see Zachman refer to Luther’ “theology of glory,” this was in contrast to the theology of the cross; and it refers to (oversimplified) focusing on doing things for the praise and glory of men, instead of God (just do a word study or theology of glory study in the Gospel of John, you’ll see how this plays out) [Luther attacked the scholastic theology of his day as based upon the “theology of glory” instead of the “cross”]. Now to my applications.

1) It seems like a loving God would vanquish death so that humanity would no longer have to endure the torment of it. Indeed, he has, but it is only with eyes of faith that we understand the significance of the cross and resurrection and ascension. To the world if God is all powerful, and loving (David Hume) why doesn’t he do something about it now? The wisdom of God is displayed in hiddeness, in the unexpected; God is the God whose ways are not our ways, but the way of the cross, the unexpected! Why did the holocaust happen? Why do little kids die from cancer, or starvation? We have to interpret these kinds of questions through the hidden ways of God, through the cruciformity and cross-shaped work of God’s life. That’s the answer to Luther’s theology of the cross; the wisdom and knowledge of God is only penetrated by those who are wedded to him, in Christ, by the Spirit. And it is when we are pressed up against the most dastardly things of this life—tribulations—that we quit depending on ourselves, and throw ourselves on God’s mercy that we enter into the kind of life that God gives himself in his inner-life of mutual and interpenetrating love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is when we are pushed beyond ourselves that God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ is just waiting to smile on is in the midst of our thlipsis, tribulation! Here is the wisdom of God, to take what is intended to destroy, and bring resurrection life out of it!

2) The second application here is a quicker observation. This one has to do with Luther’s/Zachman’s point about how the church should look vis-á-vis the theology of the cross. Frankly, it shouldn’t look like what Western, and in particular, American, upward mobile churches strive to look like. It shouldn’t look like people who have it all together. It should look like people who are broken, needy, and beggarly. When did Jesus do his greatest work of atonement? What was the crescendo of his work? When he went to the cross. When he was most broken. It was here that he brought life to all of humanity, through his death; by rupturing the bonds of self love (homo incurvatus in se), with the unbreakable bond that he shares consubstantially with the Father and Holy Spirit. That is, a life is given shape, by self-giveness; between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is through this kind of brokeness, in the mirror image of the cruci-shaped Son, that we can be the church for the world. That we have something to offer them; only when we are broken, and realize that we receive life as gift from the Father, in Christ, by the Holy Spirit.

Much more to say, but this has run long enough. I think I will talk more about the theologia gloriae “theology of glory,” in the near future.


[1] Randall C. Zachman, The Assurance of Faith, 9-10.


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.


Luther against the god of the Philosophers and Descartes on God Knowledge per Juengel

Knowledge of God and its bases has never been an uncontested thing in theological development and discourse. The Apostle Paul, of course, famously addresses the issue of knowledge of God in Romans 1 which has become the locus classicus for proponents of an ostensible natural theology:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

To appropriate this text as if it just does teach a natural theology, or way of thinking God in a form like Thomas Aquinas’ analogia entis entails—which would be a subset of a natural theology simpliciter—isn’t justified. Those who would simply assert such need to present an argument that Paul is intending to teach that who and what God is, is latent within something like the vestiges of creation.

On a different basis, but as corollary with something like Aquinas’ analogia entis, Rene Descartes attempts to present a certain knowledge of God from his methodological skepticism; thus, doubting everything as a basis for knowing until he gets to himself (so his cogito ergo sum). Descartes is offering his own form of an analogia entis, thinking godness from his idea of God that he has more certainly established by conniving God an epistemic ground founded in his own thinking as a prius to God.

