Friday, July 13, 2012

LHP Review: Wisdom and Poetics




A Contrasts Review
is where our reviewers
contrast very different kinds of material
to better understand them all.


Walker, Riley and Marcia Patton. Foreword by Stephen E. Ott. When the Spirit Moves: A Guide for Ministers in Transition. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 2011. 161 Pages. Paper. $14.99. (LHP)


Dyrness, William A. Poetic Theology: God and the Poetics of Everyday Life. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011. 351 Pages. Paper. $26.00. (LHP)



Book review journals often decline to review books they have received.




Many are so deluged with unsolicited books that they wouldn't get reviews done for books of interest to their readers if they didn't decline to review most of the unsolicited books.


Some unsolicited books are self-published and so poorly written or edited they remain unreviewed to save everyone's time.


We have a moral obligation to review books that LHP QBR requests from publishers. And we've had the time to review nearly everything sent to us, requested and unsolicited. 


After five years, we've begun to post the following when we realize, upon receipt of an unsolicited resource, that it would not be suitable for our publication:


Unsolicited titles will be considered for review
based on the time our volunteer reviewers have available,
how interested we believe our readers would be
in the unsolicited resource,
and how closely related the item is
to preaching, Christian worship, and Church music.


We received one such unsolicited book and reviewed it in Volume 3, Issue 4, Angels' Tide, 2009.


Liturgy Review

Dyrness, William A. A Primer on Christian Worship: Where We've Been Where We Are Where We Can Go. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009. 164 Pages. Paperback. $18.00. 03/20/09

Disappointing. That is my one-word review of Dyrness' A Primer on Christian Worship. A primer should have the facts straight. Early on, Luther is lumped in with other "Reformers" (or else ignored due to the Reformed context, 22). When Luther is mentioned by name (34ff), his reforms are presented in typical Reformed caricature of Lutheranism: "So, while he recovered the centrality of preaching the Good News, he did not help to develop the worship practices that best expressed and celebrated this liberating reality" (35). Calvin, according to the author/revisionist historian (36), got it right, of course, succeeding where Luther failed!

We are once again fed the falsity that "liturgy is 'the work of the people'" (47). What of God's role in worship, Him speaking first and the people listening, repeating back to Him His most certain and true Name and Word?

Pietism is praised (57). Different styles of worship are assumed to be good.

The book fails as a primer because it fails at the basics. It is unsuitable as a reference for Lutherans, unless they use it to learn about the sad state of understanding of worship history, worship theology, and worship practice.

The Rev. Paul J Cain
is Pastor of
Immanuel Lutheran Church,
Sheridan, Wyoming,
Headmaster of
Martin Luther Grammar School,
Wyoming District Worship Chairman,
 and Editor of QBR

So, in the interest of our time and your time, we offer the following brief reviews of two books and our suggested alternatives in contrast.


Poetic Theology is by the same author as A Primer above.


Reveals the presence of God in the creative works of human life and culture

What are the "poetics of everyday life"? What can they teach us about God? Art, music, dance, and writing can certainly be "poetic," but so can such diverse pastimes as fishing, skiing, or attending sports events. Any and all activities that satisfy our fundamental need for play, for celebration, and for ritual, says William Dyrness, are inherently poetic -- and in Poetic Theology he demonstrates that all such activities are places where God is active in the world.

All of humanity's creative efforts, Dyrness points out, testify to our intrinsic longing for joy and delight and our deep desire to connect with others, with the created order, and especially with the Creator. This desire is rooted in the presence and calling of God in and through the good creation.

With extensive reflection on aesthetics in spirituality, worship, and community development, Dyrness's Poetic Theology will be useful for all who seek fresh and powerful new ways to communicate the gospel in contemporary society.

(Publisher's website)

Our take: not worth your time or money. I knew upon beginning the book that I didn't like it. It took me until page 292 to find a precise quote to show how silly and backward the whole enterprise is:

Poetic theology intends to reverse this order of things: it insists that we start with the cultural artifacts, especially those symbolic practices and experiences around which contemporary persons orient their lives. Scripture and tradition are thus reread in the light of the human drive to create a beautiful life. It is crucial that this be understood as an active and imaginative process. When have defined this in terms of two key notions: emplotment and performance.

 Here are my issues with the book:

  • Eisegesis!
  • Unnecessarily complicated language (and too long of a book)
  • Potentially idolatrous (exalting the creature over the Creator)
  • Too much Kant, Tillich, and Schiermacher
  • Unhelpful to pastors in the field

In Contrast, and to show I have no bias against true "poetics" or aesthetics, I recommend the following from Volume 2, Issue 3, Apostles' Tide, 2008:


LHP Book Review

Hendrickson, Marion Lars. Musica Christi: A Lutheran Aesthetic. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 313 Pages. Cloth. $73.95 (LHP)

Musica Christi. The Music of Christ. That's the Gospel.

My only disappointments with this volume are the cost compared to the budget of its intended audience and that a Lutheran Aesthetic is given its definition so late in the book: "The true Lutheran aesthetic, a beauty of holiness revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ…" (130).

"Theological aesthetics is a rapidly expanding subject in the field of religious humanism that, until now, has not had a participating Lutheran voice. Musica Christi: a Lutheran Aesthetic fills this voice by approaching the rich tradition of music and theology in the Lutheran Church through Christology. Furthermore, this study shows Christ's full participation in and by music. Selections from Lutheran works in Danish, German, Latin, Norwegian, and Swedish are offered in English translations for the first time by the author" (back cover). His theological and musical training and expertise uniquely qualify him to offer this book to the Lutheran Church.

One of the unique contributions of Musica Christi is a Second Article (of the Apostles' Creed) discussion of music in contrast to the usual First and Third Article discussions that usually dominate the discussions of the current "worship wars."

