Being Lutheran: Book Review

The first time I walked into a Lutheran church was an interesting experience. It wasn’t a “high” church, but still, there were things there that I hadn’t heard of or experienced before in any church.  We read psalms and sang hymns, petitioned God with our prayers and heard even more scripture. It’s not that my old non-denominational church didn’t do some of those things, but there was something different in the posture of the people and in their own words interspersed throughout the service. What I was used to was a posture of victory. The demand that God will give us what we asked for and that we have authority with God over all things and we proclaimed it boldly. But here, in this Lutheran church, what I heard was a collective, “Forgive me Lord, a sinner stands before you.”

The sermon only furthered this sense of being contrite that I was feeling. Preaching in a Law/Gospel manner was very new to me, but I was hooked. I went from listening to sermons about all the different ways to be better, to hearing a sermon about how we can’t measure up, but Christ did on our behalf. Then came communion and this opening prayer where we’d call ourselves, “sinner.” It went against everything I was taught. Again, the only word I could use to describe it was contrite. I loved it, and embraced it, and wanted more of it.

First Lutheran book I read was Gene Edward Vieth’s Spirituality of The Cross. Again, I was struck with a sense of humbleness and smallness in comparison to God and yet he accepted me and loved me, flaws and all. There was that contrite spirit once again. I found it over and over again in books and articles and sermons, so you can imagine I was excited to read this new book, “Being Lutheran” which someone was kind enough to bless me with.

But, I was disappointed.

Let me first say, the author is a good writer. A Trevor Sutton’s  writing style is easy to follow and engaging enough to keep you hooked. As I thought about why this book didn’t click with me, I have to say I missed the sense of humility and contriteness that I had found so refreshing in many other sources. The author  breaks the book up into two parts: What We Challenge and What We Cherish

What We Challenge 

This section was less about what we challenge and more about what do good Lutherans do. Ever chapter in this section was about doing things or being better,  but there was no tension. Whatever the topic, whether it was being lukewarm or lazy to open to relationships or being confused. There was no struggle of the real person. He taught those things as if they were a guaranteed fact. To me,  he was saying we shouldn’t struggle anymore. I just couldn’t relate. It reminded me of my old evangelical life of, “do more to make sure your saved”, or “don’t sin or God will be mad at you.” Every chapter I read made me feel less like a Christian because I didn’t do those things, at least not in the way he asserted we would if we were really a Christian. Throw in a slew of vignettes; stories of people being extraordinary, and all the guilt I thought I left behind rose up once more.

…And then, I had a thought.

Maybe he was taking a law/Gospel approach.  After laying me low, maybe the second section would focus more on the Gospel. It made sense. He drew such a clear line of what a “real Christian” is. Something most don’t measure up to, if we are honest.  There had to be another shoe to drop.  But that wasn’t to be the case.

What We Cherish

This was the doctrine section. Here’s what Lutherans believe. The best chapter of the book was in this section. “Ordinary” was a great chapter on the means of grace. Definitely loved how he fleshed it out. But to be honest, the rest of the book was a hard read for me. It was hard because I still could’nt get past the first section’s heavy-handed, law-like approach. I was hoping for rescue, but got doctrine. It was good and informative. but it wasn’t helpful or encouraging in light of the first section.

Conclusion

I’m not a very good Lutheran. So it’s possible I don’t have the tools needed to appreciate this book. Another friend who read the book, felt that the author was mixing law and gospel. I think maybe the best way to describe the book is that it is heavy on the third use of the law. Some of it reminded me of a lot of the, “do more/better” evangelicalism. It blurred the lines for me and made me think of Rick Warren on more than one occasion. The first section of the book, even now, still haunts me and I have to remind myself that I belong to Christ and that I’ve been washed and sealed despite my struggles.

I’m sure I’m in the minority and others have probably read it and loved it. I just didn’t. I found it weighed down with law. But again, remember, I’m not a very good Lutheran.  Obviously, this is not a comprehensive review, but my thoughts on it nevertheless.

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