Martin Luther yells a resounding Nein (as does Karl Barth in his own way). Eberhard Jüngel presents an insightful commentary on how Luther differs from Descartes on a theory for a knowledge of God. He writes:

Remaining at the level of rational knowledge of God, for Luther too there is a fundamental cognitive difference between the “that-being” and “what-being” of God, between the ‘existence’ and the ‘essence’ of God: There is “a vast difference between knowing that there is a God and knowing who or what God is.” See Luther, Lectures on the Minor Prophets II: Jonah, Habakkuk (in Luther’s Works, vol. 19), ed. Hilton C. Oswald (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1974), p. 55. Whereas Descartes begins with the ‘essence of God’ which is comprehended in the ‘idea of God’ and moves to the ascertainment of the ‘existence of God’ through the ego . . . , Luther takes another route: “Reason . . . knows that there is a God, but it does not know who or which is the true God.. . .” And it is the misfortune of reason overstepping its boundaries that it wants to move from the knowledge that there is a God somehow to the knowledge of who God is, as Luther says: “Thus reason also plays blindman’s buff with God; it consistently gropes in the dark and misses the mark. It calls that God which is not God and fails to call Him God who really is God. Reason would do neither the one nor the other if it were not conscious of the existence of God or if it really knew who and what God is. Therefore it rushes in clumsily an assigns the name God and ascribes the divine honor to its own idea of God. Thus reason never finds the true God, but knows the former [scil. that God exists]—it is inscribed in everybody’s heart; the latter is taught only by the Holy Spirit.. . .” This difference does not obtain for faith. For faith knows that God is in that it experiences who or what God is.[1]

Luther concedes that natural humans have an abstract notion of Godness, but this is where such knowledge of God terminates. Ultimately, it could be inferred, that if this was the basis for a knowledge of God in conclusion, what people would end up with, in regard to filling out this abstract knowledge of Godness, would end up being merely a self-projection of the self onto this ‘natural’ schematizing towards a knowledge of God. For Luther, as Juengel helpfully distills, a genuine knowledge of God is only one that is grounded in the eye of faith. Which if this is the case, and I think it is, presupposes that first the hidden God (Deus absconditus) must come down to us and be with as and be the revealed God (Deus revelatus) for us. This is nothing short of what Barth (and TF Torrance) pick up on, and develop into, in Barth’s case, what he identifies as an analogia fidei/relationis (‘analogy of faith/relation’). But sticking with Luther contra Descartes, per Juengel, reason is incapable of knowing who and then what God is. And we could surmise from this if natural reason is incapable in precisely this way, then constructing a theology proper based upon categories provided for by the [classical] philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle represent, ends up being fool’s errand—a fool’s errand because this method can only lead the seeker of God into an abyss of idolatry (as Ludwig Feuerbach understood so presciently in his own modern context).

On a negative note, I present this to you so that you can more critically read what certain evangelical, Reformed and Lutheran theologians are attempting to recover in the name of an orthodox doctrine of God. They are recovering notional categories for thinking God from the direct heirs, in both the “orthodox” realms of Reformed and Lutheran thinkers, to Thomas Aquinas; and we might add, tangled into this, something like Descartes’ thinking in regard to a certainty towards knowing God. I would strongly recommend to avoid this approach in attempting to think rightly, and thus orthodoxly about the living God. As Luther knew, such intellectualist machinations about God, again, can only finally terminate in a conception of godness that is only able to repose in the notion that some ‘unknown god,’ an abstraction of the human-knower, must certainly exist. And if this ‘ratiocination’ about God is followed, what is left, is for said rationales to say both what and who God is; with an emphasis on the former, as we see fruiting in both Descartes and Thomas.

On a positive note, take heart, for those who seek to know God, as Luther so brightly understood, from the faith of Christ, it is here where the seeker stands on solid ground; as the Apostle has written: “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” When the Christian builds upon this foundation, the one seen with the faith of Christ, it is thence that the knower of God can genuinely be called such. When we aren’t building cathedrals of knowledge of God that wait upon ‘revelation perfecting reason,’ and instead allow God’s Self-revelation to impose Himself upon us, afresh anew by the Holy Spirit in Christ, it is here that the Christian can confidently proclaim that they see the face (prosopon) of God in Jesus Christ. This is the foundation, God’s being-in-becoming for the world in Jesus Christ that God has freely elected as the basis for the would-be knower of God to genuinely know who (and thus what) He is. And this is the all-important conclusion: that God is the one who has laid the foundation for knowing God in and from Himself, for us in Jesus Christ. He hasn’t left the Christian to be an orphan, or archaeologist attempting to discover God under the rubble of the artifacts of paleo pagan thinkers of a purported ultimacy. No, God has deigned that we know God from God alone in Christ alone by grace alone through faith alone; indeed, the faith of Christ.

