Author Interview: Steven Hein

Dr. Steven A. Hein currently serves as Director of The Concordia Institute for Christian Studies, an organization that offers auxiliary educational services to pastors and church gatherings across the country and in West Africa. He also serves as an affiliate professor at The Institute of Lutheran Theology and Colorado Christian University. He has previously served for over two decades as a professor of Theology at Concordia University, Chicago. He earned his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, a Master of Theology in Systematic Theology fromTrinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Historical Theology from St. Louis University.

Q. What motivated you to write The Christian Life: Cross or Glory?

Most of today’s best-selling Christian literature commend law-oriented spiritual exercises that promise a joyous, more satisfying internal experience of Jesus in your life. With anecdotes aplenty, such heart-warming experiences are offered as signs of a more mature and committed life in Christ. My intent in writing Christian Life: Cross or Glory? was to challenge these models of exemplary Christian life and evaluate them as examples of what Luther called false theologies of glory. Applying Luther’s Theology of the Cross grounded in the apostolic New Testament, I have sought to assure Christians that increasing awareness and alarm over their sin and turmoil from the fallen world are signs of normal spiritual health. Moreover, my desire has been to persuade the reader that such experience is evidence of a maturing faith and life in Christ. Healthy Christian life lives for now in the cross of Christ with a growing trust that we live by grace alone or we do not live at all. My desire has been to convince the reader that the Gospel promises a Christian life for now where the grace of Christ covers our sin, it does not replace it. Only in the Better Day of Glory will the reality of sin within and without be removed. For now, as Luther observed, we are and remain simultaneously sinners and saints.

Q. What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?

Because we live and grow in Christ by grace alone, we do not have to do anything before, after, or during to receive, live with, or retain the forgiveness of our sins and God’s favor. Nevertheless, such a saving faith will not be left alone. It will be visited increasingly by the fallenness of the world, the flesh, and the Devil. This is standard, run-of-the-mill, cross life of the Christian. There are three primary dimensions of Christian life and all of them are enabled only by the impact of the Gospel: 1.) growth and maturing of the New Creation toward the full maturity of image of Christ; 2:) equipping and strengthening the New Creation for greater spiritual warfare against the world, the flesh, and the Devil; and 3:) equipping for service to Christ through sacrificial works that serve the neighbor given in the Christian’s vocation where we live, work, and play.

Q. Lutherans are often accused of being weak on sanctification, or even of being antinomians. How does your book respond to this charge?

There are two erroneous understandings about sanctification in the Christian’s life, even among Lutherans. 1.) that sanctification involves progressive reform of the Christian’s character and a gradual restoration of the image of God; and 2.) that the believer’s godly works assist in accomplishing this objective and can be nurtured by encouraging them. Antinomianism is the belief that the Law no longer has a role in the Christian’s life of faith. This is false. The Law always accuses of sin and thereby continually serves to create the appetite of a repentant heart to receive the saving gifts of the Gospel. Moreover, the Law also instructs Christians about the character of godly works serving as a check against false conceptions of godly living and works that do not have God’s command (Third Use).

A false charge of soft antinomianism is leveled against those who rightly understand that when godly life and works are urged, exhorted, and admonished, it will always accuse of sin. Such preaching about the norms and demands of godliness therefore should always precede, not follow the proclamation of the Gospel. When good works are urged according to full contours of God Law, such exhortations will always accuse of sin. Exhortations that rightly teach and exhort good works will always expose what is undone and undoable and therefore should be followed by the comfort of the forgiveness of sins. In the preaching of God’s Word to all sinners, God uses His Law to prepare for His Gospel. God does not use His Gospel to prepare for what He would accomplish through His Law. Only the Gospel empowers good works in the Christian life of faith. The Law contributes nothing to their production. The problem of some misguided preachers of good works is two-fold. First, they exhort mere outward behaviors that watered-down the full demands of God’s Law; and secondly, these doable-by-anyone works are encouraged after the Gospel has been proclaimed.

Q. For those interested in reading more about the theology of the Cross, what are some resources to which you might direct them?

I would strongly recommend reading Luther’s Theological Theses from his Heidelberg Disputation, 1518. These wonderful pity statements present a concise outline of Luther’s Theology of the Cross. And as an excellent commentary and exposition of these theses, I would recommend Gerhard Forde’s On Becoming a Theologian of the Cross. And lastly, for a wonderful exposition of Luther’s radical understanding of the grace of Christ, I would recommend Robert Farrar Capon’s exposition of the parables of Jesus in his work, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus.

Q. Are you working on anything now?

The feedback I have received the past couple of years about Christian Life: Cross or Glory? is that while the language is very accessible, the content in many sentences and paragraphs are so fully packed and dense that they require a lot of rereading. I am working to expand and clarify some of the sections to make the content easier to comprehend and grasp by elaborating and expanding the discussion. I am also working with 1517 Publishing on a production of a basic Bible Study that introduces Christian Apologetics that hopes to be out in the early Fall of 2018.

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