2016 Reading

I’ve just updated my reading list for 2016. The list isn’t quite as long as in some recent years, but there is some pretty heavy reading in the list.

If I had to pick a few favorites, I would say that the most interesting and useful books were Chemnitz’ Church Order and Loehe’s The Pastor. I had been waiting to get my hands on that work of Chemnitz for years, and while reading the Loehe book, I found myself repeatedly wishing I had access to it ten years ago (especially his advice for pastors just starting out in the ministry). Both of these translations were just published this year.

I re-read Bo Giertz’ The Hammer of God again this year. That’s always a favorite. What strikes me is that it seems like it reads faster and faster every time I read it. I’ve probably ready it six times or more now. See this post on re-reading books.

As far as pure enjoyment, I would have to say that Katie Schuermann’s two books were the most delightful. Every Lutheran should read these, if only to get you warmed up for reading The Hammer of God. Schuermann has said that Giertz’ writing is an inspiration and influence on her own writing. I think it shows.

Here is the complete list:

  1. Grace Abounds: The Splendor of Christian Doctrine (Daniel Deutschlander)
  2. House of Living Stones (Katie Schuermann)
  3. Gathered Guests:A Guide to Worship in the Lutheran Church (Timothy Maschke)
  4. Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today (John Kleinig) *
  5. The Hammer of God (Bo Giertz) *
  6. The Pastor (Wilhelm Loehe)
  7. The Choir Immortal (Katie Schuermann)
  8. Theological Commonplaces: On the Law (Johann Gerhard)
  9. Johann Sebastian Bach and Liturgical Life in Leipzig (Guenther Stiller)
  10. Praying Luther’s Small Catechism (John Pless)
  11. The Perfect Game (Terrence Moore)
  12. Chemnitz’ Works: Church Order (Martin Chemnitz)
  13. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
  14. Letters to an American Lady (C.S. Lewis)
  15. The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition (E. Christian Kopff)
  16. The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization: How to Taste and See the Abundance of Life (Mitchel Kalpakigan)

My book reading stack isn’t as big right now as it has been in previous years, but I’m looking forward to some good reading in A.D. 2017. I’ve already started a re-read of The Brothers Karamazov, and I’m looking forward to finally getting to read de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America. I also have another volume of Gerhard’s Loci coming up.

What was the best book you read in 2016 and what’s on your list for the new year? Leave me a comment.

Christ’s Church

“We need to immerse ourselves daily in the world of the Word. We need to enter into biblical conceptions. We need to meditate on them, pray about them, attempting to personally absorb them as people seeking salvation. We need to do this without worrying about how these biblical realities may be accepted or not accepted by others in church and society. We need more devotedly to live in the Holy Communion of the Lord’s Supper. We need to be more sincerely aware of our baptism. We need courageously to fulfill the social consequences of the truth concerning the great fellowship between all the baptized in the body of Christ. To the extent that we live in the Church and of the Church, to the same extent the biblical concept of the Church will become clear to us in all its depth and overwhelming richness.”

—Bo Giertz, Christ’s Church

Let the morning bring me word…

I used to plug in my phone overnight on the nightstand beside my bed.

This was a bad idea.

First of all, when my phone, which serves as my alarm clock, would sound early in the morning, it was too easy to quickly turn it off and go back to sleep. Charging my phone by my dresser on the other side of the room hasn’t entirely eliminated that problem, but it has made it more of a nuisance to get up and turn it off.

But there was a bigger problem. With my phone beside my bed, it was not unusual for me to just check a few things just before I went to sleep. And in the morning, when I was awake but too lazy to get out of bed, I could just reach over, and with one eye open, check my email, my Facebook or news feed. Worse yet, when on occasion I lay sleepless in the night, I could occupy my sleepless mind by staring at the world of information to be found on my phone.

In the past six months or so I have been spending a great deal of time in the Psalms. And I began to realize that my phone was functioning in the way that the Psalmist speaks of the Scriptures. Oops. Evening and morning I turned to my phone. Let the morning bring me news from the latest source. On my bed I remember my Facebook friends. No, that’s not how it’s supposed to go.

