Calling Out a Theology of Glory

Mark 8:31-38

Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

I wonder how Jesus knew? As he stood aside from the other disciples with Peter, how did he know it was Satan speaking in the words of his disciple and friend? Where had he heard these words before so as to recognize them so quickly?

It is a startling story we hear today, because his rebuke is shocking! Jesus’ sharp words surprise us! They are not the gentle, comforting words we like to remember Jesus saying. They are not the gentle, comforting words we like to hear. What’s more, we can understand where Peter is coming from. After all, Jesus’ predictions of betrayal, and death, and resurrection were quite disturbing and they were scaring the others. How could Jesus expect to attract followers if he spoke like that?

I don’t know about you, but I can totally imagine Peter pulling Jesus aside, perhaps with his arm around Jesus’s shoulder, in order to offer him this wisdom. I can hear his voice suggesting that Jesus tone it down a bit and maybe lay off the predictions of his death for a while.


Several years ago now, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Cambridge, England while Matt was on sabbatical, singing with a college chapel choir. So, while I was there, I had been attending the choral Evensong services in which he had been singing. On my last evening, I hung back a bit after the service in order to thank the director and offer my goodbyes. However, after saying that I thought it had been a wonderful service, she interjected that it had not been and was clearly displeased with something that had happened in one of the pieces. I thought little of it until later Matt told me that she had later expressed feeling bad about snapping at me, but that I was, “such an American,” and that my positivity had rubbed her the wrong way.

It has stuck with me because it was the first time I had made someone angry by being positive, which I found amusing. But more importantly, it has stuck with me because she is right, ours is a culture of relentless optimism. What is more, I would not be the first to argue that it is not a uniquely American trait, but one more broadly defined as a North American trait. North American culture is one of positivity, of progress, and of personal growth.

Peter’s actions and words seem reasonable to us and Jesus’ reaction shocking, because Peter’s words align so nicely and closely with our North American worldview.

Now, admittedly, a cultural worldview that emphasizes optimism, progress, and personal growth doesn’t sound all that bad. However, it is actually an expression of triumphalism, which Canadian theologian, Douglas John Hall, defines as:

[…] The tendency in all strongly held worldviews, whether religious or secular, to present themselves as full and complete accounts of reality, leaving little if any room for debate or difference of opinion and expecting of their adherents unflinching belief and loyalty. Such a tendency is triumphalistic in the sense that it triumphs—at least in its own self-estimate—over all ignorance, uncertainty, doubt, and incompleteness, as well, of course, as over every other point of view.[1]

The North American worldview, when it goes astray, veers into the realm of triumphalism, and we can see it at work around us today. Triumphalism is what is behind Donal Trump’s appeal and rise to power, and triumphalism was behind concepts and legal principles like manifest destiny, and triumphalism is what enabled the colonization of Indigenous people in this country and in the United States.

But as Douglas John Hall observed, triumphalism is not limited to the secular sphere, it intersects with religion all too easily. And where triumphalism and the church meet, we find the theology of glory. It is a theology that teaches certainty and teaches finality and teaches power. It is a theology that seems to take away our fears and doubts, that makes us feel good and comfortable, that assures us we are good. It is a theology that promises safety and privilege to all who adhere to it.

Or, to put it more succinctly, the theology of glory is the god people want vs God who is revealed to us in the person of Christ.

The Church’s perpetual temptation is an embrace of this theology of glory, and in that Anglicanism is just as guilty. We are tempted and succumb to a desire to be the national church. We dream of the prestige and honour of that place in society. And it has led us to terrible things, up to and including participating in the residential school system. It binds us from speaking out or even offering wisdom and moral leadership for fear of rocking the boat, whether on the issue of nuclear disarmament, or ethics in the business world, or medical assistance in dying.

We believe, broadly, that if we embrace this theology of glory strongly enough, if we truly adhere to it, that we will find stability and safety as the Church, that our place in society will be assured. But our anxiety about church growth, our anxiety about finances at the parish, diocesan, and denominational level, and our anxiety about church structures—and if you want evidence of this anxiety, you only need to read the Anglican Journal—is because even as we grasp to this theology of glory, we cannot help but notice the cracks in it all. The cracks are showing and they are growing.

The cracks in the theology of glory are showing because, fundamentally, it leads us astray. It has led us astray. The theology of glory promises so many things, but as Joseph D. Small notes, “But church is not Christendom, faith is not certainty, hope is not optimism, and love is not painless.”[2]

In contrast to triumphalism, in contrast to a theology of glory, is the theology of the cross. The theology of the cross, as revealed to us in the crucified one, points to a God who does not triumph over creation, but who so loved creation—and us!—that God would be willing to die for it.

Rather than the god we want, a god who rules over the world, vanquishing evil, raising us up exalted over our enemies, in the theology of the cross is revealed God who enters the brokenness and wounds of our world, who enters into the depths of our pain, who takes death itself into the heart of God, and redeems it all.

This is what Peter did not yet understand. It is what we continue to struggle with to this day. Even Jesus had to grapple with it.

Indeed, Jesus did recognize Satan’s words that day, because he had heard them before. He had heard them when he was in the wilderness for forty days, and had to wrestle with his own human ideas and conception and desires about who God should be, and instead empty himself. In the wilderness, Jesus had to ignore the words of Satan and empty himself that he could instead be filled with the reality of who God is and learn to trust in God. And Jesus would have to struggle with this same thing again, this time not in the wilderness, but in a certain garden before he was betrayed, where he prayed that God might take this cup from him, before accepting the path God led him on. But that is a story for another time.

Peter struggled with this as well, but he did eventually get it. There is an apocryphal story about Peter, that recounts his death. In the story, Peter, now many years older, is fleeing the burning city of Rome through the Appian Way, when he suddenly has a vision of Christ, heading in the opposite direction. “Where are you going, Lord?” Peter asks. The vision of Christ responds, “Into Rome, to be crucified again.” And so, Peter, humbled by Christ’s words, turns around and returns to the flaming city, where legend tells us he came to his own upside-down crucifixion. [3]

As Douglas John Hall notes, the point of this story about Peter is not his suffering, but that “the risen Christ […]is always going toward this world, the world’s rejection notwithstanding, and discipleship, when it is authentically so, is always a matter of being taken up into this world-directedness, despite one’s own preference for security and peace.”[4]

My friends, we who would call ourselves disciples must do the same, following the steps of Peter, who followed Christ before him, into the heart of the world, the heart of suffering, until we find the cross there, and on it, Christ.

Preached by the Rev. Adam Yates

[1] “The Cross in our Context,” Douglas John Hall, Fortress Press, 2003, p.17.

[2] “Feasting on the Word,” Joseph D. Small, p.390

[3] “The Cross in Our Context,” Douglas John Hall, Fortress Press, 2003, p.54.

[4] “The Cross in Our Context,” Douglas John Hall, Fortress Press, 2003, p.54.