Is there a theology of weakness?


I’ll never forget a meeting I had a few years ago with a student life administrator at a local Christian university. He was young and had a PhD, which I thought was a little over-qualification for a campus pastoral job. I was looking for an opportunity to speak on campus and he was the one in charge of chapel speakers. After a career of lecturing in the chapels of over 85 different colleges and universities around the country, most of them making numerous appearances, I always wondered why I had never been to this university in my own back yard. It soon became evident that as long as he was in the position to invite me, I would most likely continue to be “a prophet without honor” in my own town. 

I’m telling you this because I need to be honest about my own sense of being insulted that day. It was almost like, “Go get a Phd, and then maybe we can talk.” But when he asked me what was my primary message and I started talking about the new covenant, he stopped me halfway into it and said, “Oh, you’re talking about a theology of weakness.”

I have to admit, that one threw me a bit. It seemed a little like I was being pigeon-holed and written off. “Oh, that’s the theology of weakness; that goes over there. Next?” But if he was talking about weakness being a necessary theology for all of life, not just when things are going badly, then I could buy it, although I don’t think he did. I think he was placating me.

I do think most Christians approach hard times and suffering as something you go through now an then. Like we all have to be tested a little just to make us strong. When things get really difficult we can turn to this “theology of weakness” and receive comfort until things get better again and we are good strong Christians like we’re all supposed to be.

That’s not what we’re talking about as the new covenant. Not even close. We’re saying that our weakness — our brokenness — is THE ONLY WAY WE WILL EVER BE USED BY GOD. It’s not a theology for the bad times; it’s a theology for all times. It’s not that there is hope when things go wrong, or when bad things happen to good people, or there is light at the end of the tunnel. This teaches that things are always going wrong, that we are sinners who have had an incredibly good thing happen to us, and that no one needs to care about the light at the end of the tunnel when there is light right here in my heart when all around me is darkness. That’s what we’re talking about.

Therefore I am not a champion of the theology of weakness once in a while; I am a champion of the fact that we are all weak all the time; we are all losers, we are all broken, we are all in pain, we are all sinners, we are all inadequate, we are all vulnerable, and we are finding the power of God in our lives in the middle of all these inadequacies, and realizing that this is the only way we can find it. This is where the power comes from.

It’s not a theology of weakness; it’s a theology for the weak, and there is no corresponding theology for the strong. It’s the only theology there is. It’s not “Blessed are the poor because they are going to be rich some day,” it’s “Blessed are the poor because they are the only ones who get it.”

Does this sound like the same thing? It’s two entirely different things. One has an assumption of  “strength some day” driving it, the other has an embracing of “weakness every day,” which makes a strength that is not ours, possible.

It’s not a theology of weakness, it’s a celebration of weakness when we discover that our weakness IS our strength. And there is no other way.

Why do I often feel like I’m the last one to find out about this? Either everyone already knows this or no one does, because every time I start screaming about this, it seems to get so quiet.

Let’s see what Marti has to say …

In conclusion

By no means am I asked to be Saint Marti nor will I ever become an idealized poster-child for Christ. Yet my life like yours is like a parable for why we live, why we invite others to enter into our passion to become common heroes in the warfare of pain, and get really busy through Christ in us toward removing the causes of indifference.

We share the Lord’s heart specifically with the vulnerable and the poor, which is you and me and everyone we know, knowing God is with us if when we are with them.

We are a lot of aging men and women still playing. It’s a kids game when we try to psych ourselves up to accomplish something great for God, well aware of the ridiculousness of the trappings, and searching for and sometimes finding reasons to go on.

Jesus’ message hasn’t changed. It’s elementary: Grace. It is the answer and it is unshakable running through every breath we take. 

We clearly know we are not Christians with a few ‘imperfections,’ or ‘mistakes,’ or ‘errors in judgment’ but consider ourselves exceedingly sinful (Romans 7:13).

We have experienced the full significance of Christ’s work on the cross, which is for everyone, and we know the glory of Christ can only be seen in contrast to our own despicable selves. The final mark of greatness is emptiness. The less we can do, the more powerful we are.

The world is waiting to see the truth, and we, by the Grace of God, are available and will not hide the truth from the world or speak in a veiled language. This is because Grace has upended “as you sow, so you will reap.”  Grace defies reason and logic. It interrupts the consequences of our actions, which in all of our cases is very good news indeed, because we have all done a lot of stupid things.

We are called to go out from beyond the church and live in the heart of the storm and live in the real world, making the Lord’s message relevant to that world.

The key is grace and it is lived as though we only just discovered it. And this is because we just did – today … here and now.

The following is a song by U2’s Bono. It is simply called “Grace.” Get some time away from the day-to-day — it is that  important — to discover again what this thing called Grace means to you and why it is time to surrender any conceptions that you may still hold that it is still up to you to ‘help’ God out.

Turn to the Lord so that he might remove your veil of adequacy so that you might be free — for where the Spirit is there is liberty, knowing, finally,  that everything is from the Lord and nothing from you.  And since you have “this ministry,” you will never lose heart.


By Bono of U2 From No Line on the Horizon

What once was hurt

What once was friction

What left a mark
No longer stings

Because Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things.

This entry was posted in 21-day Challenge, Old/New Covenants and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Is there a theology of weakness?

  1. andy phillips says:

    thats what i needed to be reminded of this am awesome message

  2. Mark D Seguin says:

    Absolutely loved this: “Jesus’ message hasn’t changed. It’s elementary: Grace. It is the answer and it is unshakable running through every breath we take. “

  3. Sandie says:

    that poor young man. his faith is on shaky ground, simply because it is not grounded in what the New Covenant truly means, should mean, to each of us. With his Phd and ‘head’ knowledge, the message of Grace seems too simple, too easy. Those of us who have dove into this message, and continue to dive despite its complexity, despite the naysayers…he cannot comprehend our purpose. We can only pray that he becomes discontented with bobbing around on the surface of life.
    On another note, aren’t universities supposed to be a place of free discourse? Like too many secular (I hate that word) places of higher learning, there seems to be a fear of allowing different viewpoints be shared. What are they all afraid of?

  4. Markus says:

    I’m not sure whether “theology of weakness” is the best name for it. “Theology of self realisation”, “theology of humbleness” or maybe “realistic theology” might come closer. Because seriously, how many people in real life can rightfully call themselves a hero? Real life heroes certainly exist and being infused by the Holy Spirit is no prerequisite for heroic deeds as such, but most people are no heroes. And even those who are can still fail at times.

    Personal strength is still nothing to be ashamed of, but even when it is there, then it is still failable. The Holy Spirit has no such issues. The Holy Spirit never has a moment of weakness. The Holy Spirit never has to make a choice based upon insufficient data. The Holy Spirit is never tired. And the list goes on. To recognise his superiority certainly makes us look weak, but it is still a realistic assessment of the situation. And this also goes for real life human heroes. They might be as strong as a human can possibly be, but they will never be strong 24/7 and they can still make mistakes.

    The Holy Spirit is definitely preferable to even the greatest heights of human strength!

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