Monday, October 26, 2015

The Christian Life: Cross or Glory? by Steven Hein – Book Review

The work of sanctification that God performs in the believer is important to grasp.  How does this process occur?  Assuming that God is active in our spiritual growth, to what extent are individuals active?  In order to answer these questions, Steven Hein has given the Church a help in understanding “the relevance of the crucified Christ for daily Christian living” (p. 1).  We will look at the book according to its three main sections.

The Cross Life of the Christian
The author begins by defining the difference between cross and glory in the Christian life by drawing from Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation wherein the reformer spells out his understanding of what living under the cross looks like in light of a proper distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel.  This Law/Gospel paradigm is necessary for developing the thesis, so Hein gives an illustrative parable involving the relationship of a married couple to make his point.  The illustration works well in conveying the how one acts and reacts by following rules versus acting from joyful gratitude and freedom.  From there, he moves to the demands made by God in His Law and the paradoxical problem that we are required to meet them but are completely unable—except in Christ who met them fully.  And even there we stumble because of sin working in us.  Finally, there are chapters on justification and sanctification wherein the author establishes that just as surely as salvation is the work of God by grace through faith, so sanctification is by grace through faith.

The Experience of Living in the Cross
This short section is rather important because of the principles they investigate.  First, there is the conflict the apostle Paul describes in Romans 7—the internal struggle between the Old Sinful Self and the New Self in Christ.  Hein points out the changes of priorities and desires in the life of the Christian that conflict with the desires of the flesh to act out.  These struggles are real, and if allowed to escalate, can cause the believer to doubt God and His promises.  Examining different bases from which doubt can arise, the author answers how one ministers to the doubt.

Second, there is the conflict from without—tribulation or what Luther called tentatio (Latin).  The constant barrage on the believer from the world and the devil wears on the believer causing a holy anguish or anfechtung (German).  This is a normal course of the Christian life as noted in the first epistle of Peter and that of James and should cause us to look even more to the Savior and cling to Him, though as with the internal struggle, doubts may arise.

Faithful Living in the Cross
This section deals with what the life of the cross entails as it is lived out.  What does it look like in regards to good works performed for our neighbors and operating within the Reformation understanding of vocation—not our occupations, but the offices we have in life (i.e., spouse, parent, child, employer, employee, etc., each operating within specific boundaries and for specific reasons)?  What is the relation of our freedom in the Gospel compared to our obligation of doing good for our neighbor?  These areas and questions are addressed in a practical and biblical way, finally looking at our eternal destinies (heaven and hell) in relation to our lives, with a unique consideration of their actual locations.

Dr. Hein is an engaging writer.  I enjoyed perusing this book, especially because he based his arguments on Scripture.  I raise this, because he wrote from a confessional, Lutheran (LC-MS) perspective.  Most LC-MS authors I have read tend to rely heavily or primarily on the Lutheran Confessions while using Bible passages as reference.  The author does the opposite, and I believe this makes the book more accessible to the reader who would insist on the biblical primacy and also to the person not having the background in Lutheran dogmatics.

Some will be puzzled by or disagree with the Lutheran understanding of the Sacraments, Means of Grace, etc. that the author works through, since they firmly within the boundaries of his confessions.  However, these inform rather than distract from the thesis, making this work a solid, useful read for the average reader.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free of charge.  I was not required to write a positive review, and the opinions are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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