Book Review: Being Lutheran
Author: A.T. Sutton
Publisher: Concordia Publishing
Reading Level: Leisure
Despite being the oldest tradition to come out of the Reformation, Lutheranism in America has the quietest presence in Protestantism. Despite having a great history of orthodoxy, Lutheranism is often misperceived by those more familiar with the chasms between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists or Baptists and Roman Catholics — similarities are drawn without a full understanding of Lutheranism. In an effort to correct this for both Lutherans and non-Lutherans, A.T. Sutton has written Being Lutheran. As Gene Veith writes in the foreword,
“For the already Lutheran, this treatment takes belief and practices that have become so familiar they are taken for granted…presenting them in a new way…For Christians in other traditions, this treatment shows what a Christ-centered theology built wholly around the Gospel looks like” (xiv).
Part 1, titled “What We Challenge,” looks “at the human tendencies Lutheran challenge” (xxiv). The section acts much like a Lutheran influenced introduction to Christian theology. Sutton speaks very boldly about Lutheran tradition and non-Lutheran readers may grow tired of conservative, orthodox positions being attributed to Lutheran theology. No offense is meant but serves to remind that Being Lutheran attempts to speak authoritatively about Lutheranism and not other traditions.
Part 2, titled “What We Cherish,” looks “at the things that are distinctive about being Lutheran” (xxiv). This portion of Being Lutheran is more valuable from a theological perspective. In some cases, these points are not Lutheran distinctives but presented from a distinctly Lutheran perspective or history. In discussing the new life of the gospel Sutton writes, “This may not seem all that radical. These statements may seem commonplace among Christian beliefs. That is because of Martin Luther” (134). Some of the “paradoxical confessions and unsolvable mysteries” (185) attributed to Lutheranism are shared by other traditions (e.g. “simul justus et peccator,” “Now and Not Yet”).
Still, there are particular Lutheran distinctions, and they are well addressed in Being Lutheran. In this vein, there are many good points of clarification to confusing topics. Regarding sacraments, Lutheranism stands against the Catholic Scholasticism that the “Sacraments delivered grace simply by performing the action (ex opera operato)” (156). Against some tendencies in the Reformed Tradition, Sutton also spends a significant time explaining how Lutheranism is “faithfulness to Scripture even when it leaves unresolved tensions” (184).
In conclusion, Being Lutheran is a valuable introduction to Christian theology and life from a Lutheran paradigm. It is laymen-oriented and well written. The language is concise and the practical examples are typically beneficial. With many practical insights for Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike, Sutton’s best pastoral moment comes when he states “Being Lutheran for no reason is dangerous” (251). Hopefully, after reading Being Lutheran all Christians will feel that way about their respective traditions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed 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.