Steven A. Hein. The Christian Life: Cross or Glory? Irvine, California: New Reformation Publications, 2015. See here to purchase the book.
In The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?, Stephen A. Hein presents his Lutheran view of the Christian life, as he draws from the writings of Martin Luther. This view emphasizes justification by grace through faith alone—-accepting God’s free gift of being regarded as righteous through Christ, even though one is still a sinner. It believes that God’s law exists primarily to remind sinners of their dire need for Christ by pointing out their sins and need for justification. For Hein, the condemning law and the saving Gospel are both relevant even to Christians, in that remembering them prevents spiritual indifference, on the one hand, and self-righteousness, on the other hand. Hein’s Lutheranism maintains that Christians perform good works out of gratitude to God for salvation, and also because their new nature is naturally inclined to perform good works. It also presents the Christian life as one of trial and struggle against the flesh, the world, and the devil. Hein upholds his Lutheran perspective, while critiquing other perspectives about the Christian life, particularly the prosperity Gospel, as well as Augustinian, Wesleyan, and Calvinist views.
The positives of this book were many. Hein speaks to the frustration that many Christians have as they try, yet often fail, to live a holy life. A lot of what he says about free grace and the limitations of the law is comforting. Hein tells or relays beautiful stories that effectively illustrate his message about what the Christian life should be like: the story of the husband who admits to his wife that he does not really love her, yet comes to love her when she says that she loves him anyway; and Kierkegaard’s story about the king who falls in love with a peasant woman yet wants her to love him authentically, not out of fear of him or his power. Yet, Hein is scholarly, as he draws from Luther’s writings and interacts with debates about Luther’s views on the third use of the law (i.e., the law as a guide to the Christian life). Hein also includes in his book some fresh and interesting insights. Hein contrasts Old Testament views of suffering with New Testament views, and he addresses the view that Christ is not present in the Eucharist because Christ is in heaven by presenting heaven and hell as parallel dimensions, not exactly as physical places. (I wonder if that could account for ghosts from a Christian perspective: we may see ghosts in our reality, yet those ghosts may also be in heaven or hell.)
In terms of the book’s negatives, there were times when I found the book to be rather contradictory. I was unclear about whether Hein believes that the law of God actually condemns the non-believer, for Hein said in a few places that people in hell are forgiven and justified. Hein presents good works as something that should be automatic to Christians, who have a new nature, yet he also acknowledges the struggles of the Christian life, which (in my mind) calls into question how automatic the good works are.
Hein also should have laid out more clearly the differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism. Both Lutheranism and Calvinism overlap, in areas. Hein, for example, likens salvation to God raising a dead body, and Calvinists have used this sort of simile in arguing that humans are so sinful that they can only respond to God if God enables them to do so, if God resurrects their spiritually dead selves and opens their eyes. Luther in the Bondage of the Will says things that remind me of Calvinism. At the same time, there are differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism, as I can tell from Hein’s book. Hein criticizes Calvinism for promoting spiritual insecurity, as people look at the quality of their spiritual lives to determine if they are among God’s elect, if they are bearing the spiritual fruit that God’s elect produce; Hein believes that his Lutheran view offers more assurance of salvation. Hein maintains that Christ died for everyone and that everyone, in some sense, has been forgiven (Hein cites II Corinthians 5:19), whereas many Calvinists hold that Christ died only for the elect, and that only the elect have the forgiveness that is unto salvation. Hein thinks that Christians can get to the point where they become hardened to God through their sinful lives, undermine their faith, and commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, whereas many Calvinists believe that the saints persevere in their faith unto the end. I did learn more about differences between Lutheranism and Calvinism in Hein’s book, but I am still unclear about how Hein’s Lutheran view holds together: How can it be so like Calvinism, in key areas, and yet depart from Calvinism, in other areas? Calvinism, overall, strikes me as having an inner consistency, such that its system holds together: God transforms the sinful person, such that the person stays faithful unto the end. How can God transform the sinful person, without that person staying faithful to the end?
Overall, I found this book to be edifying and educational.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through Cross Focused Reviews, in exchange for an honest review.