Veith, Gene Edward Jr., & A. Trevor Sutton. Authentic Christianity: How Lutheran Theology Speaks to a Postmodern World. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. “Chapter 4, “God on a Cross” pp. 101-123.
Much of the popular Christianity in this country currently is a combination of popular psychology mixed with extreme self-esteem and a focus on the self which Veith and Sutton consider idolatrous (Veith & Sutton 2017, 102). In this form of theology our thoughts create reality and prosperity. “Luther would call the prosperity gospel an extreme example of a ‘theology of glory.’ To this he opposed a ‘theology of the cross’” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 103). The theology of the cross not only negates modernism and postmodernism, but it also introduces an idea of how suffering fits into our theology.
A Prosperity Gospel has its focus on the self, seeking self-actualization and one’s own concept of the good life, normally couched in terms of wealth (Veith & Sutton 2017, 104). Veith and Sutton find this to fit well with postmodern philosophy. They also identify elements of modernism in the idea that we will certainly mke progress, and that much of our progress will be tied to elements we can’t find in traditional religion (Veith & Sutton 2017, 105). Here also the progress of technology may be seen as an alternative savior. Our intelligence will increase our ability until we can do anything (Veith & Sutton 2017, 106). Yet, to be successful, all depends on our industry and goodness. The self is ultimately exalted to deity.
Counter to all the emphasis on the self, Veith and Sutton see the theology of the cross as making biblical sense of the world. “Rahter than fixating on the possibility of success and glory, Lutheran theology asserts that the cross is where the true knowledge of God is located” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 108). In contrast to a theology of glory in which we pursue power, Jesus lays his life down and gives us power. Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation lays out his theology of the cross clearly. In essence, Luther’s desire is to allow God in His Word to speak clearly, showing that He alone is the savior (Veith & Sutton 2017, 109). The theology of the cross reveals a theology of glory to be vain and ineffective, a striving after power, and, incidentally, all the things postmodernists reject about Christianity (Veith & Sutton 2017, 110). Rather than seeking power and glory, a theology of the Cross makes God’s presence central to all of life.
Veith and Sutton go on to speak of different views of suffering. While much of contemporary culture sees suffering as “intrinsically evil and meaningless” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 112, the Christian sees Christ’s suffering as at least partially a pattern of the Christian life, where God’s work in our lives may use suffering for our good or the good of others. The fact of suffering does not impugn God. “Although believers from Job through the Church Fathers and beyond have struggled to understand how God and suffering can coexist, only with the Enlightenment and the advent of modernity have people presumed to judge God and accuse Him of unrightousness for allowing suffering” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 114). Further, trying to defend God may also exalt our wisdom above God’s (Veith & Sutton 2017, 115). Christianity is centered around the reality of death and resurrection, not some pretty and abstract image. It recognizes sufering as real and as accomplishing a purpose. To allow the mystery to be even more profound, Veith and Sutton speak to the debate from the time of the Reformation about whether it was appropriate to say”God suffered” or even “God died” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 116). Lutherans have always confirmed that in the incarnation both God and man are present in Jesus, God the Son, who did indeed have a human nature and who could suffer and die. Because the whole person died, thedivine nature suffered also. The paradox of God and Man in Christ, suffering, dying, and rising again is central evidence of God really entering the human condition and really taking the sins of the world in order to suffer in the place of sinners (Veith & Sutton 2017, 118). It depicts a God who is able to carry the grief of others (Veith & Sutton 2017, 119). Though sin and suffering still exist Veith and Sutton observe “they have been dealt with” (Veith & Sutton 2017, 120). There remains a struggle, but the conflict has been decided. In conclusion, Veith and Sutton note that in modernism and postmodernism we must look to ourselves for answers. They are both theologies of glory rather than theologies of the cross. The theology of thecross looks outside of ourselves and deals with the sin and suffering we find in the world (Veith & Sutton 2017, 121).