What if, instead of opening my eyes to see what my friends have posted, I did what generations upon generations of believers have done when they arose from slumber? What if my day was more punctuated by prayer than by my regular urge to check my phone? What if I did what Christians for centuries have done and prayed the daily offices of prayer that were basically a structure for prayer using the psalms?

So now my phone charges on my dresser. On my nightstand rests my Psalter. The nice thing is that there are many great options out there for someone who wishes to read, pray, and sing the psalms. Here are a few (beside the option of just reading them from your Bible):

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ESV Psalms
It was our congregation’s transition to the ESV that prompted my venture into the Psalter. My lips have been praying the Psalms in NIV for many years, and this was the best place to start to re-memorize. I love this little volume—the size, format, page layout. The only thing I wish this had was marks for chanting. Right now I’m just writing them in as I need.

Reading the Psalms with Luther / Psalms: with Introductions by Martin Luther
This is basically the Psalm text with some introductions to the Psalms written by Martin Luther. Ironically, Luther asked that people not print them interspersed with the Psalter as they did here. The older version is NIV and not pointed for singing. The newer version (Reading the Psalms with Luther) is pointed for singing and also includes psalm prayers for each psalm.

Concordia Psalter
This one was just published at the beginning of this year. It also has a nice size, it is marked for chanting with simple psalm tones for each psalm and psalm prayers. It is essentially a revision of the above volume, but with the psalm tones in place of Luther’s introductions. The cover is beautiful and feels great to hold in the hand.

Treasury of Daily Prayer
This is a much larger volume, for a complete daily prayer solution. But in the back of the book is the entire psalter, marked for singing. Additionally, the content from this volume is also available in the iOS and Android app PrayNow. One great little feature of that is that when you pull up the psalm (also marked for singing) it displays your psalm tones and will even play the tone so that you can hear it before you sing. This is great for travelling.

Psalm Schedules
In many of these volumes there is some guidance on reading the psalms. I usually don’t advise people to attempt to read the Bible straight through. But that doesn’t hurt to do with the Psalms. Remember that the Psalms were collected and arranged in the order they are in. They are intended to be read in order. Still, perhaps you wish to follow a schedule. And there is good reason to read certain psalms at particular times of the day, or at specified times of the year. I wouldn’t just read the psalms you are already most familiar with, or just pick them at random. Here are a couple schedules you won’t find in the above books.

  • Through the Psalter in 60 days. There is a similar chart like this in TLH and the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary for reading the psalms in 30 days. I have found that 60 days is a more reasonable pace. The other advantage is that this schedule assigns the evening and morning psalms to the appropriate times of day.
  • Seasonal Schedule. This one appoints four psalms for every day—two in the morning and two in the evening. During most seasons of the year this weekly schedule repeats. This one is nice to become really familiar with certain psalms during parts of the year. I first saw this schedule in the little book The Minister’s Prayer Book and more recently it was included in the Lutheran Service Book hymnal.

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Great Works

C. S. Lewis once wrote

“I can’t imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once.”

and

“The sure mark of an unliterate man is that he considers ‘I’ve read it already’ to be a conclusive argument against reading a work.…Those who read great works, on the other hand, will read the same work ten, twenty, or thirty times during the course of their life.”

Here is a list of books that I’ve read several times and repeatedly find their way onto my reading stack. I’ve excluded the books that are a constant part of my reading and studying, namely, the Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions in the Book of Concord.

In no particular order…

  1. To Serve Them All My Days (R. F. Delderfield)
  2. Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness (Harold Senkbeil)
  3. The Hammer of God (Bo Giertz)
  4. The Theology of the Cross (Daniel Deutschlander)
  5. Clabbered Dirt, Sweet Grass (Gary Paulsen)
  6. Handbook of Consolations (Johann Gerhard)
  7. The Spirituality of the Cross (Gene Edward Veith)
  8. The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel (C. F.W Walther)
  9. Ministry, Word, and Sacraments: An Enchiridion (Martin Chemnitz)

Experiment House Head

I laughed out loud when I came to this passage tonight as I was reading to Lydia:

After that, the Head’s friends saw that she was no use as a Head, so they got her made an Inspector to interfere with other Heads. And when they found out she wasn’t much good even at that, they got her into Parliament where she lived happily ever after.
—C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

 

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Handbook of Consolations Review

Here is a book review I wrote for our Seminary’s Grow in Grace continuing education web site.