I won’t directly address the Romans 1 passage, per se. I will leave that to the reader, and see if they can infer how I “exegeted” that pericope throughout the body of this post. (I have also written other posts that deal directly with that passage vis-à-vis a purported natural theology reading)

[1] Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World, trans. by Darrell L. Guder (Eugene, OR: Wipf&Stock, 1983), 124 n. 53.

John Calvin’s Theology of the Cross as Theological Theology

Staying on theme from the previous post, let’s continue to focus on the theologia crucis; except this time it won’t be Luther’s, but John Calvin’s. Karl Barth in his Church Dogmatics III/1 refers us to the foreword Calvin wrote for his Commentary on the Book of Genesis (1554). Herein Calvin offers something that sounds intimately close to Luther’s thinking on a theology of the cross. So Calvin:

indeed it is vain for any to philosophize in the manner of the world, unless they have first been humbled by the preaching of the gospel, and have instructed the whole compass of their intellect to submit to the foolishness of the cross. I say that we will find out nothing above or below that will lift us to God, until Christ has educated us in his school. Nothing further can be done, if we are not raised up from the lowest depths and carried aboard his cross above all the heavens, so that there by faith we might comprehend what no eye has ever seen, nor ear ever heard, and which far surpasses our hearts and minds. For the earth is not before us there, nor its fruits supplied for daily food, but Christ himself offers himself to us unto eternal life; nor do the heavens illuminate our bodily eyes with the splendor of the sun and stars, but the same Christ, the light of the world and the sun of righteousness, shines forth in our souls; nor does the empty air spread its ebb and flow around us, but the very Spirit of God quickens and enlivens us. And so there the invisible kingdom of Christ fills all things, and his spiritual grace is diffused through all things.[1]

For any theology to actually be genuinely Christian theology, I submit, it must be conditioned and regulated by the kerygmatic reality of the cross of Jesus Christ (think of the ‘cross’ as the Apostle Paul does as a metonym for both the incarnation and atonement in toto). If this is not the basis, both ontologically, epistemologically, and ontically for the Christian disciple to more accurately think God, then we will only be ‘thrown back onto ourselves’ (as TFT would say), thus projecting our images onto God’s image, only to worship an elevated image of our collective selves as God rather than the true and living God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And yet this is precisely what we see happening in much theological programming these days. There is a recovery of a theology of glory wherein the theologian believes they are on solid ground simply because of the vintage of the theology, and theologians they are ostensibly recovering for the purported revitalization and fortification of the Protestant churches en masse.

Contrariwise, as Calvin notes, and as Barth is emphasizing as he quotes Calvin, no matter what period a theology is developed in, no matter what its pedigree and historical pressures, if it isn’t funded by the fount of the cross of Christ, where the Christian is put to death over and again, afresh anew, thus being given over to the life of Christ, that His life might bring life to our lives in the mortal members of our bodies, then there is no savory life, leading to further life in the work and the words the theologians are propagating in the name of Christ, and ostensibly, for the churches. If Calvin, Luther, Barth et al. are to be taken seriously, as they should be, the theologian must constantly cast themselves at the mercy seat of God, which is cruciform in shape, and allow the staurologic (the logic of the cross), the ‘logic of God’s grace in Christ’ (see TFT) to fully condition the theologian’s mode as a theologian indeed. Outwith this wisdom, τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ (‘the wisdom of God’), which is the wisdom of the cross, the theologian is only pushed deeper into the well of their own resources; which of course only leads the theologian into self-congratulation and idolatry, even in the name of Christ.

