Part of the Traditions of Christian Spirituality Series, Bradley Hanson's short work provides an excellent and succinct introduction to Lutheran Spirituality. The text is well suited for undergraduates or anyone interested in learning the essential tenets and themes of Lutheran Spirituality. It is reader friendly and marked with chapter introductions and synthesizing summations.
Beginning with a brief historical overview of the Lutheran Reformation and the subsequent development of the Lutheran Tradition (18-34), the work then moves to consider the Lutheran anthropological vision and dynamic of faith which accentuates the gratuitous initiative of God (35-46). Consideration of the divine-human dialectic of grace continues with the consideration of the seminal Lutheran doctrine of justification, including exploration of the early Lutheran Confessions as well as contemporary ecumenical declarations. Particular attention is devoted to Luther's distinction between grace as "favor" (God's acceptance of the sinner) and grace as "gift" (God's ongoing transformation of the believer) (47-63).
The author next examines the sources and authority of Lutheran Spirituality noting that Lutheran theology is "primarily shaped by two formally recognized authorities as sources of wisdom—Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions...(66)." Primary attention is devoted to Scripture, i.e., the Word of God, which is understood to be a "complex metaphor for communication from God," that has "power in it" to "make things happen"—above all the power to "elicit faith" (80). Illumination of Luther's understanding of the Word as both "law" and "gospel" is proffered, followed by an excellent consideration of how the Lutheran Tradition has sought to "encourage attention to the Word" via biblical translations, quality preaching, and liturgical music (83-97).
The concluding chapters of the book treat the Lutheran understanding of prayer, sacraments and vocation. Hanson summarizes the Lutheran conception of prayer by identifying four characteristic points: prayer is to come from the heart; prayer is to occupy one's attention; prayer is to be rooted in God's Word; prayer is not to be bound to certain formulas (98-99). Prayer is seen to be dialogical, consistent with the divine-human dialectic that underlines the Lutheran anthropological vision, with God taking the initiative in and through His Word to foster a personal meeting with the heart and mind of the human partner (100). The sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, and Reconciliation) are treated in some detail, examined from a historical and ecumenical view, therefore noting the parallels and differences in sacramental understanding which exists between the Lutheran and other Christian traditions (117-133). A survey of devotional literature produced throughout the unfolding of the Lutheran tradition is also provided (108-114). The work concludes with an honest assessment of Lutheran social ethics, noting both the strengths and shortcomings which have marked the Tradition and its treatment of the "Two Kingdoms" (134-147).
In short, this text offers the reader a clear and concise consideration of the major themes and issues of the Lutheran Tradition and how they have evolved from the time of the Reformation to contemporary ecumenical conversations. It would serve as a good introduction to Lutheranism or as a source among others in introducing ecumenism
. Towards the latter end, the work could be read with Communio Sanctorum as a companion text. At the mandate of the German Bishop's Conference and the leadership of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, a bilateral working group produced this document as a continuation of the dialogue between the two churches which has been ongoing over the past twenty nine years. Committed to unity which does not imply uniformity, or a diversity which is not church-dividing, the dialogue seeks a "differentiated consensus" which illuminates fundamental agreement and explains remaining differences (ix). The dialogue complements Hanson's book in that it traces the historical evolution of the Christian tradition and clearly and succinctly addresses issues regarding Scripture, theology, the sense of the faithful, the magisterium of the church, sacraments, the role of ministry in the church, the Petrine ministry and the communion of saints beyond death, including veneration of saints and Marian piety, from both the Roman Catholic and Lutheran perspectives. The dialogue serves as an excellent summation of the respective understandings of these various issues, providing one with a basic awareness of what the two traditions share, as well as an honest appraisal of what continues to divide them, thus shedding light on what steps might be taken to overcome remaining divisions. Consequently, the dialogue invites the reader to consider and explore more fully each tradition, and to join in the ongoing ecumenical conversation which seeks the unity of the church intended by the Lord.