Lutheran theology is pretty much the opposite of the Prosperity Gospel. The latter would be an example of what Luther called “the theology of glory,” expecting the Christian life to consist of nothing but success, victory, complete understanding, and the solution to all of your problems. Whereas God came to us and saved us and calls us to what Flannery O’Connor called “the sweat and the stink of the cross.”
Westminster Seminary professor Carl Trueman has written a book entitled Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom. In the latest World Magazine, editor Marvin Olasky interviews Dr. Trueman at my old stomping grounds of Patrick Henry College. The entire interview is worth reading, but I was especially intrigued by the discussion of the Prosperity Gospel in light of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. (They also get into Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking.”)
Martin Luther famously contrasted a “theologian of glory” with a “theologian of the cross.” What’s the difference?Theologians of glory make God in their own image and assume God thinks and operates in a way closely analogous to the way we operate as human beings. Simple example: If I want you to like me, I will do nice things for you. We assume that God is that way: We do good works for God, and God will reward us for them.
And theologians of the cross?
They humbly understand God to be the way He has revealed Himself to be in the broken flesh of Jesus Christ hanging upon the cross. That contradicts human expectations.
Today’s prosperity gospel: preached by theologians of glory?
Luther would say: What do you mean when you say, “God blesses you”? Luther would say: Look at the cross. No man more blessed than the Lord Jesus Christ ever walked upon the earth, and the pathway of blessing took Him to death on the cross. Christian blessing is spiritual, not material. Prosperity gospelers understand blessings in crudely material terms: classic example of a theologian of glory’s thinking.
Illustration: Matthias Grunewald’s Crucifixion, detail from Isenheim Altarpiece, 1512, Public Domain.