I know I bang this drum loudly and often, but that’s because I think we are at endemic levels when it comes to what Luther would call theologies of glory. That is, the types of theologies that aren’t submitted to the wisdom of God, in a properly based theology of the cross wherein the theologian can genuinely say: “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” and “I have determined to know nothing among you except Christ and Him crucified.” When this ethos characterizes the theologians demeanor (those expressed in the Pauline passages), when this becomes their daily mode as a Christian thinker and teacher for the Church, it is at this point they have something of value to say because they are no longer leaning on the powers of their own intellects, or of those they are ostensibly recovering, but instead they are resourcing the reality of the Gospel as that is the fund and ground of their very being, moment by moment.

[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Genesis: Foreword cited by Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/1 §40 [031] The Doctrine of Creation: Study Edition (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 31.

Gerhard Forde on Martin Luther’s Theology of the Cross

The following comes from an old defunct blog of mine. It is simply a passage from Lutheran theologian, Gerhard Forde, on Martin Luther’s theologia crucis, or ‘theology of the cross.’ When I was first confronted with Luther’s dialectic of a theology of the cross versus a theology of glory in my seminary Reformation theology class, it changed my life (not an overstatement). Not so much by focusing on its negative side (i.e., “versus a theology of glory”), but by focusing on the positive implications it provides in regard to a knowledge of God and how that implicates the Christian existence coram Deo. I will always cast myself as a theologian of the cross, which I see as an antecedent, in certain qualified ways, to Karl Barth’s style of a theology of crisis (e.g., with the different pressures, and historical circumstances understood).

What I want to primarily emphasize, after Forde, is how a theology of the cross makes the Christian vulnerable before God, just as God in the grace of Christ, has made Himself vulnerable for us. Not predicated by us, to be clear, but vulnerable in the sense that as TF Torrance would say, “God loves us more than He loves Himself,” in the sense that He freely choose to not be God without us, but with us. Here is Forde:

Thesis 22. That wisdom which perceives the invisible things of God by thinking in terms of works completely puffs up, blinds, and hardens.

Thesis 22 is, in effect, a statement about the religious effect of the theology of glory and the wisdom of law upon which it is based. Religious people in particular seem to have difficulty being theologians of the cross. That is because the theology of the cross is quite devastating for our usual religious aspirations under the wisdom of law. The indignation and resentment against God … is aroused not only — perhaps not even principally! — because of the strenuousness and rigor of the life proposed, but finally because in the cross God has literally taken away from us the possibility of doing anything of religious merit. In Jesus God has cut off all such possibility. God, as St. Paul could put it, has made foolish the wisdom of the wise. We are rendered passive over against God’s action. This is always galling for the old being. We adopt a very pious posture. It is, so the protests go, too easy, too cheap, it has no obvious ethical payoff, and so on and on. Religiously we like to look on ourselves as potential spiritual athletes desperately trying to make God’s team, having perhaps just a little problem or two with the training rules. We have a thirst for glory. We feel a certain uneasiness of conscience or even resentment within when the categorical totality of the action of God begins to dawn on us. We are always tempted to return to the safety and assurance of doing something anyway. Generally, it is to be suspected, that is all we planned to do, a little something. But to surrender the “wisdom” of law and works, or better, to have it taken away, is the first indication of what it means to be crucified with Christ.[1]

[1] Gerhard O. Forde, On Being a Theologian of the Cross: Reflections on Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, 1518, 91-93.


Luther’s Kerygmatic God Versus the Speculative god of the Thomists

The Christian world needs a revival! It needs to come to a genuine knowledge of God. Not a speculative knowledge, as those retrievers of Aquinas would have it; but a concrete known knowledge of God gifted to us in God’s Self-exegesis in Jesus Christ. When God becomes a predicate of a notional ‘godness’ that ‘we’ (think the philosophers) connive, God simply becomes a projection of our own faces (Ludwig Feuerbach knew this well). But this is the God that the evangelical Reformed types these days are introducing people to. Not the God of the Bible revealed in Jesus Christ, but the god of the philosophers, whether that be of Aristotle, Plotinus, or Descartes. The reformational types, if they are going to retrieve anyone, it ought to be a Protestant par excellence, like Luther, rather than the Catholic par excellence, Thomas Aquinas (and the whole mode of philosophical speculation about God that followed).

