I have been reading Carl Trueman’s book, Reformation: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Trueman notes a shift in societal thought that I believe deserves some attention. Why? This thinking has also infiltrated the church! Trueman wrote:
…expectations from life have shifted very dramatically in the last forty years or so in a direction which has brought us to the point where the theology of the cross is more explicitly opposed to what goes on in society than at any other point in recent history.
The change has been mapped by sociologists who argue that, in the past, individuals conceived of their purpose in life in more social terms. For example, one worked for the good of society as a whole, or one worked to provide a stable home and environment for one’s children. The goal of existence was considered to lie outside oneself, in creating a state of affairs which would benefit others. For a variety of reasons, this situation has changed dramatically with respect to the generations which have come to maturity in the sixties and beyond. Then the perspective moved from what one might broadly categorize as social responsibility in all its forms to self-fulfillment. The game of life now is not so much to work for the greater good of society or even of the family but for the happiness of oneself. We must be self-fulfilled before we give ourselves in any way to others. (emphasis mine)
The drive of self-fulfillment is anti-gospel and as Trueman points out, Luther’s answer would have been to look to the cross. Luther was opposed to what he called “a theology of glory” and said the answer was “a theology of the cross”. In short, the theology of the cross is the understanding that God brought ultimate victory through the cross which involved humility, suffering, and seeming defeat. If Christ saved His own through such means, should they not expect to experience a cross-shaped life?
Therefore, if our families and churches are going to look anything like what we see in scripture, we are going to need a robust theology of the cross. The majority of my personal grievances in the home and the church, as well as those I hear from others, are focused on self and personal preferences. What is the answer? A theology of the cross! As we saw in last week’s post, the gospel produces humility and humility enables us to put others first. Will that involve sacrifice and suffering? Yes, it probably will, but when we look to the cross we understand that God often works this way. Are we saved through our suffering and sacrifice? No, we are saved completely by the work of Christ alone! However, Christ’s work on our behalf frees us to consider others before ourselves (Phil 2:3).