Lutheran Spirituality: Life as God’s Child, Robert C. Baker, ed. St. Louis: Concordia, 2010. 301 pages.
The general editor for this book is Rev. Robert C. Baker, Senior Editor of Adult Bible Studies, Concordia Publishing House. The contributing editor is Rev. Charles P. Schaum, Editor of Professional and Academic Books, Concordia Publishing House. The book is divided into eight parts with a separate writer for each part: Parts 1 & 3 – Rev. John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions & Director of Field Education at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, IN); Part 2 – Rev. Dr. John Kleinig, Dean of Chapel & Head of Biblical Studies at Australian Lutheran College (Adelaide, Australia); Part 4 – Rev. Dr. Holger Sonntag; Part 5 – Rev. Dr. Klaus Detlev Schulz, Professor and Chair of Pastoral Ministry and Missions & Dean of Graduate Studies at Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, IN); Part 6 – Rev. Chad Hoover, Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church (Kalkaska, MI); Part 7 – Rev. Dr. Naomichi Masaki, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, IN); Part 8 – Rev. William M. Cwirla, Pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, (Hacienda Heights, CA).
As Robert Baker states in the preface (7-8), spirituality is a term that is as nebulous as it is popular. Ranging from the mystical to the scientific, many definitions have been used for that term. This book seeks to define spirituality from a Lutheran Christian perspective, living life as God’s child, centered around the gospel in Word and Sacrament.
The book is an adaption of a series of eight bible studies of the same name, Lutheran Spirituality, published in 2006-07. That format comes through in the book as each of the eight parts is divided into six sections, which were the six lessons of the original Bible study. At the end of each section are three Spiritual Exercises, involving any combination of Bible reading, catechism study, hymn study, prayer ideas, or statements for discussion. At the end of each part is a section of Lutheran Teaching with various quotes from the Lutheran Confessions, applicable to each topic.
The eight parts of the book are laid out as Word, Prayer, Confession, Cross, Witness, Vocation, Community and Promise. A wide scope of topics is covered throughout the book, so what follows is a brief summary of the various parts. Part 1: Word focuses on how God speaks to us through his Word, through Law and Gospel, as the Holy Spirit comforts us through the proclamation and study of the Word. Part 2: Prayer focuses on the privilege of speaking to God in prayer, a privilege won for us by Jesus who intercedes for us as we pray for ourselves and for others. Part 3: Confession focuses on the process of how we as sinners repent and receive an absolution won by Jesus, which then gives us the freedom for service. Part 4: Cross focuses on the suffering, temptation, sacrifice and testing that we will face while living as Christians in this world. Part 5: Witness focuses on the mission that Christ has given to believers to share our faith. Part 6: Vocation focuses on how Christians live their lives in service to God in a world that is unspiritual and the challenges faced in the home and workplace. Part 7: Community focuses on the blessings of being part of a church, including worship, fellowship, the pastoral ministry, and the priesthood of believers. Part 8: Promise focuses on the promises that God has made and kept for us, including a focus on Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
In seeking to define spirituality from a Lutheran perspective the book does a fine job of summarizing and supporting with Scripture the emphasis on salvation by grace alone, by faith alone, and by Scripture alone. In general the theme of the power of the means of grace, the Gospel in Word and Sacrament runs throughout the book. The book also makes clear what that perspective means for a Christian’s life under the cross, for vocation, and for reaching out. The tying in of our Lutheran heritage of confessions and hymnody throughout the text is also a major strength of this book.
There are a couple areas of weakness however. In Part 2: Prayer, there are conclusions drawn from Scripture that seem to go beyond the text or statements made which may seem strange to Lutheran ears. For example, on pages 52-53, the Lord’s Prayer is described as first and foremost the prayer of Jesus to his Father, which Jesus then allows his disciples to use as well. In another example, the author theorizes that the disciples could not pray to God on their own until after Jesus’ ascension, that up to that time they had to bring all their requests to him (58). In a section on corporate prayer, the author elevates such prayer to being the best thing the church does for the world (67-68), citing Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to pray as his “first” encouragement (1 Ti 2:1). The healing of the paralytic who is brought to Jesus by his friends (Mk 2) is cited as how we use our faith through prayer to bring others to Jesus (70-71), seemingly elevating prayer almost to a means of grace. Finally, in a section on sharing our burdens with God in prayer, the author encourages complaining in prayer (62-64) and says that “anger is a gift of God” (65). Although both of those ideas were then explained adequately, the terminology seemed out of place in a book seeking to define Lutheran teaching.
Part 7: Community is also weak in the areas of church and ministry. The section defining fellowship (229-234) focuses on the fellowship that comes from sharing in what God has given (Word and Sacrament). It would be better to look at the difference between the Holy Christian Church (invisible church) and Christian congregations (visible church). When discussing the Lord’s Supper (230-231), the author focuses exclusively on a vertical fellowship between Christ and believers, yet neglects the horizontal fellowship that the body of Christ shares at the Lord’s Table. As for ministry, the discussion of the public ministry is limited to the office of pastor (234-239). A section on the priesthood of all believers (239-244) focuses more on limiting the definition of priest and trying to tie 1 Peter 2:9-10 back to Exodus 19:5,6 before the official existence of the Aaronic priesthood. The purpose of all this seems to be more on reserving ministry for the pastoral office than on celebrating the priesthood to whom God has entrusted Gospel ministry and the freedom believers have to organize and call servants into public ministry to serve them.
With its background as a Bible study series, this book is intended for lay people as a summary of Lutheran spirituality. As a general observation, its reading level would probably be aimed not at those new to the faith, but for those who are more seasoned. Acknowledging the weaknesses mentioned in certain areas, it could be offered as a good review of what it means to be a Lutheran, with the central focus on Law and Gospel and the Means of Grace. Of particular value for both laypeople and called workers are the spiritual exercises and summaries of Lutheran teaching from the Confessions. Those model the variety of Lutheran devotional life that provides benefit for any Christian. In a world that is looking for answers and seeking to be spiritual, there would be nothing better than to discover what it means to live life as God’s child.