In the following Eberhard Jüngel offers an insightful comparison between the speculated god of Rene Descartes versus the biblical and concrete God of Martin Luther. As the reader will see, the God of Luther is the kerygmatic God in Jesus Christ.

Remaining at the level of rational knowledge of God, for Luther too there is a fundamental cognitive difference between the “that-being” and “what-being” of God, between the ‘existence’ and the ‘essence’ of God: There is “a vast difference between knowing that there is a God and knowing who or what God is. . . .” Whereas Descartes begins with the ‘essence of God’ which is comprehended in the ‘idea of God’ and moves to the ascertainment of the ‘existence of God’ through the ego . . . , Luther takes another route: “Reason . . . knows that there is a God, but it does not know who or which is the true God. . . .” And it is the misfortune of reason overstepping its boundaries that it wants to move from the knowledge that there is a God somehow to the knowledge of who God is, as Luther says: “Thus reason also plays blindman’s buff with God; it consistently gropes in the dark and misses the mark. It calls that God which is not God and fails to call Him God who really is God. Reason would do neither the one nor the other if it were not conscious of the existence of God or if it really knew who and what God is. Therefore it rushes in clumsily and assigns the name God and ascribes divine honor to its own idea of God. Thus reason never finds the true God, but it finds the devil or its own concept of God ruled by the devil. . . .” For “Nature knows the former [scil. that God exists]—it is inscribed in everybody’s heart; the latter is taught only by the Holy Spirit. . . .” This difference does not obtain for faith. For faith knows that God is in that it experiences who or what God is.[1]

Knowledge of God is, of course!, key to all Christian existence and its theology. Get knowledge of God wrong, and everything subsequent is askew. If knowledge of God isn’t grounded in God’s Self-knowledge given for the world in Jesus Christ, then all that we are left with is a knowledge of God based upon our own whimsical machinations about what godness must be like. If we are left to this mode, the latter iteration, then, in the end, we haven’t been thinking about and talking to the genuine and living God whatsoever; indeed, all that we would have been doing is speaking to ourselves in self-assigned sacrosanct ways. This, I contend, is precisely what the god of Thomism presents the Church with. While this matter is a complex, given intentions and periodization, nonetheless, at an ultimate end what matters is that the Christian gets God right. And the only way to do that is to rely on the God who breaks the philosopher’s god’s back with the weight of His glory as revealed at the cross. Jüngel writes further: “The Cartesian God on the cross—and the cross would collapse! The ‘infinite substance, independent, omniscient, and omnipotent’ is too heavy. And that is its weakness.”[2] Jüngel’s, clearly, is a critique of a Cartesian notional God; I am applying his critique, clearly, to the contemporary Thomists, more broadly. The point of the matter holds true across all philosophers, and their respective notions of godness: they all start with an abstract human reflection about what godness must entail, and then attempt to synthesize the God of the Bible, the God Self-revealed in Jesus Christ, with that. But as Jüngel (and Luther et al.) rightly underscores, this presents us with an irradicable contradiction. The God Self-revealed in Jesus Christ breaks the philosopher’s genius by presenting it with an otherworldly sui generis reality that can only be accounted for by the categories of faith as presented in a logic of Grace.

I hope others will come to grasp the gravitas of these things, and stand against the tide of Thomist and other philosophical retrieval being done in the name of Christ and orthodoxy. There is no orthodoxy ‘but Christ and Him crucified,’ and the logic that the ‘wisdom of the Cross’ is suffused with as if from a new logic that contradicts the old. There is a better constructive way to be an ‘orthodox’ Christian while not selling out to the mainstream of revisionist retrieval being done by most evangelical theologians today; and this, on one hand or the other. Show me someone’s prolegomena, and “what” or “who” their God is will become immediately clear. Let’s be good Protestants, anyway.

