Second Reformed Church

Monday, October 12, 2015

Review: "The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?"

Dr. Steven A. Hein, author of The Christian Life:  Cross or Glory?, is a pastor and theologian in the Lutheran tradition.  He writes in a very accessible but not "dumbed-down" style.

Hein asked, in contradistinction to much preaching today, if the Christin life is one lived in the cross, as Luther taught, or if it is one that is lived in glory now.  Hein argues for and agrees with Luther's assessment that we live and suffer in the life of the cross now as representatives of the Gospel and look forward to the glory that Christ merited and gives to us in the kingdom (3).

Hein begins by explaining that the Law con only condemn us and we can never do enough to satisfy it.  It is only when we believe in the accomplished work of Christ that we find nothing left to do (25).

He goes on to argue that love is the living relationship were are now in; duty brings us back to a place of death and incomprehensible unacceptability (33).

God condescends to come to us in the Law to expose our sin and then inn love through the Incarnation to engage us in relationship with the Beloved (42).

Justification, he explains is getting saved from the merits of our sin (missing the mark of God's requirement) and doing nothing.  That is, our justification is a one-time forensic/legal act of God in which we contribute nothing (55ff).

In this section, Hein, in what I find a curious and unbiblical explanation, that what happened in the Fall our our first parents is that humanity lost the Image of God (58).  As I understand it, the Image of God in us was marred in the Fall, but not lost.  The Image of God is -- at least -- part of the being of our humanity.  That is, not other creature bears the Image of God, and for us to lose the Image of God would make us less that human.  I don't find biblical warrant for this.

Also in this section (61ff), Hein denies the doctrine of Limited (or Particular) Atonement, arguing that if Christ only died for the elect, and we don't know who the elect are, except by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, there is no solid ground for assurance.  Hein argues, instead that Christ died for an actually forgives every person throughout time and space, securing an objective salvation, but argues that this does not mean that every person is saved, because, to make this work effectual, one must receive it through faith alone through the means of grace -- the preaching of the Word and the reception of the Sacraments.  To me, this contradicts Hein's earlier argument about our bringing nothing to justification.

Hein goes on to explain salvation,arguing that even in sanctification, there is no meritorious work on our part, because we can only do those good works which God uses to progress us in sanctification through the power of God working through us (74ff).

Here, Hein explains that in baptism, the Image of God is restored (77).

Sanctification does not mean, as Hein argues, that we no longer sin or struggle against temptation.  Hein takes the position that Paul of speaking of himself as a Christian in Romans 7, and this is the normal Christian life of the cross -- struggle and pain and suffering, until Christ returns (89ff).

Trial and tribulation is the normal life of the Christian:  as Luther said, "19.  The man who looks upon the invisible things of God as they are perceived in created things does not deserve to be called a theologian....  20. The man who perceives the visible rearward parts of God [posteriora Dei] as seen in suffering and the cross does, however, deserve, to be called a theologian" (120).

Hein goes on to explain that good works are a by-product of a healthy Christian life (133).

"The Church gathered is called to be the family of God that lives by faith under the grace and headship of Christ" (161).

He explains that the Christian love of neighbor is rightly expressed in Luther's statement, "A Christian is perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.  A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all" (167).

He ends his work arguing that Christ's body is physically present in the Sacrament -- against Zwingli and Calvin's argument that this would mean the divinization of Christ's physical body, leaving us without a human Intermediary and Substitute (179ff).

In answer to this problem, Hein poses that Heaven and Hell are not faraway, but very close by means of a dimension we cannot see -- so, Heaven, Hell, and our current reality all occupy the same "space."

I find this answer highly problematic, not the least of which is not answering the problem of the divinization of Christ's body.

All this being said, Hein's book is a masterful presentation of Luther's understanding of the life of the cross -- the reality of the Christian life on earth.  Even as a Calvinist, I find this a very biblical position and was thrilled and encouraged to read his exposition of the view.

Despite this work's great benefit, I cannot recommend it, based on the curious view of the loss of the Image of God in the Fall, his denial of Limited Atonement, and his arguing for the physical presence of Christ in the Sacrament, and I am very sorry to say I can't, because the main part of the book is excellent.


[I received this book free form the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  This review appears on my blog and] 

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