Christian Books

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Spirituality of the Cross by Gene Edward Veith, Jr.

The Spirituality of the Cross: The Way of the First Evangelicals (Revised Edition)
Gene Edward Veith, Jr.
St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2010
172 pages

My Rating: 9 out of 10

Quick Summary:
 Gene Edward Veith Jr. holds a PhD in English literature and serves in higher education as a professor and administrator.  He has written numerous books on Christianity and culture such as: Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture.  In addition, he is an orthodox Lutheran author, which brings us to the work under review, The Spirituality of the Cross. 
This interesting, well-written introduction to Lutheran spirituality kept my attention.

If you are an evangelical of any stripe, I would suggest starting with his article in the appendix, “The First Evangelicals and Other Churches”.  It is an excellent beginning to this work, even if it is at the end.  He begins the Preface by saying, “This book explains a Christian tradition that is rich, historic, and particularly relevant today.  Yet hardly anyone outside of ‘Lutheran’ circles – and sometimes even within them – is aware of it” (9).  This comment rings true.  I have been in evangelical academic circles for most of my life, but even with multiple courses in church history at the undergraduate and graduate level, my knowledge of the Lutheran tradition was often found wanting in reading this book.  Lutheran theology is rich, full, and deep, but unfortunately, it is one of the best kept secrets among evangelical theologies.

Veith introduces this work by noting that Lutherans were the first evangelicals, but of course, the term is now used with a much broader meaning (see my statement of faith).  His introduction sets the stage for the rest of the work by connecting spirituality to theology.  He then proceeds to discuss the major spiritual and theological distinctives of Lutheran theology.  Such emphases include: justification, and the Law and Gospel (ch. 1); the means of grace: Word and Sacraments (ch. 2); Theology of Glory and Theology of the Cross (ch. 3); vocation and the Two Kingdoms (ch. 4); continuing the Two Kingdom discussion with Christ and culture (ch. 5); and lastly the “heaven on earth” nature of worship (ch. 6).  Theology and daily life are deeply intertwined.  Each theological emphasis exhibits daily, practical Christian living and draws the believer more deeply into the person and work of Jesus Christ through God’s grace.

Evangelical Assessment: Gene Edward Veith, Jr., and the Lutheran tradition that he presents, is thoroughly evangelical.  My fascination with Lutheran theology grows because of the balance that they maintain between evangelical and catholic.  They worship liturgically, not given to revivalism or contemporary models, and yet, are thoroughgoing evangelicals.  They combine the best of both worlds.

In terms of criticism, as Veith points out, orthodox Lutherans are often separatists.  On multiple levels, this causes some difficulties.  In terms of evangelical emphases, personal conversion and evangelism become fuzzy and uncertain.  It is not a matter of lacking beliefs in these areas (well, maybe not in personal conversion), but how to do it in a way that is consistent with their theology produces a gray area.

I affirm the paradoxes that Lutherans embrace, but must still ponder the working out of them.  In summary, I greatly appreciate the fact that Lutherans do allow the biblical tension to exist and do not give easy answers to complex problems, but in practice, I sometimes find it difficult to sort out.

Who might this book interest? Generally, I think that this book would interest any Christian, especially evangelicals, who wish to deepen their own understanding of spirituality and theology. Specifically, it would interest anyone who desires an introduction to Lutheran spirituality and theology.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate the depth of this review. Lutherans find a living in that "Biblical tension" to be rather difficult to sort out some times, too. Make that ALWAYS DIFFICULT, while we're being honest.

    It is just more satisfying than the easy answers that only work well when everything is going smoothly in life.


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