[1] Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute Between Theism and Atheism, trans. by Darrell L. Guder (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock [Reprint], 2009), 124 n. 53.

[2] Ibid., 123.

Against the Theologians of Glory

I’ve written against theologies of glory ever since (and before) I heard of them. A life verse of mine (among a gazillion) is the following: “For I’ve determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This typifies the staurological life I live the Christian as, from the cruciformed life of the risen Christ’s (or at least the one I aim for). Because of this I have an acute allergy to anyone who chooses instead to be a theologian of glory. Jesus identifies theologians of glory this way: “I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?” (John 5.41-4) He also has theologians of glory in mind here: “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.” (Mt. 6.1-4) These characteristics, where the person seeks praise from other men, rather than God, these typify theologians of glory. I rebuke that; I say ‘get behind me satan,’ when I encounter such putrid displays of self-seeking and glorification; whether I see that creep in myself or others.  

When this hits close to home, particularly with someone, or others who are supposedly your friends, your colleagues in the theological task, this becomes that much more difficult to stomach. It leaves you feeling disillusioned, wondering just how farcical so much of your time and energy might have been because you were unknowingly associating yourself with theologians of glory. I just had a really hard example of this hit me, one that hit very close to home. I’ve been entertaining the idea of putting a particular person on blast, and I have, in muted ways, on Facebook and Twitter, but putting them on the public and open world wide web for the whole world to see just how gross a theology of glory looks in real life living color. But I have chosen not to do that here now. Some people have been giving me grief, either by omission or commission, in regard to the honorary doctor of theology I received. You see, theologians of glory get really concerned about optics. They think that if you receive an honorary ThD from an internationally based denominational consortium of theological schools, that the degree itself isn’t worth much; that in fact, it is a fraudulent degree not worth the paper it’s printed on. If the school that awards you said degree isn’t a White Euro/Americo/Westerno school with grand tradition, deep funding sources, with name recognition among all the elites in the world, that the school is pretty much worthless. In fact, if you can’t find said school on a superficial google search, then the theologian of glory feels free to call you out for the whole world to see. You see, the theologian of glory knows that they have already been sanctioned to do that, they have all the rich White elites standing behind them; yeah, the paper they have hanging on their wall, and their published dissertations that five people might have read says so.   

Ultimately, the problem with theologians of glory is that they have drunk the theological industrial complex’s kool-aid. Indeed, they are so drunk on themselves, and their various accolades, they think they are so smart and couth, that they believe the whole world ought to simply get down on their knees and kiss their feet with every step taken. In other words, theologians of glory are deluded by their own echo-chambers. They have been called “the Dr.” for so long, they have become the go-to guys and gals so much in their respective institutions of higher learning, that they simply believe everyone ought to worship the ground they stand on; and the amazing thing about the theologian of glory, is that they will take this attitude all in the name of Jesus. They will claim to be doctors in service of the Church. Indeed, this is the most deluding factor for the theologian of glory. Their self-projected, self-elevated statuses have become so conflated with Christ that they can no longer distinguish between the real Jesus, and the Jesus they say they are witnessing for. They believe they can talk skubalon about others who they think are not their equals, and in fact they think they ought to talk about others in service of the Church. Until a person jumps through the hoops they had to, you know, to become a theologian of glory, these guys and gals, in their hallowed halls, look upon the rest of the Christian world as the plebians that they are.  

The moral of this story is this: only be a theologian of glory if you’re interested in receiving all of your praise and rewards and unbelief right now. Once the eschaton hits, and the Bema judgment comes, all of those rewards will be burnt up and judged as the straw that they are. Sure, you’ll be ‘saved,’ but as by fire; and Grandma Ethel’s rulership in the Kingdom will be multiple times greater than the theologian of glory, and his/her rulership. But that’s the sobering thing about everything: we are talking about eternal verities. We are talking about magnifying Jesus, and only genuine theologians of the cross do that; theologians of glory mock the “least of these,” and they do so in the name of Jesus Christ—a stricter judgment awaits.