The new version of “Spirituality of the Cross”

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.

Spirituality of the Cross

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

Preaching Law, Gospel, & Vocation

Pastor Douthwaite preached a fine sermon on the callings of Isaiah and Peter on Sunday, a model of how to preach the Law, the Gospel, and Vocation. A sampling:

For while Isaiah was indeed unclean, he was not lost. For in the depth of his sin and fear, “one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” ” For the Lord did not bring Isaiah before him in this vision to destroy him, but to save him. And he is saved by the offering upon the altar. When it touches his lips, his sin and guilt and uncleanness are gone. He is given new life and hope.

And the same happens for Peter. He was right in confessing that he is a sinful man, but the Lord will not depart from him and leave him in his sin. Instead, Jesus says to him: “Do not be afraid.” Or in other words, do not be afraid of being in the presence of the Lord, for Jesus has not come to destroy, but to save. To save by being the offering that touched Isaiah’s lips from the altar of the cross. To save by being the sacrifice for guilt and the atonement for sin as the Lamb of God. To give Peter – and all the world – new life and hope. And the words that came from Jesus’ lips and touched Peter’s ears did for Peter what they said. They did not inspire Peter to boldness and confidence; rather, they gave him boldness and confidence.

And so it is for you and me. At the beginning of each Divine Service, we take our place with Isaiah and Peter and confess that we are sinful and unclean. We cry out Woe is me, I am lost. A lost and condemned person. We confess that we have no right to be here, and deserve only temporal and eternal punishment. But as with Isaiah and Peter, our Lord comes to us not to destroy or condemn us, but to forgive and save us. And so like Peter, His words: “I forgive you all your sins.” touch our ears and raise us to new life and hope. And like Isaiah, the sacrifice from the altar of the cross touches our lips as we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus in His Supper, and our guilt and uncleanness are gone. Gone, for they are taken by our Lord, and we are given His holiness and life.

And so Isaiah and Peter were mightily transformed. Isaiah’s Woe is me! is replaced with “Here am I! Send me!” And Peter’s Depart from me is replaced with his clinging to Jesus – leaving everything and following Him, to be a fisher of men. Yet this is not the only wonder. For is it not also a wonder that these are the very men our Lord wants to send and use. God does not look for holiest and best and most righteous of men. He does not seek the strongest and most steadfast. Rather, he takes an unknown like Isaiah and an ordinary fisherman like Peter, and uses them to proclaim His Word as prophet and apostle. . . .

And in the same way have you been mightily transformed. For the love, forgiveness, and life of Jesus is not without power. And though you are not the holiest, the best, the strongest, the most steadfast, or the most righteous – our Lord will now use you. He may not have called you to be a prophet like Isaiah, or an apostle or “fisher of men” like Peter. But our Lord has called you to be a father or mother, and speak His Word to your children. He has called you to be a friend and neighbor, to serve with His love. He has called you to be a boss or worker, to provide for others through you. He has called you to be a Christian, to speak His Word of forgiveness. And in these vocations, you are just as important as Isaiah or Peter. And Jesus is using you in ways that are both known to you and unknown to you.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Epiphany 5 Sermon.

How God is in the world

Longtime Cranach reader and commenter Dan Kempen “got” yesterday’s post Makoto Fujimura on art, paganism, and worship. His reflections are worth considering in themselves:

God is in the world, not merely as the one who has authority over it, but as the one who is creating it. Even in a broken world, everything God creates is a work of art. Everything God creates is a masterpiece. There is a wonder of God in the created world that is both immanent and transcendent. It is not the deification of “nature,” but the perception of the handiwork of God, and, to follow Makoto Fujimura, when your eyes are opened, you can even see the second article woven into the first. You can perceive the Grace of God in the very fabric of his creation.

Granted that, strictly speaking, the grace of God is revealed in His Word rather than creation as such, in what sense is that last sentence true?

Could this be the basis of a Christian environmentalism? How would it be different from regular environmentalism?

Do you see how this relates also to vocation?

No end runs around the Cross

Here is a graphic that our pastor, Rev. James Douthwaite, at St. Athanasius Lutheran Church in Vienna, Virginia, uses to explain how we should always factor in the Cross when we consider our relationship to God and His relationship to us. (A parishioner made this visual image to illustrate what our pastor had been teaching.)

So, in God’s relationship to us, we might wonder, “Am I really saved?” “Am I of the elect?” “Is God angry with me?” “Why does God allow suffering in the world?” In each case, if we leave out the Cross, questions like these can drive us to despair or insanity. But consider them in light of the Cross–of Christ’s intercession, His atonement, and His suffering for us–and the paradigm shifts. I am saved because Christ paid my penalty. I am elect in the Cross where God placed my sins. God’s anger is appeased in the death of His Son. God does not just look down in detachment at the sufferings of the world; rather, He entered that world in His incarnation in Christ and Himself suffered on the Cross, where He also bore MY afflictions.

In our relationship to God: “Does God hear my prayers?” “What do I need to do to satisfy God?” “I’m not worthy of God’s love.” God hears us through our Intercessor Jesus who has won perfect access for us to the Father through His death and resurrection. God is already satisfied because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are not worthy, but Christ is worthy, and because of the Cross His worthiness is imputed to us.

Again, end runs around the Cross lead to doubt and torment, but considering God through the lens of the Cross, and understanding that God considers us through the lens of the Cross makes all the difference.

The most controversial two words you can say in public

Brit Hume, in an interview about his controversial statement on television that Tiger Wood should turn to Christianity:

It is certainly true in secular America today that the most controversial two words you can ever utter in a public space are ‘Jesus Christ,’” Hume said.

When asked to speculate about the reasons for the mainstream media’s vitriolic reception of Christianity, Hume initially expressed bewilderment

“I’m somewhat at a loss to explain it because so many of the people who purport to be aghast at such mentions are themselves at least nominally Christian.  But there it is,” Hume said.

He added: “I think it is true that for people who are not Christian, Christianity makes a fairly extravagant claim which is that the Son of God — God made Flesh — came into this world, lived, suffered terribly, and died for the remission of our sins, and then rose again.  This is a huge supernatural event, and a lot of people don’t—have a lot of trouble believing it.  But if you do purport to believe it, the implications are pretty staggering.  And the result is you may end up talking about it,” Hume said.

Hume also ventured possible practical reasons for the public’s searing distaste for Christianity.

“There is certainly a level of anti-Christian bigotry that may have something to do with the fact that on certain issues, the views of Christians are against theirs on certain matters such as abortion and others, but I can’t account for all of it.  It is a striking reality, however,” Hume concluded.

via – Brit Hume: ‘Jesus Christ’ the ‘Most Controversial Two Words You Can Ever Utter in the Public Square’ Today.

How do you account for the Christophobia that seems rampant everywhere today?

Happy Epiphany!

January 6 is Epiphany, ending the 12 days of Christmas and beginning the season that it is also called Epiphany, referring to the revelation (the light coming on) as to who Jesus is. Epiphany celebrates the Wise Men’s pilgrimage to find the Baby Jesus. By extension, it celebrates that Christ is not just for the Jews but for Gentiles too, for the whole world. That is indeed something to celebrate.