Good theology supported by reverent music are seeds of a Lutheran aesthetic found in Luther's own Deutsche Messe (15). The inter-relationship between the music and the text is an important consideration to answering the question, "What is Lutheran?" (51). This found impressive from in Bach's Mass in B minor (125, 129), a truly Lutheran contribution founded upon a deep understanding of Gottesdienst, God's service to us. Luther's dictum of "singen und sagen," "singing and saying" is also "determinative" (63, "From Heaven Above to Earth I Come," stanza 1). Appropriate music supports the fides quae creditor, the content of the faith, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the message that brings forth the fides qua creditor, the faith that trusts in Jesus Christ (78). The most important thing is the content, the message, the verba, the Word. The music cannot detract from Christ in the Lutheran aesthetic. "Music, like its twin sister preaching, has a proclamation function as well as an interpretive function. There is both homiletics and hermeneutics in musical proclamation" (259). "Music serves to apprehend, to make one's own, the gifts offered to faith by the mediating High Priest, Christ Jesus. Music is not a Sacrament, that is, music does not have the command and promise of Christ attached to it so that music itself bears the divine gifts of grace. It is music's role in and with the ministry of the Word (Incarnate, Scriptural, Proclaimed, Sacramental) that creates the apprehending faith of the believer" (263).

The original rhythmic forms of the Lutheran chorale were reclaimed in the 19th Century (Chapter 4). Rather than a mere repristination, this led to a period of both confessional revival and musical creativity. Luther's words were found to be well-supported by the melodies he wrote. I would love to read an English translation of Ullman's Liturgik (148), particularly because of his words from another work, "Art needs Christianity and Christianity needs Art" (149). A common saying in our day is "art for art's sake."

One of the unique Lutheran musical masterpieces is Brahms' Requiem. Lutheran piety shaped the alternate texts he set to music. As Hendrickson notes, "the work is more properly considered a proclamation and bestowal of the peace of Christ than a musical setting of the history of Christ's work" (167). Therefore, it makes perfect sense for the author to assert later that composers and musicians are assistants to those in the Office of the Holy Ministry (188, 254ff). Musicians should be trained in theology and pastors should be trained in music (272).

Christology is essential to a Lutheran discussion of music (83) due to the role that the communication of attributes (between the two natures of Christ—see Chemnitz) plays in this work, particularly Chapter 6, pages 216ff.

When music and text are understood incarnationally, music remains servant to the text, the Word made "flesh" in black and white print. When music dominates the words, as so often happens when worship is changed in order to appeal to the culture, the text is forced to be servant to the music and the message changes. The rule of the consumer dare not become the rule of church music (203). When reason or emotion or personal experience becomes more important than the clear word of Christ, similar problems emerge. The author quotes Luther D. Reed: "Our doctrine must rule our liturgics; our liturgics must rule our music" (200). Therefore, one must reject the assertions that "Primary Liturgical Theology" has to do with liturgy and that Scripture is relegated to so-called "Secondary Liturgical Theology."

This is a well-researched and articulate work, worthy of your attention. "Since what Christ commands and promises by His Prophetic Office, He bestows by His Priestly Office, and then orders in His Regal Office, the Musica Christi proclaims and bestows, and in that proclaimed bestowal fo the gifts of God in Christ Jesus, the music orders, not by Law, but by the Gospel proclaimed and bestowed" (210). Since the new song is Christ Himself, the Music of Christ is the Gospel!

"Marion Lars Hendrickson is a pastor in The Lutheran church—Missouri Synod, and teaches religion and music at Concordia University Wisconsin. With advanced degrees in music and theology, Hendrickson received his Ph.D. in theology from the University of Durham and is also a performing musician. He is the author of Behold the Man!, a book on the Christologies of John Macquarrie and Wolfhart Pannenburg" (back cover).



What WOULD we like to see from this publisher? How about:


Up next, When the Spirit Moves.



This is a reference intended by the authors for most denominations/church bodies, though I feel its advice will be more at home in more progressive and "mainline" groups. I felt excluded by a lot of the advice and counsel because of who I am as a pastor of The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod and our positions on doctrine and practice. 


That's my take. I'm not saying that the book is unhelpful, but that in writing it for "everyone" it is less helpful for a specific someone.



Table of Contents


Dozens of resources help churches seeking new pastoral leadership, but what about the ministers who are seeking a specific ministry call? How can a pastor discern when to stay or where to go?

Denominational leaders Riley Walker and Marcia Patton begin this practical and spiritual guide with the conviction that it is God's Spirit that guides ministry transition. Therefore, the transition process is essentially and uniquely spiritual, as ministers evaluate their current ministry settings and consider new contexts. The book does not offer a specific course but a plan for the journey. The authors identify:

  • Common areas of concern
  • Frequent pitfalls and missteps
  • Oft-traveled routes to a successful transition

When the Spirit Moves includes practical resources such as:

  • Personal skill assessments
  • An overview of the typical search and call process
  • Sample interview questions
  • Best practices for ending one's service with integrity and grace

(Publisher's website)


Would encourage our denominational publisher, Concordia, consider publishing a similar book for pastors (and their families) to read when considering a new Call?


I have yet to personally find an in-print book that I would recommend to a brother pastor or re-read myself while considering a call to a new parish.



LHP QBR is pleased to have a very positive and honest relationship with this publisher. There are theological and practical differences between the LCMS and their expression of the Baptist tradition, yet we can still appreciate wisdom, common sense, and Christ's gifts as Christians.







The Rev. Paul J Cain is Pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming, Headmaster of Martin Luther Grammar School, Yellowstone Circuit Visitor (LCMS Wyoming District), a member of the Board of Directors of The Consortium for Classical and Lutheran Education, Wyoming District Worship Chairman, and Editor of QBR.

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