A Lonely Theologian of the Cross
This road is not for the faint of heart.
I think I remember the moment I began to awaken from this fog of typical Christianity. My old church was starting a new program, along with a preaching series to support it. The pastor said the words, “the Gospel is not just what Jesus has done for you, the Gospel is also what we do.” I almost wish he didn’t speak those words. Maybe I’d still be there.
I don’t really believe that.
The fact is, it only solidified my thinking even more that I wasn’t long for that place. But I have to say, this path is quite a bit more lonelier than the old option. My theology has changed. It’s closer to what some may call a “theology of the cross.” A theology that continually brings me to the foot of the cross. It embraces our brokenness, our failures, and calls us to see Christ, his birth, his life, his death and his resurrection, for the answers in us that question why we still feel not quite as whole as maybe we think we should.
The other idea, the theology of glory, leads us to trust in our abilities, our strengths. Sure we wrap it up in a thin Christian veneer, but when the rubber meets the road, we see ourselves first, our ability, our overcoming, and then thank God second for whatever it is we’ve accomplished. It wasn’t helpful to me. Maybe I just don’t play-act all that well.
I just couldn’t keep the “tomb” whitewashed enough when I knew I had so many dead bones inside. Tweet
So I went from the cross being a bridge from my old life to my best life now, to it now being a daily exercise of laying my sins continually at its base. That’s continuously, like everyday. At the cross, Christ, steps inside my tomb and adds life to these old bones, and as many times as I rip the new flesh off, he lays new sinews and muscles and skin back on.
“New mercies every morning” sounds to me like a perpetual resurrection of my life.
In my “glory days”, I was the one trying to bring life, scrubbing the tomb walls, never getting anywhere, but now even on my best days, I am made alive by no work of my own. Heck, the walls even stay a little dirty now. I mean the reality is, I’ll never look clean enough on the outside, but Christ has washed me new from the inside out.
Here’s the thing about being more a theologian of the cross than of glory, it can get pretty lonely.
Thanks to the wonders of modern social media, maybe it’s not as lonely as it once was, and God bless you if you’re in close proximity to someone that’s sharing this new journey with you. In a practical reality, it often doesn’t seem to be the case. I have friends who travel hours to connect with fellow sojourners of the cross. To gather in meetings and conferences, just to get a glimpse of real close-up honest fellowship. Not to wallow in a shared brokenness, but to rejoice in knowing that this brokenness is not separate and apart from others, and more especially Christ. It’s knowing we all go to the same life, the same death, the same cross and the same resurrection that covers us all. It is a glimpse of heaven, because in heaven there is no more striving, it’s just being.
Apart from those moments, it can be a lonely existence.
Some of you are on this journey, and your wives, husbands, and kids just don’t get it. Some of you have found that place where the gospel is dispensed, whether in word, song or elements and are still alone on an island, because the people around you that have been there for years have forgotten the gift they’ve been given, or at least how incredibly precious it is. Some people would call these old congregations, “old dead religions”, but it’s not because of the truths there, and they are there. They are ancient, constant, and never ceasing. It’s because they’ve forgotten their first true love. It happens to the best of us, so let grace abound for them.
The point is there are more “glory-hunters” then “cross-kneelers” out there. It’s just a fact. It speaks not to our better natures, but our desire for a guarantee of life now. So there we are, in the midst of glory-hunters, scattered seeds of the cross. Growing in-between the cracks, bending towards the light, holding onto it a little more each day. Sometimes feeling a little dried up, shriveled. Needing the nutrient rich soil of the gospel to daily replenish us, the waters of baptism to refresh us, and camaraderie of others on this lonely journey to uplift us. We have a guarantee of two out of the three of those things and a great desire and hope for the third. It has to be enough, I suppose. But, oh to regularly break bread with those like-minded sojourners in person, to get a glimpse of another face, stricken with depths of woe and struggle, then also to rejoice in those lighter moments. I long for that with my fellow sojourners.
One weekend a year won’t do it for me. Text and phone calls are nice, but it’s never as good as sitting across from another on the same road. Maybe I’m just too melodramatic over it all. Maybe you feel the same way. I have a cross I can go to, I have a gospel I’m given. I still long for a local group around me, to be fellow sojourners in this cross theology, in this, low anthropology that’s makes more of God’s work and less of mine.
Someday, I know I won’t be a lonely theologian of the cross anymore. I look forward to that day.
I am grateful to the people in my life, mostly far, a few near, that have embarked on this remarkable journey with me these past five years or so. I raise high my lonely glass up to you.
I love you all.
My friend, I too am on the journey. I look forward to joining you. It has been terribly lonely. This is very well written and I will be sharing. I see so many glory-hunter posts with impressive numbers of likes and comments and a true gem escapes them. Only heightens the loneliness. But you are not alone. Blessings
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Thanks so much. It’s a tough road. the point of this post is to remind people others like them are out there. Your response is a phenomenal response and proves the truth of this reality. if you ever make it to NYC, let me know.
I am on this same path. To the cross. And even those I commune with in person, weekly, aren’t all on the same journey. Some are content in this life, and would rather continue in it than join that Choir on the other side of the Altar. That’s ok; there’s a lot of folks that won’t understand where the Cross is until they’re beyond it.
I live it daily; all things are winding down. Me and Johnny Cash ( initials of JC can’t be that bad; along with Jose Cuervo) agree with John Donne; the bell tolls for all of us. So rest assured, brother, that there are those with us during Communion aren’t always visible, even to the eyes of faith. But they’re always, eternally Present. These are the ones that have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
Depart in Peace, brother. The other side of the Jordan calls to all of us, and we’re all just lonely strangers here.
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Thank you for the kind well-spoken words. Its encouraging to know others walk similar paths, even from a distance, it does makes things feel a little less lonely.
Thank you Dominick. I am learning the cross as a person who is coming to believe in nothing anymore (except the cross) and by nothing I mean that I don’t see “the point” in much– because whether its my health or my church (I’m a pastor), I can’t change things. And If I can’t change things, then maybe I can’t do anything either. This surrender to the loss of control is either from Satan (making me defeated, an eeyore) or it is a deeper call into crucifying our old Adam. I’m not sure yet, quite frankly. Or maybe its a middle age crisis. But this chasing after glory– this better you, this more happening church– it gets so damned old. Its one thing to struggle with it personally–its a another struggle when your congregants have a theology of glory default and to fight their impulses is to be seen as a defeatist or an old fashioned pastor or something far less than the pastor down the street with a bigger church. Anyway…. I’ve been thinking I need to find a father-confessor (that is one way for you to to remain connected face to face with a fellow sojourner to the cross). Have a meaningful and hopeful Advent– Jim
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Thank you Jim, for your words. I am not a pastor, though preach occasionally and can understand, if even only in a small way, what it means to have a perspective that you want to give to people, but its hard for them to grasp. All I want them to know is “Christ for you” Blessed Advent to you! and if youre near the NYC area, please don’t hesitate to reach out.