You may have seen the uproar from a recent blog post suggesting that virgins who forego college, learn to cook big meals and abstain from tattoos make more desirable wives. The graphic for the article features a pretty, blonde woman (with ink-free skin, of course) and a curly typeface plastered over the bottom of the image reading, “Men prefer debt free virgins without tattoos.” The inherent logic of this belief system is laughable (if not somewhat frightening) and easy to recognize and push aside for what it is: an ideology claiming to be something that it is not. An ideology espousing holiness, righteousness, and purity only for the sake of holiness, righteousness, and purity. A self-contained system with self-contained (and thus flawed) logic. We like to think that ideologies, regardless of how honest they are about what they are, are easy to spot and that we, the rational and educated and open-minded, can easily avoid falling into their trap. The truth is, we all adhere to some sort of ideology or another, and in turn, I would argue we all adhere to some version of a theology of glory.
All ideologies - Christian or not - are also theologies of glory because they will eventually make a claim of salvation based on something outside of the cross of Christ. Both base these claims on human reason, human goodness or human abilities without recognition of their flaws and imperfections. Both look at the death and resurrection of Christ as folly, foolishness and entirely avoidable. We all climb, and claw and clamor to save ourselves albeit in this world or the next. We are quick to prove how good we are at fulfilling our definitions of righteousness and holiness, success and achievement. What’s funny is that most of the time, we don’t even have our definitions correct. Whether through a backwater definition of biblical womanhood or progressive pride, each of us struggles with our own ideological theology of glory and the need to have God bend the knee to us, our desires or our own reason.
Key to a theology of glory is refusing to call things as they actually are. Our revelries in glory are celebrations of our glory, not the one true God's. We love to downplay our sin, to obsess over our good works, to exaggerate how much we are succeeding. We claim we know the way because we have figured out the way. Thus our man-made, woman-made theologies permeate both our thoughts and our actions. And we do all of this so that we can get around the cross of Christ. The cross is ugly, otherworldly and perhaps most offensive to us, it rips control right out of our clenched fists. And so as long as we can avoid confessing Christ crucified - to remain in the pilot seat, to push our version of Biblical duty and honor, or to show that we are better, more desirable, more pleasing than the next gal out there - we will do just that.
While it’s easy to spot someone else’s theology of glory and how hard he or she works to climb and claw their way into whatever version of eternity currently grabs their attention - it’s much harder to pinpoint our own. The key to a theology of glory is that it turns us inward to our own accolades and turns us outward only to point our wagging fingers (so we can get back to looking inward at how good we are).
The theology of the cross does the exact opposite. It points us inward to our sin, our lack of goodness, our need for salvation and then points us outward and upward to Christ on the cross as the only way to salvation. This comes at a cost. It means letting go of our ideologies and systems of rationale; it means dropping the act that things are going okay, it means letting God descend to us rather than us attempting to climb upward to God.
The antidote to ideologies like, “Men prefer debt free virgins without tattoos,” is the same antidote to each of our own ideologies. I rely on my intelligence and my independence to save me. I would rather die than hear a man degrade me or offer me an unwarranted command. Perhaps less problematic than a theology that demands a woman to only learn the Bible from her husband or father, mine remains a theology espousing myself above Christ.
The antidote, therefore, is the cross alone. It is the proclaimed word that Christ died for sinners - all of them - to raise them to new life, to impute His righteousness, and to save them from themselves and all the intricacies of their own theologies. The truth of the Cross happens in real time and in a real place. It is salvation in spite of you for you won 2,000 years ago due to the God-man's perfect sacrifice. “The cross is the doing of God to us,” states the late theologian Gerhard Forde.
So laugh at the ideologies and theologies of glory when you see them on the internet - call them out for what they are. But remember that your own ideology is no better. Apart from Christ, your own way will always remain a way of glory, of self-accolades, strange circular reasoning or dangerous ideology. Christ alone is the fix; thanks be to God.