With a pile of “must-reads” littering my study and another pile on my nightstand, very few books make it to my “read it again and again and again” pile. Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness is one such book.
Amazon and Christian bookstores and the local supercenter abound with books promoting “living the Christian life.” Dr. Senkbeil takes you there in a refreshing, unabashedly evangelical-catholic Lutheran sort of way, precisely because he recognizes the bondage of the will, the brokenness of this world, the centrality of preached Word and sacramental Word, and (above all) the Christ, who travels with us “all the way, Today, tomorrow, ev’ry day Till trav’ling days are ended” (Christian Worship 79).
The beauty of Dying to Live is it covers some significant theological territory as if you are sitting in a one-on-one conversation with your pastor. It reads not as a deep theological treatise (although there is plenty of depth) but as something that would be accessible to inquirer and life-long member alike.
Some nuggets from Part I: “The Incarnational Foundation of the Christian Life”:
- The crisis: “But we know it [our life] won’t last. Ultimately, all of life is lived graveside. We are all dying—from the youngest newborn to the oldest nursing-home resident. We might be dying to live, but we are all dying” (14).
- The answer found in the incarnation (John 1): “‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ is not empty talk about life, this is life itself. In Jesus Christ, eternal life has made a personal appearance in this dying world of ours” (28).
- The cross-resurrection dynamic in our life: “There’s no way around death. You can either die alone in this world or you can die in Jesus. You can have life your way or you can have it His way. Your way leads through life to death. His way leads through death into life” (51)
Some nuggets from Part II: “The Sacramental Focus of the Christian Life”:
- “Consigned into His death by Baptism, we are partners with Him in His risen life. Holy Baptism is both our tomb of death and our womb of life” (60).
- “There is no one so lonely as someone alone with his sin. But in Holy Absolution Christ abolishes that loneliness…The Gospel spells the death of sin and the rebirth of the new man in Christ” (85,86).
- “Because He had come to take away the sins of the world, Jesus was able to receive sinners and eat with them. And His presence with sinners changed their lives….As it was in Jericho [with Zacchaeus] so it is among us. Wherever Jesus eats and drinks with sinners, salvation arrives in that place, and hearts are repeatedly turned to repentance and faith” (107).
Some nuggets from Part III: “The Liturgical Shape of the Christian Life”:
- Regarding our time together on Sunday mornings: “The word of the Gospel in either spoken or sacramental form always means the same thing for us Christians when we gather for public worship: Forgiveness, life, and salvation—God’s forgiveness, God’s life, God’s salvation here and now in this dying world in the midst of His congregation” (119).
- “The Athanasian Creed defines the universal Christian faith liturgically: ‘the catholic faith is this, that we worship one God in three persons and three persons in one God.’ …All we are and all we have received comes from the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. And all we do flows from who we are and what we have received. And so the entire Christian life—public worship, private prayer, and daily vocation,–flows back in the Spirit through the Son to the Father, one God, now and forever. We live each day and to all eternity in the very presence of God. This is the liturgical living; it’s the only way to live” (139).
- How this plays out vocationally: “Faith toward God and love toward the neighbor find common nourishment in forgiveness through Jesus Christ our Lord. Want to know the secret to effective Christian vocation? It’s well summed up in Luther’s 16th century insight into the first-century Scriptures: the Christian always lives outside of himself—in Christ by faith and in the neighbor by love” (176-177).
What could be more relevant for the pastor’s life (or for that matter, any Christian’s life) than a book on the Christian life that deals with “in Adam all die” and “in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor 15)? After all—we need more than just a pick me up or a lift, “we need resuscitation” (122). On the pages of Dying to Live you are confronted with a God who reached down low, incarnationally, who continues to come to us in tangible means for forgiveness and life, and who continues to serve us as we gather communally (in the Divine Service), and in our own private devotional lives, and serves through us as we live out our lives as “little Christ’s” and God’s masks (vocation).
Dr. Senkbeil has offered in Dying to Live something that runs counter to many “living the Christian life” books, and in doing so, has a hit a home run. The reader is taken back to Christ in whom there is redemption and in whom we live, move, and have our being. Along with Senkbeil’s previous volume (Sanctification in the NPH Impact Series), this volume could serve well as the basis for a Book Club Bible Study or regular Sunday morning study. I’ve heard of pastors who have given it as gifts to confirmands, youth and adult, or as extra reading to complement the Adult Instruction Course. Pastorally, I have utilized this book as a good read before teaching a section of the Catechism to youth or adults. For example, spending twenty minutes in the afternoon with the chapter on Holy Baptism surely has sharpened my teaching later that evening. Also, reading chapter two has always been a part of my Adventide reading as I prepare to proclaim the backside of God wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Dr. Senkbeil references Psalm 102:18 on the title page of the book: “Let this be recorded for a generation to come so that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord” (RSV). In this mid-sized paperback he has given to the Church an accessible tool as one more means to that end. May God bless it and our life which is found in Him who is our Life—Jesus Christ.
Dr. Senkbeil served as a parish pastor in Elm Grove, Wisconsin (LC-MS) and as an Associate Professor in the Pastoral Ministry and Missions Department of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Since 2008 he has served Doxology (www.doxology.us) as Executive Director for Spiritual Care. He authored “Sanctification: Christ in Action” in the NPH Impact Series.
Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness, by Harold L. Senkbeil. St. Louis: CPH, 1994. 183 pages.