Americans love the vicarious sense of pride they get from the odds-defying underdog myth. But often, all the attaboy-ing translates to spiritual performance and a definition of sin that is closer to good intentions gone awry than war against the maker of the universe. Old habits die hard, and roughly 500 years ago Martin Luther saw a similar self-congratulating theology and dissected it with uniform precision.
MARTIN LUTHER: NAILED IT!
Historically, Martin Luther is best known for igniting the Reformation by nailing the 95 theses to the Wittenberg cathedral’s door. But what really got the conceptual ball rolling was a meeting of an Augustinian monastic order at Heidelberg in 1518. There, Luther defended his theological position in 28 cryptic theses against scholastic theology in an effort to re-focus theologians on Jesus’ work on the cross.
GOD: NOT MR. DREAMS-COME-TRUE
In Luther’s day, medieval theology defined God as fully embodying the glory of human achievement. Accordingly, glory was best represented by the monarchy. Royalty was conceptually understandable, so obviously God is a really, really, really glorious King. In effect, the scholastics reinvented God in their own image. Sound familiar? In John 14, Phillip thought that Jesus was holding out by playing a sort of spiritual pat-a-cake with the disciples. Phillip wanted to cut to the chase and see the Father. Jesus’ reply was: “he who has seen me has seen the Father.”
God doesn’t get things done through spiritual pick-me-ups, but through death and resurrection.
Likewise, Jesus was rebuked by Peter (!) for bumming the disciples out with all that dark, going-to-the-cross-to-die-talk. Jesus’ reply? "Get behind me, Satan!" The disciples had selfish plans for Jesus. He had something else in mind.