The first half of Being Lutheran has a lot of history of the Reformation and information about the time of Martin Luther (the 1500’s) and how Luther’s teachings were different from the Medieval Roman Catholic Church. However, in its talk of how Lutherans challenge being closed, lukewarm, ignorant, lazy, and pastel (which are the titles of the first five chapters) it doesn’t sound very specifically Lutheran.
A. Trevor Sutton uses a lot of modern language and wording in his descriptions. He certainly prefers the term “follower of Jesus” over the term Christian, which has been used since the time of the Apostles. Which is not incorrect, just trendy. Some of these modern words, phrases, and comparisons can be helpful, but some things like the mention of cat memes may not be understood by readers that don’t use social networks on the Internet.
My biggest issue is that the first half of the book doesn’t really make being Lutheran sound any different than other Bible-believing Christians. Of course any Scripture loving Christian is going to fight the impulse to be exclusive and to reach out to others who are different. Of course any lover of Jesus is going to see that sitting around the house and never praying or doing anything of service for anyone is a slap in the face to the freedom from sin that Jesus won for us on the cross. Of course any knowledgeable Christian is going to do his best to speak up in the face of mockery, try to remember to pray before meals in a restaurant, and not accept the scientific penchant of the day when it goes against God’s Word.The first half of the book should more appropriately be renamed “Being a Bible-Believing Follower of Jesus.”
The second half of Being Lutheran finally explains the doctrines that set Lutheranism apart. Lutherans take Jesus at his word and believe what he says about baptism, the Lord’s Supper, Absolution, worship, etc. This section was very good. I would recommend lifelong Lutherans to actually read this half first. It’s a little easier to hear what you should be doing (the first half) when you’ve been filled with the Good News of God’s Word (the second half). Other Christians should read the book in order because you can see what Lutherans and other Christians have in common before reading about our differences.
My only issue in the second half of the book is in the chapter titled Ordinary. Sutton says, “The flashiest thing you will find amongst Lutherans is an overly polished pectoral cross.” That’s not an accurate or fair statement. Plenty of Lutheran churches have beautiful windows, fancy processional crosses, and pastors wearing beautiful robes. Christian freedom allows for these things. So saying that Lutherans aren’t flashy writes off a good portion of Lutherans that retain more of the “high church” things than others. So unless his definition of “flashy” is simply to mean that Lutherans don’t do or have these things for the reason that they are earning God’s favor, then fine. But if he means that we so value simplicity that you won’t hear the majesty of a pipe organ with a timpani on Sunday morning, then we have a problem.
Overall, this was a good book, though I’m not sure who the target audience would be. He probably was trying to write a little for everyone. For pastors and those with more theological knowledge he throws in Latin and German terms. For typical laypeople he uses simple language. For those very engrossed in current lingo he uses that kind of language, too. For all types of Christians this book can be a useful primer into how Lutherans belief, think, and act. And for Lutherans it can be the kick in the pants that you need to remember to fulfill your vocations and serve your neighbors “as for the Lord and not for men.“