Review: Your God is Too Glorious (2018)

9780801075667Chad Bird’s 2017 book Your God is Too Glorious is a popular-level take on the common Lutheran theme of theologia crucis–the theology of the cross. Luther articulated two modes of theology:  the theology of glory and the theology of the cross. A theologian of glory, according to Luther, attempts himself to achieve those things that god himself accomplishes in the cross. Whereas god secures redemption and righteousness by means of suffering–a “veiled unveiling” (Bird, 24) of god’s righteousness, a turning the world upside-down–the theologian of glory wants to do those things himself, to accomplishes “glorious” feats for himself. The theologian of the cross sees god at work in the mundane, in suffering, in the poverty of the material world, suffusing the natural realm with grace and holiness, while the theologian of glory seeks out “natural” glory–fame, renown, wealth–in order to glorify themselves.

Bird chastises the theologian of glory–or, better, exhorts the theologian of glory to recalibrate. “Your god is too glorious”–not because god is inglorious but because you’ve misdefined what it is to be glorious. God discloses himself to us in the person of Jesus, son of Mary–betrothed but yet unwed. Jesus suffers an ignominious death; his triumphal entry into Jerusalem is undone within the week. The glory of god disclosed in the suffering of the cross–such is our standard. Jesus spurned the crowds and seemed to do everything within his power to avoid being crowned as a king during his ministry. Instead, he was crowned by the Roman soldiers and mocked as king of the Jews while on the cross.

Bird takes this purportedly upside-down view of glory, and he encourages the reader to see god at work in our ordinary circumstances. He draws on his own experiences of suffering–those caused by external circumstances and those from his own hand–to demonstrate the glory of god in the mundane and the difficult. Insofar as that is Bird’s aim, YGTG is useful.

This isn’t to suggest that the work isn’t without its problems. One has to wonder whether the appearance of YGTG at this political moment is itself in part a product of the reaction against institutions. Take note of this passage:

The teachers who have the greatest impact on our lives are not always standing in pulpits or guiding us through Romans during a Sunday morning Bible study. They’ve written no books, earned no degrees, wouldn’t be invited to lecture at a Christian university. They are strangers to the religious system. They lack the credentials to garner interest among churchgoing people. They don’t speak Christianese. (29)

All of which is true, as far as it goes. But it feels rooted in a world characterized by Nichols’ The Death of Expertise–a world in which established institutions are disempowered and power itself is “democratized.” And so, Bird “meets Jesus” at mile twenty of the Boston Marathon (81). And so, the entire world is sacral (122-124). Neither of which are necessarily wrong–simply not explicated sufficiently in the text.

Altogether, Your God is Too Glorious introduces readers to a new perspective, in which god dwells gloriously in terrestrial realm and in our material poverty. Bird aptly writes: “We descend into his presence. Where the lowly are, there he is. Where the common duties of life are performed, he is at work.” (63) For a simple introduction to a theology of the cross, Your God is Too Glorious serves well.


Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers http://www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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