BEING LUTHERAN: Living in the Faith You Have Received. By A. Trevor Sutton. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2016. 291 pages. $14.99.
Being Lutheran is a book about following Jesus. It is not a book about following Dr. Martin Luther. And therein lies the value of this book. The book is divided into two parts.
The first half of the book tackles “What We Challenge” (p. 1). These are five areas where followers of Jesus should recognize a disparity between how the world operates and how Jesus has called us to live. Thus, we see Sutton assail those who would limit the Gospel of Jesus Christ or limit those who have access to it, while championing those who have advocated for its broad, bold, and bombastic proclamation (Chapter 1). Attitudes of apathy are attacked as being antithetical to the Christian life (Chapter 2), while a robust understanding of the whole body of doctrine is advocated for in the midst of a rampant confusion regarding the grace of Christ (Chapter 3). Laziness is driven away by a clear presentation of salvation by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ (Chapter 4), and an indistinguishable “confession” of Jesus is lamented as being pathetically ‘pastel’ (Chapter 5). Each chapter concludes with a vignette of a Christian who has nobly lived the faith they have received by meeting the challenges that following Jesus inevitably raises.
The second half of the book speaks of “What We Cherish” (p. 125). To those in-the-know, these chapters will be recognized as five areas where Lutherans excel at following Jesus. These fives chapters highlight the “distinctives” of the Lutheran Confession of Jesus Christ as Lord without getting bogged down in theological-speak. Chapter 6 is about justification, Chapter 7 the means of grace, Chapter 8 theological paradoxes, Chapter 9 vocation, and Chapter 10 the local congregation where the contents of chapters 6, 7, 8, and 9 are all intersecting with one another.
I am a pastor educated by and serving in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Without much difficulty, I was able to see where Sutton was going long before he got there. This didn’t make the book any less enjoyable to read. Sutton is a very gifted writer. He has a gift of the pen that is not found among many people, and yet this gift only serves to enhance the gospel of Jesus Christ, not detract from it. He is humorous without using humor for its own sake. He’s serious without letting the emotional response of the reader become a goal unto itself. He references historical Christianity without boasting of historical knowledge (though at times it does feel a little bit like forced “cheerleading” for the LCMS). This book really is about Jesus and what Jesus has done for you.
I can only speculate as to how this book would be read and received by a layperson. With that said, I have already recommended this book to many layfolks in my parish and beyond. I find myself often using the analogies and insights of this book during personal conversations and Bible classes to help convey the gospel to others in new ways.
This book is designed to be used in a small-group setting. At the end of each chapter is a series of “Discussion Questions” and the last thirty-six pages of the book are a “Leader Guide.”
This book was a delight to read. It was theologically unapologetic and unabashedly Lutheran in approach and doctrine (in case the title of the book didn’t make this clear). Trevor Sutton does a marvelous job of proudly holding onto the designation “Lutheran” while grounding his identity—and yours—in Jesus. He states this up-front in his introduction, “Although we call ourselves Lutheran, our primary identity is in Jesus Christ” (p. xxv). Sutton spectacularly reminds us of this in the conclusion, “I am not Lutheran because I want to follow Martin Luther: . . . I follow Jesus yet keep bumping into Luther” (p. 250).
As you follow Jesus, don’t be surprised if you bump into Trevor Sutton and the book Being Lutheran as well. You’ll be better off for it.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia/Immanuel in Cresbard/Wecota.