Handbook of Consolations for the Fears and Trials That Oppress Us in the Struggle with Death, by Johann Gerhard, translated by Carl L. Beckwith. Eugene OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009. 90 pages.

Johann Gerhard (1582–1637) was a Lutheran theologian in the age of Lutheran Orthodoxy. He studied at Wittenberg, Jena, and Marburg, and was ordained in 1606 after receiving his doctorate in theology. He served as the superintendent of churches and as professor at the University of Jena. His major works include Sacred Meditations, Schola Pietatis, and his Loci Theologici. 

The Handbook of Consolations is a pastoral and devotional work. It is Gerhard’s contribution to the body of ars moriendi literature, an important part of Christian devotion in a time when life expectancies were considerably shorter and disease, plague, and war were regular threats to temporal life. Gerhard’s Handbook addresses the reality that the Christian faith is tested and tried in the face of sickness and death.

Gerhard wrote from experience. At the age of 15, Gerhard suffered through an illness that threatened his own life. As he writes this work, he is mourning the recent death of his infant son, and facing the imminent death of his wife (who would die within a month of writing). Gerhard himself says that “this Handbook is also for my own private use as I too bear a sickly body and frail vessel. Moreover, death recently made a very grievous visit to my house” (5).

Gerhard’s basic point is that Christians must be prepared for death. And since “death awaits us every day” (3), we must always be ready.

“Therefore the soul must be prepared for that blessed ability to die well and must be armed with the shield of Word and prayer. For if, at any time, our clever enemy conspires against our salvation and tries to rob us of it with all his might, it will certainly be at the last hour of our life” (4).

The Handbook lists 46 fears or temptations that trouble the Christian in the face of death. They are certainly not limited to fears in the face of immediate death, but also the eventual impending death which all face. Each temptation is followed by comfort drawn from the Scriptures, the Confessions, and from the church fathers.

Each temptation progresses logically from one to another, as Satan tries to find another opening to strike doubt and terror into the heart of the sinner after another door has been closed by the Word of the Gospel. As one example, in temptations 14 through 17, Gerhard brilliantly strings together a series of doubts which are answered in turn by the sacraments. The one who doubts the word of Absolution is pointed to baptism. The one who doubts whether he is still under baptismal grace is pointed to the Lord’s Supper.

The fears and temptations which Gerhard articulates are the doubts of Christians—they do believe, but struggle against the unbelief of their flesh. Many of the fears begin by affirming the comfort of the previous section: “Yes, I believe what you say. But…”  The words of “The Tempted” are words of those who believe Christ’s word and promise, but in a moment of weakness and in the face of death, doubt some aspect of God’s promise.

In some cases, the doubt comes from a false teaching, such as the “absolute decree of reprobation” which Gerhard calls “a false teaching of certain men” (24) and purgatory (80). Other temptations are incited by faulty logic and wrong conclusions, but these objections are answered clearly and concisely.

But in most cases, Gerhard puts words to the worries, doubts, and fears that all Christians face, from doubt about one’s personal status among the elect to real-life concerns about separation from family, an early death, or the dust and decay of the grave.

This little Handbook is a pure delight to read. First, because the temptations are so common. Gerhard speaks the fears, doubts, and temptations that face all Christians. And yet these are temptations and doubts that I fear most of us almost never articulate. How often do we voice our own fears of death? And so reading through these temptations is actually refreshing because it gives breath to the thoughts which many have, but never speak.

Secondly, the comfort is the sweetest gospel through and through. It is true, sometimes the comfort of the Gospel needs to be proceeded by a rebuke of the law. Gerhard is quick to rebuke and correct false ideas (I suspect because he is writing to himself). But the response of comfort to temptations in the fear of death take us deep into the Scriptures. Gerhard brilliantly weaves the passages into the dialogue and cites numerous writings of the church fathers alongside.

