The new revised, enhanced, and slightly expanded edition of my book The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals has just been released by Concordia Publishing House.
That book has brought lots of people into the Lutheran orbit. More than that, it has brought quite a few people to Christianity, people who had never understood the magnitude of the Gospel before. I am still getting messages from people who have found this little piece of writing of mine helpful and life-changing. Hearing such things is strangely humbling and uncanny to me, the thought that God is making use of this thing.
This new edition is not that different from the old one, but I have added material in the chapters on vocation and the theology of the Cross, drawing on more things I have learned about them since the first edition came out in 1999. I also cleared up some passages in the first edition that some people had questions about.
This book is also somewhat smaller in dimensions, and therefore thicker, than the first edition. It still keeps on the cover that great Rouault crucifixion, which is simultaneously highly contemporary and highly traditional, which strikes just the right note that I am trying to achieve. The design of the new book also uses that image on the inside, facing each new chapter, a visual reminder of how the Cross ties all of the different topics together.
There are a few changes I made because I had assumed that what my own congregation did was common to all Lutheran churches. For example, I had thought that all Lutheran pastors wore collars, refused to perform weddings during Lent, and did not give eulogies in funerals. Well, those were the practices I learned from the pastor who brought me into Lutheranism–I used to belong to a theological liberal church, if you can believe that–and I later heard from indignant tie-wearing pastors who corrected me! I made some changes accordingly.
It’s still the confessional variety of Lutheranism that I am drawing on, though. But it’s not just the theology, conceived as an abstract system of doctrine, but the spirituality–the lived, vital, personal dimension of Christianity that Lutheranism opens up. That is what I am trying to recapture.
I aimed the book partially at those people today who say they are “spiritual” but not “religious.” That is a huge cop-out, of course. But some of these folks are looking for something that they aren’t getting from much of the Christianity they encounter. Contemporary versions of Christianity have often drifted away from the depth, the complexities, and the mysteries of the Christian faith. They have reduced them to simplistic dogmas, jolts of experience, or feel-good platitudes. But the fact is, Christianity has its spirituality–not the vague cloudy idealistic mysticism that is usually associated with that word, but rather mysteries grounded in the Incarnation of God, His death on a bloody piece of wood, His physical resurrection, bread, wine, water, and our own ordinary callings of everyday life. That spirituality can still be found in the Lutheran tradition, though Lutherans today have often forgotten it just like everyone else. When people who are experimenting with Eastern spiritualities encounter genuine Christian spirituality, they often see the difference and find the spirituality that is centered on Christ and His Cross compelling. Anyway, I am especially gratified to hear from people who have converted to Christianity from Ba’hai or the New Age movement after reading this book. Often their parents or a friend has bought it for them. I am also gratified, of course, to hear from people who have recovered their own spiritual heritage.
I wrote the book as a kind of experiment in apologetics and evangelism to the postmodernist mindset. The book is personal. I avoid polemics. I don’t criticize anyone but myself, in the different mistakes that I have made. Such an approach keeps people from getting defensive, since when they do, you can never get through to them. When I turn the Law, though, against myself, I do so in a way that readers can relate to, so that they do turn it against themselves, and they become as hungry for the Gospel as I am. I don’t emphasize rational argumentation, as such, though I hope I am rational. Rather, I emphasize the mysteries of the Christian faith. I don’t explain them away; rather, I make them seem even more mysterious. I also avoid the cliches, the conventional piety, the dumbing-down, and the tackiness–as well as the moralism and politics–that turn so many people away from even considering Christianity.
I’m not saying that this is the only way to write about such things, but it seems to work with at least some readers. I hope this new edition reaches the people who need to read it.
You can buy it here: Spirituality of the Cross