Let’s say that you have a friend, Tom, who wants to read up on Lutheranism. Tom’s parents took him to a Christian church semi-regularly when he was young, but he hasn’t attended any church since high school.
What would you recommend to Tom?
Scenarios like this sometimes appear on social media forums, and the same titles come up pretty consistently: Lutheranism 101 (General Editor Scot A. Kinnaman), Spirituality of the Cross (Gene Veith), Why I Am a Lutheran (Daniel Preus), The Lutheran Difference (General Editor Edward A. Engelbrecht), and The Defense Never Rests (Craig A. Parton). (Notice the Concordia Publishing House slant? Makes me curious about non-CPH books that readers might recommend.)
This month, I delved into that last title on the list, the one that, until recently, was least familiar to me: The Defense Never Rests: A Lawyer Among the Theologians (2nd ed., 2015). The book is fairly short, easy to follow, and addresses all of the expected distinctive points of Lutheranism.
So, what would the book do for Tom?
If Tom has an Evangelical background and tends to associate Christianity with being good, doing more, and doing better, chapters 1-4 and chapter 10 will likely resonate. In these chapters, Parton speaks as an Evangelical-turned-Lutheran, offering a personal account of his journey from Campus Crusader to confessional Lutheran.
Within these chapters, Parton critiques not only Evangelical Christianity but also Lutheran churches that have adopted Evangelical practices (e.g., church growth emphasis; subjective, contemporary focus). For readers like Tom, it’s no doubt helpful to know that not all Lutheran churches are alike. Parton tells such readers where to look for clues, noting, “The place that the three books of Lutheranism—Bible, hymnal, and catechism—play in the life of a church can tell you all you need to know about that church’s commitment to, and future in, Lutheranism” (158). (Discuss!)
For those of you saying, “Hey, what about the Book of Concord?” don’t worry. Parton gives the Lutheran Confessions their due within these chapters.
If you’re NOT a reader like Tom, but are a generally curious Lutheran who’s already heard quite a bit about the “Evangelical vs. Lutheran” comparison (complete with that recurring character, the Baby Boomer musician in shorts and sandals), you may want to focus instead on chapters 5-9, which focus on Lutheran apologetics (a defense of the faith).
In these chapters, Parton shifts into lawyer mode, establishing a clear need for apologetics in Lutheranism and showing how the faith can be defended convincingly against the objections of skeptics. If your friend Tom has doubts about the believability of the testimony of the apostles, or the reality of the resurrection, or the existence of God (based on the presence of evil in the world), he’ll get a start on answers here.
Parton’s short book isn’t meant to provide an exhaustive treatment of every objection or intellectual hurdle. Instead, he alerts readers to those objections and provides a wealth of material for handling those objections, including his own lawyerly defense, the sources he cites, and his “Annotated Bibliography of Apologetical and Theological Literature” (Appendix B).
In his conclusion, Parton confirms the dual nature of his book, saying, “In these pages I have traced my own spiritual pilgrimage from Evangelicalism to the Evangel—the Gospel of Jesus Christ as proclaimed and presented in its purest form in the Lutheran Church. I have also described the Christ-centered basis for apologetics” (161).
That’s just what you can expect: two books in one. Read or recommend whichever part is most useful, or read the whole thing. Whatever the case, you’ll get the message that the Lutheran faith is distinctive, and it’s worth defending.
September: Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults (Smith and Snell)
October.: A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics (Joel Biermann)