This little Handbook will be useful for the pastor as he ministers to those approaching death. In other words, everyone.

First, he should read this book for himself. He should read it because he is dust and will return to the dust. The pastor can recite all the passages of promise and he knows all the answers. But as he observes the mortality of the people he serves and as he does not grow younger, Satan will use every opening. The pastor may be the first to say, “Yes, I believe that.” But his flesh will still wonder, “But at the same time…” Gerhard has a way of reminding us of these things we already know, but like a good pastor, he reminds us anyway, and we are grateful to hear it.

As the pastor then prepares to serve his own flock as they prepare to die, what better manual for pastoral care could he find than this little volume? Especially today, an age where death does not so obviously surround us, even with all the violent images on film and screen, we rarely see death up close. When life spans are routinely longer, death (for many) seems that much further away, because the chances of it seem more remote. But perhaps that makes the trials and temptations worse, for they attack over a much longer period of time. We all know that we are dying. But to spread that knowledge over 80 or 90 years, with many of those years in gradual decline, leads to more opportunity for the tempter to strike.

If the pastor is close to his people when they are sick and dying, he will hear these very doubts. If he does not hear them, he can know that his believing members are very likely hearing them in their own minds and hearts. As Gerhard says, if Satan is going to attack the Christian at any time, it will be at the time of death. The pastor should do whatever he can to be that comforting voice in their moment of trial.

There are only certain books that will fit on the pastor’s shelf of books that he reads and rereads, perhaps every year. Alongside the sacred Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions, perhaps he keeps Walther’s Law and Gospel on that shelf, and hopefully Martin Chemnitz’ Enchiridion. For the good of his own soul and for those under his care, the Seelsorger would do well to add Gerhard’s Handbook of Consolations to this shelf, read it often, to comfort and be comforted.

“Since you yourselves also carry about you a body subject to disease, the reminder of death will daily be before your minds. Although your faith does not need these encouragements, which I have collected in this little book for the use of others and myself, I nevertheless think that your reading of this Handbook will not prove unprofitable to you; especially since it proceeds from a friendly and sincere mind. May the Lord Jesus everywhere bless us and the labors of our ministry by His grace and spirit” (5)

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Reviews

Here are just a few thoughts I had on a couple books I recently finished reading. I recommend both of them.

[amazon-product align=”right” alink=”0000FF” bordercolor=”000000″ height=”240″ tracking_id=”ashessto-20″]0801013186[/amazon-product]In Christless Christianity, Dr. Michael Horton examines the trend within American churches to replace the Gospel of Jesus Christ with something else. While this is rampant in much of what is called American Evangelicalism, Horton shows that it is a disease to which all churches are susceptible and which has infected nearly all branches of Christianity. It’s most dramatic in the realm of the Joel Osteen’s and Mark Driscoll’s of the religious scene. But what made me pause and shudder throughout the book is how much of the philosophy and theory has made its way into the ministry plans of even Lutheran pastors. These Lutherans wouldn’t subscribe to their theology per se, but they seem to be following right along in so many other respects. And I have observed that where Lutherans model their ministry after the same Evangelicals who have replaced the Gospel with a moralistic, therapeutic deism, they invariably tend to start talking and preaching like them. They don’t seem to know the difference between real law and real gospel. I just cannot, for the life of me, understand why a Lutheran pastor would ever even want to resemble that at all. I do not get it. This is an excellent book for gaining an understanding of what’s going on within the American church, and to recognize it when your pastor starts talking less and less like a Lutheran and more and more like—well, something else.

[amazon-product align=”right” alink=”0000FF” bordercolor=”000000″ height=”240″ tracking_id=”ashessto-20″]1613270011[/amazon-product]In He Remembers the Barren, Katie Shuermann writes about the struggle of women who are unable to bear children. The book is mainly aimed at guiding these women to find their fulfillment more in their Jesus than in their womb. It is a must-read for any woman who bears this burden. But I would recommend it also to their families, their pastors, their fellow church members. It is instructive for understanding the kind of loving care that these dear women need within their families and congregations, and gives some thoughtful insight into the uniqueness of the cross which Jesus lays before them.

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