In 1971 Abbie Hoffman’s book titled Steal This Book was published. It was a call and guide to “fighting against the man.” When I came to Trinity, Austin in 1999, Gene Veith’s Spirituality of the Cross was all the rage. This was the book to give to the non-Lutheran, particularly those coming from Reformed Christianity, to introduce them to Lutheranism.
After reading it, I did that, but I never got it. I didn’t see what I regarded as the gems of true Lutheranism in this book. Most people I gave it to when finished didn’t rave about it; most seem nonplused. When someone never returned it before moving on, I never bothered to replace it.
I have had Harold Senkbeil’s 1994 book, Dying to Live, probably longer that I had Veith’s book. I recently read this book, and this book describes, conveys, wallows in the Lutheranism that I know as genuine, Confessional, and in the Spirit of Luther.
Here are just a view gems from this work. On the merits of Private Confession: The trouble with self-medicating with the Gospel is that we can see the sins of others but we can’t see our own. If we don’t properly identify the sin, the sinner goes on living and getting stronger (86). On the miracle of the Real Presence: “Some things are too important to be left to the eyes. Sometimes simple eyesight can’t take in all there is to see. …Other people might see just another baby, but we when we see our own flesh and blood, we see things you can’t detect with simple lenses and retinas– things like love and affection” (91). On discussing Contemporary Worship. “We’ll never resolve issues revolving around the how of public worship until we tackle the what of public worship.” Is it just another public assembly of like-minded people or is the worshipping congregation itself God’s own creation called into being by God Himself (116)?
The following is my favorite and I’ve found 1 in a 100 lay people who understand why this should be so and needs to be so about your pastor. “The pastor who leads us in worship needs no introduction… For we have called him to be a spokesman for God to perform the sacred duties of God’s holy ministry among us. Therefore we have little interest in personal rapport with him” (127).
Now envision using these gems to explain to someone liturgical worship. “The liturgy strikes some people as cold and impersonal, but that’s because it is an extraordinary situation. Ritual for its own sake is idolatry, but even secular society has certain revered rituals….No one calls the soldiers of the honor guard [at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington] hypocrites because they act differently at those tombs than they would, say, at the beach or the movies. Solemn assembly calls for solemn actions. ..Our ears are so jaded by the discord of modern life that the harmonious texts of the ancient liturgy seem stilted. Our voices are so attuned to the music of this age that the liturgy’s timeless music seems awkward. …Changing ever so slowly through the centuries, it has borrowed something from every culture it has touched, and yet it has never been bound by any one of them” (128).
A few closing remarks. Don’t buy this book through Concordia Publishing you will overpay. You can get it used off the internet for a 1/3 of the cover price. Second, Gene Veith is quoted on the back as recommending this book, and I suspect that Senkbeil would do the same for his. I’m not saying: Don’t read Spirituality of the Cross or don’t give it to a non-Lutheran. I am saying that Senkbeil’s book resonated, taught, and edified me in a way that Veith’s did not. So much so, that while I can count the number of times on one hand that I have recommended a congregation “Buy this book.” This is one.