More Reason to Like Lutherans

It’s that they sound like Calvinists. Especially endearing are Lutherans like Don Matzat who don’t think this reason is an implied insult but, to the contrary, a way to signal a united front when it comes to Protestant orthodoxy. Matzat not only has his finger on “The New Liberals,” but here shows us how the Theology of the Cross is different from a Theology of Glory. Here it is at length.

A Theology of Glory and a Theology of the Cross

Everyday in every way we are getting better and better. Really?
by Don Matzat

Theology is systematic. All the pieces are supposed to fit together. Within Protestantism there are two very distinct systems of theology. One is a Theology of Glory and the other is a Theology of the Cross. I believe that it is very important that we understand the differences between these two ways of thinking. In so doing, I believe we will arrive at the conclusion that these two systems cannot be mixed.

The Place of the Gospel

The Protestant theology of glory begins with a one-time trip to the Cross of Jesus Christ. The preaching of human sin and divine grace is only directed at the unbeliever in order to “get him saved.” The person who gets saved can sing, “At the Cross, at the Cross where I first saw the light and the burden of my sin rolled away . . . and now I am happy all the day.”

Very often, when discussing on Issues, Etc. the place of the Gospel in preaching and teaching, someone will call-in and say, “I’ve already been to the Cross. I’ve heard the Gospel. I’m saved.” In other words, in the thinking of that person, the preaching of the Gospel is directed at unbelievers. Once unbelievers are saved the Gospel in no longer relevant.

The theology of the Cross is quite different. The preaching of sin and grace or Law and Gospel is not only intended to convert the unbelieving sinner but is intended to produce sanctification in the Christian. The preaching of the Law continues to convict the Christian of sin, leading to contrition, and the Gospel continues to produce faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

The Definition of Repentance

A theology of glory defines repentance as a sinner being sorry for his sins and determining not to sin anymore. Repentance is the determination of the sinner to live a better life. Before being saved, the sinner is required to repent of all known sins. Incomplete repentance will cause a person to doubt whether or not they have really been saved.

Alternatively, the theology of the Cross defines repentance as contrition and faith rather than contrition and human determination. While the preaching of the Law will lead to contrition or sorrow over sin, the preaching of the Gospel will produce faith in the redemptive work of Christ Jesus.

Repentance is therefore not a singular act that precedes “getting saved” but defines the totality of the Christian life. The preaching of Law and Gospel produces repentance – sorrow over sin and faith in Christ Jesus.

Sanctification

A theology of glory separates the Christian life from the Gospel. Once you are saved you are given a list of do’s and don’ts. More often than not, these are “evangelical house rules.” If you continue to break the rules or backslide, the solution is the rededication of your life to God or, in some cases, the emotional determination to keep your promises. You wouldn’t go back to the Cross again because you already did that when you got saved. Rather, you rededicate your life, because “once saved, is always saved.”

The theology of the Cross never gets you past the Cross. The preaching of the Law is not intended to provide you with a list of do’s and don’ts. Rather the preaching of the Law is intended to drive you back to the Cross through the hearing of the Gospel. As a result of the Gospel, your faith is strengthened. Out of faith, the good works defining the Christian life are produced.

Those who mix the theology of glory with the theology of the Cross may initially preach Law and Gospel but will end the sermon with Law, principles, or house rules. This is usually introduced with “May we” or “Let us.” Such a sermon will cause you to go home, not rejoicing in forgiveness, but determined to live a better life.

Holiness

A theology of glory produces people who think they are better than other people. “Getting saved” moves you to a higher level. You are now a better person, a step above those who are not saved. You can think of yourself as a part of the “moral majority” as opposed to the “immoral minority.” You share your testimony so that other people will get saved and be a good person just like you are.

The notion of getting saved as taking a higher step on the ladder of holiness begets other steps. Some teach that getting saved is merely the first experience, now you have to get sanctified. This is the “second work of grace.” This second work removes your old sinful nature so that you are no longer a sinner.

You now add to your testimony your experience of perfect sanctification. You not only witness to unbelievers, but you tell other Christians who still refer to themselves as “sinners saved by grace” that you are no longer a sinner. You have taken the next step. They should do the same.

The Pentecostals (and Charismatics) add another step on the ladder of holiness. They promote a baptism in the Spirit with speaking in tongues which gives you spiritual power that you didn’t have before. Former Southern Baptist pastor Charles Simpson said, “Before I got baptized in the Spirit I almost wore out my rededicator.” In other words, now that he has received power, unlike other Baptists, he no longer has to rededicate his life.

There may be many more steps and experiences for you to take. The popular Charismatic showman Benny Hinn speaks of four or five different anointings awaiting you as you climb the ladder of holiness. The so-called revivals that have broken out in Toronto and Pensacola offer a wide variety of experiences from being “slain in the Spirit,” to being “drunk in the Spirit,” to simply standing in one spot and shaking your head back and forth. According to testimonies, these experiences will produce in you higher levels of spirituality and holiness as you move on to glory.

Your testimony will now focus on trying to convince other Christians that they should come to where you are and get baptized in the Spirit, speak in tongues, and seek these other experiences. Even though you don’t say it, everyone knows that you think you are a better Christian, because you have taken the next step.

