Martin Luther coined the terms “Theology of Glory” and “Theology of the Cross” after seeing in his own day (the mid 1500s) the church’s striving to obtain things that were only promised of believers and the church once we enter into the glory of heaven. Luther pointed people to a “Theology of the Cross” which is the Biblical approach that pilgrims in this present evil, passing age are to understand our current situation awaiting the second advent of Christ.

Today, many people have gone back to a “Theology of Glory” as the recent post of Joel Osteen’s new book points out. They expect God to bless them right now with blessings that really are only promised to us once we are in heaven. This is what is called an “over-realized eschatology.” Let me explain. “Eschatology” is simply the study of the end times. Usually in popular theology this centers around the events that will take place when Christ comes again and when those particular events will happen. However, eschatology really encompases everything concerning not only Christ’s return, but the eternity that comes after! It is in the New Heavens and the New Earth where we are going to be blessed by God beyond imagination. When one has an “over-realized eschatology” then they are pulling out of the future (so to speak) events and blessings and expecting them right now.

It is true that we live in a weird time in redemptive history, the kingdom of God has been inaugurated (with the coming of Christ), but it has not yet been consummated. Christians are living in a time of already and not-yet. We already do experience some of the blessings of God (we do have a realized eschatology!), but those blessings are centered around the church as the visible manifestation of the kingdom of God here on earth. These blessings include the Holy Spirit regenerating and empowering us, the Word and Sacrament creating and sustaining faith, and the providential care of God over all creation. But as Christians there is a not-yet element to our lives as well. We are pilgrims wandering through this age looking for that place where we can settle down, fully and finally. We live in bodies that sin, see decay, and fail us constantly. We aren’t living in our permanent home, and times can be very tough for us here on earth (as Christ told us they would).

A Theology of Glory and an over-realized eschatology takes a Christian’s eyes off of the cross of Christ and looks to one’s own situation as the measure of what God has done and is doing for us. What if things go horribly wrong in your life? What if you loose your job and have to declare bankruptcy? If these things happen to you as a Christian with an overly-realized eschatology then you are going to determine that either your faith isn’t strong enough or that God is not the all-powerful deity that you were led to believe. If it is the former then what despair you will be under as you try to constantly build your faith on a false foundation? If you determine the latter, then why wouldn’t you go to Buddism, Islam, or atheism to try and obtain the life that you want?

An overly-realized eschatology can also lead one to expect that their complete sanctification will be a reality in this life. We will expect to conquer all sins in our life and stand before God holding out our own obtained sanctification as the grounds of our being justified and one of the elect. Being fully sanctified is not something we will ever be able to achieve here on earth in non-glorified mortal bodies. Every part of our being: body, mind, and soul is tainted with sin, and will be so until we die. When we are given glorified bodies on that great and final day, only then we will be fully sanctified.

Looking to the cross of Christ constantly in a Theology of the Cross keeps our faith properly grounded in the life and work of Christ. We realize that we cannot keep any of the commands of God, but we also realize that Christ has kept all the laws of God perfectly for us!. We thank God for his condescension to us in Word and Sacrament every Lord’s Day and we long for that day when our faith will be made sight and the ordinary means of grace will be made obsolete. Let us remember that we do have “realized eschatology” but one that is grounded in the already and not-yet where we are not trying to pull heaven down to make an overly-realized eschatology in this present evil age.