Image for Psychology & Spiritual Formation


A Theology of the Cross // Dust No. 14

Kelly M. Kapic

How Lent directs us away from a "theology of glory"

Professor of Theological Studies, Covenant College
March 24, 2014

“The season of Lent should cultivate in us a beautiful mixture of humility and confidence.”

The Table: What do you read during Lent?

Kapic: I always find it particularly helpful to read the Gospels again, only doing so very slowly. We speak so often of “the cross of Christ” that it can be easy for us to remove that event from the larger narrative of Jesus’ life, teachings, and actions. Lent is a great time to revisit the story of God’s incarnate Son: here we discover afresh who God is (in his holy humility), even as it also calls us to honest self-reflection about our condition (creatures loved by the Creator yet also sinners in desperate need of his grace).

The Table: What do you find theologically or pastorally fascinating about Lent?

Kapic: We are always, as Luther says, tempted to a “theology of glory.” What he meant by this was the temptation to frame the Christian life in naively positive terms, often downplaying our struggles and pain, as well as our ongoing battles with sin. A theology of glory, therefore, tends to reduce the Gospel to self-improvement.

Instead, Luther called Christians to never move beyond a “theology of the cross.” Luther understood that we remain, on this side of glory, always simul justus et peccator (simultaneously just and sinner). This theology of the cross calls us to honest self-reflection, understanding that even as Christians we do not move beyond the daily struggle with our sin. Put differently, we never move beyond our need of the cross. Grace is not only foundational to Christian beginnings, but to ongoing Christian existence. We never graduate from our dependence upon God’s grace, a grace most clearly revealed in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Lent beautifully reminds us of this truth. We never graduate from the call of “repentance unto life.” Repentance is not meant to serve as a depressing idea, but a life-affirming truth. We need not pretend we have it all together, but in Christ we may confess our sins even as we seek the Spirit’s transforming work in our lives. The season of Lent should cultivate in us a beautiful mixture of humility and confidence.

Kelly M. Kapic, Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College, is the author and editor of nine books, including God So Loved He Gave, A Little Book for New Theologians, and Mapping Modern Theology. He is currently a CCT Research Fellow during our year on Psychology and Spiritual Formation.

About the Author