Living in a theology of the Cross never makes you any “better” than anyone else. Every day in every way you are not getting better and better. In fact, the preaching of Law and Gospel will not lead you to an awareness of your holiness, but rather to greater awareness of the depth of your sin. As a result, you will develop an ever-increasing faith in and appreciation for the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

Your witness will focus upon the work of the Cross, not upon your experience of getting saved, sanctified, or becoming more spiritual. You have taken no step toward God or arrived at any higher level of holiness. You don’t talk about your spirituality. You talk about the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

When dealing with these issues on the radio, I often encounter opposition. People will fight to defend their theology of glory. I often challenge them to share their testimony without ever talking about themselves. I have developed the pet phrase, “This thing called Christianity – it’s not about you!”

Martin Luther accurately defined sin as man turning in on himself. While a theology of glory continues to turn you to yourself as you measure your growth in holiness against a plethora of spiritual experiences, the theology of the Cross turns you away from yourself. As a result of the conviction of the Law, you forsake your own good works and spiritual experiences and cling to the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.

Which is Correct?

Any reading of the New Testament will demonstrate that the systematic theology of the Apostle Paul was a theology of the Cross. His focus was not upon his spirituality but upon the Cross of Christ. He boasted of his weaknesses. He referred to himself as the “chief of sinners” and a “wretched man.” As far as he was concerned, his holiness and goodness was manure compared to the righteousness of Christ. For the Apostle, the dynamic of both justification and sanctification was “not I, but Christ.”

The Reformation theology that characterizes both Lutheranism and traditional Calvinism is a theology of the Cross. There is no doubt that the theology of glory appeals to natural man. It is a theology of Adam. It is self-focused. It defines “popular Christianity.” The reality is, it is not biblical Christianity.

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This entry was posted in Don Matzat, Law/Gospel Distinction, Lutheranism, Theology of the Cross/glory. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to More Reason to Like Lutherans

  1. RubeRad says:

    This is good stuff, but I have a few quibbles…

    the theology of the Cross defines repentance as contrition and faith rather than contrition and human determination

    But SC87 and LC76 both define “Repentance unto Life” to include a component that sure looks a lot like human determination: “purposing and endeavouring constantly to walk with him in all the ways of new obedience.”

    The preaching of the Law is not intended to provide you with a list of do’s and don’ts.

    This is the kind of statement that gives Lutherans a bad rep for only allowing two uses for the law. WCF 19.6, on the other hand, tells a different story: “Although true believers be not under the law, as a covenant of works, to be thereby justified, or condemned; yet is it of great use to them, as well as to others; in that, as a rule of life informing them of the will of God, and their duty, it directs and binds them to walk accordingly…”

  2. RubeRad says:

    BTW, The Epitome of Concord affirms a 3rd use of the law, so I’m not sure where that Lutheran rep originally came from…

  3. Zrim says:

    Rube,

    Re human determination, I think Matzat is trying to distinguish between a piety of performance and a piety of grateful response. There is a very great difference. Both say that there is a life to be lived, but the how’s and why’s are as different in each as faith is from works.

    And re the law, reputations are a feisty business. I think he is trying to distinguish between mere glorified moralism and Christian obedience. Otherwise, it almost sounds like you are saying that, yes, a good way to think of the law is that it provides us a list of do’s and don’t’s. I doubt Matzat would quibble with WCF 19.6 the same way you quibble with his statement. But J.V. Fesko had a helpful piece in a past CPJ in which he did away with this odd notion that Lutheranism has little to no use for the third use. I can’t locate it at the moment, maybe tomorrow.

  4. RubeRad says:

    All agreed, but in order to exhibit a sharp contrast with ToG, he spins ToC pretty hard. Probably a lot of the point is “do’s and don’ts” to what end? The phrase “do’s and don’ts” are usually associated with a context of CoW: this is how you earn reward and/or avoid punishment. Perhaps better to say “here are the do’s and don’ts that God has ordained for your thankful obedience.” Or just WCF 19.6. To say absolutely that the law is in no sense “do’s an don’ts” is a bit much. WCF 19.6 (and even Epitome of Concord, below) says it much better.

  5. John Yeazel says:

    Don Matzat’s short essay helps us to see how counterintuitive both the Gospel and sanctification are. I’m sure we all can relate to how easily we revert back into a theology of glory type thinking. The whole atmosphere and environment changes when one is among advocates of a theology of glory. It is an environment I like to stay clear of these days.

    It is really a turnoff to unbelievers (and Calvinists and Lutherans) who have thought deeply about issues in their lives. I am thinking of Christopher Hitchins and his debate with Doug Wilson and his amazement at some of Wilson’s attitudes and comments because he had not encountered them before among his many debates with theology of glory types (if anyone has not watched the debate on YouTube at Westminster Seminary in Philly you are missing out). Calvinists and Lutherans are really the only ones who the aggressive new atheists have any respect for- and it is not much respect at that.

  6. Todd says:

    Yes, the problem with the way we often describe sanctification in Reformed circles is it is self focused; self-centered, a process of self-improvement. I love how Luther described sanctification – we owe God nothing – it has all been paid -so give your good works to others – live for others in freedom, they need your good works, God does not.

  7. John Yeazel says:

    Perhaps the example of Doug Wilson and Christopher Hitchins is a poor one in regards to a theology of glory. It could be argued that Wilson holds a very subtle form of a theology of glory and the arrogance of both may be what they have in common. They will probably make a lot of money on their upcoming debates too. Life is confusing isn’t it? Thank God for the clear gospel and his clear words to us as deciphered by those good theologians who made the words of God clear to us in our confessions of faith. We easily wonder from them especially when we begin to think that we can do it in our own power with our own resources.

  8. John Yeazel says:

    oops- I meant to say wander rather than wonder

  9. Pingback: Even More Reasons to Like Lutherans « The Confessional Outhouse

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