The subtitle to this pleasant little book is How to Put Your Faith into Action. Under the theme of the Kyrie, Harrison takes us along on a tour of different situations and mission fields that one might experience during a pastoral career. The chapters include examples from rural Iowa, to Ontario wilderness, to inner-city Fort Wayne, IN, to Africa. Harrison also weaves a different doctrine into each of the 16 chapters as an application of the church’s work of mercy in that particular context. Along the way, Harrison also tackles major questions of pastoral theology, such as the role of leadership training, inner-city revitalization, and disaster relief.
The book itself dovetails nicely with the LCMS logo: Witness, Mercy, Life Together. The author’s varied ministry experience and obvious delight in language makes for an enjoyable, insightful book that might be considered Harrison’s manifesto on the LCMS logo. The opening paragraph of the preface capably summarizes the book: “Christ, have mercy! This is an unprecedented time of opportunity for the Church, and mercy is the key to seizing the moment. This book is written with the conviction that mercy – the mercy of Christ to and for us – and our demonstration of that mercy to those within and outside the Body of Christ is the key to the future of the Church. Mercy is the key to mission and stewardship. It is the key to living our Christian lives together in love and forgiveness…Mercy is the key to moving boldly and confidently into the future with courage in the Gospel – a confidence and courage based on conviction” (11).
Harrison brings this perspective on mercy to the practical meaning of the Trinity, the incarnation, justification, baptism, forgiveness, Holy Communion, and the invisible Church – as well as the cross, stewardship, and fellowship. The text contains a rich set of citations from the Lutheran Confessions, as well as church history and a few well-known Lutheran theologians or commentators.
One might say that this book is more a doctrinal treatise, applied to everyday life through the lens of the Kyrie. For example, the chapter that discusses the Trinity is centered around the efforts of Lutheran World Relief in Othoro, Kenya. Othoro Lutheran Church runs an orphanage for HIV/AIDS orphans. Harrison writes, “for Christians, the bottom line is this: Who God is, is how we will be. Because we are God’s very own in Christ, we reflect who He is. “I thank God and Jesus Christ, that someone has regarded us as human beings.” [Words from a 12-year-old Othoro child.] The Holy Trinity shows His mercy and gives it to His people; thereby He makes us merciful people. As merciful people, God calls us to “regard as human beings” the most unlikely, lonely, unknown, and – to the world – insignificant. … Our calling to serve the lowly is our calling to be merciful as God is merciful. To fail to do so is to deny the Holy Trinity,” (35)
This book is a fantastic, insightful read. Harrison’s grasp of theology, rivaled only by his grasp of language, makes for an instructive example of applying deep doctrinal truths to the mess of life in a sinful world. And this book does so across a variety of contexts and cultures in a very confessional Lutheran manner – focused on the means of grace applied to the congregation and by the congregation in their area. Harrison’s comments on pastoral leadership were very insightful, while his account of inner city Fort Wayne (and his congregation’s role in urban revitalization) are worthy of brotherly discussion and consideration. Through it all, Harrison retains a lively Lutheranism, unlike many of the “practical theology” books on the market.
In that regard, Harrison succeeds admirably at communicating the practical need for mercy flowing from the pages of Scripture.
However, Harrison makes it very clear that he is a Missouri Synod pastor who believes and teaches what the LCMS teaches about the ministry, fellowship, and the role of women. From the preface he writes, “I write as a convinced, convicted, and unapologetic clergyman of The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. The public confession of the Lutheran Church – most fundamentally stated in the Book of Concord – is my own, without equivocation. I believe C.F.W. Walther, the founder of the LCMS, explicated the faith correctly, also on the doctrines of church and ministry” (11).
As expected, it was also common to encounter some confusion about the proper approach to fellowship. For instance, Harrison writes: “The Formula [of Concord] drew the line for church fellowship: complete agreement on the Gospel and all its articles” (152). The chapter on inner city work (Ch. 15), however, is subtitled A Case for Two-Kingdom Theology and Cooperation in Externals. Harrison details how his congregation’s efforts to be a good corporate citizen (211) together with the local Roman Catholic parish, and how this effort led to the first Lutheran/Catholic Dialog meeting at Fort Wayne Seminary (216). The section concludes with Harrison’s comment, “When we worked at neighborhood renewal, it was necessary to bring as many players to the table as possible. Having the Catholics involved was tremendously beneficial because there are many faithful Catholics in all areas of the private and public spheres of city life. When this type of “cooperation in externals” (working together in areas other than Word and Sacrament) begins, it is necessary to be clear and kind about expectations. It is also necessary for confessional Lutherans to be true to their public commitments to Scripture, the Confessions, and one another,” (217).
Harrison uses the broad term “cooperation in externals” to describe a church’s work as a good corporate citizen. The problem arises when Harrison describes how different church bodies ought to work together as long as they respectfully agree to disagree (139, 217), and as long as this cooperation doesn’t involve Word and Sacrament. This reviewer was disappointed that one of the most interesting chapters of the book (Ch. 15 – “Mercy in the City”) seemed to be a mixture of wheat and chaff: at best, confusing; at worst, misleading.
This book joyfully encourages a Lutheranism that is unapologetically confessional. It was wonderfully instructive to see Harrison tackle practical, everyday problems with doctrinal precision and Christ-like love. The chapter on leadership seemed the most helpful, including references to Jim Collins’s book Good to Great and the companion volume for nonprofits. Harrison recommends Christ Have Mercy, Collins’s books, and the LCMS World Relief production Theology for Mercy for study by a church “think tank” (187-188).
This book would be a great addition to any pastor’s library, and serve well for discussion at an urban circuit meeting. However, given a few confusing statements on the aforementioned issues, it ought not to appear in the church library without a few strong disclaimers added to the inside front cover.
Matthew Harrison currently serves as President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. Before his election, he served as the executive director of LCMS World Relief and Human Care, as pastor in rural Iowa, urban Indiana, and as a missionary in northern Ontario.
Christ, Have Mercy, by Matthew Harrison. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2008. 270 pages.