Published in 2008 by Concordia Publishing House, Grace Upon Grace by John Kleinig is an wonderfully practical book that does an outstanding job of encouraging Lutheran spirituality. With a direct and active style, Kleinig covers the topics of Christian spirituality, meditation on the Word, prayer, spiritual warfare, and our own hidden righteousness in Christ. Kleinig draws his line of thought from Scripture itself so that the book is overflowing with Scripture.
The subtitle of the book is, “Spirituality for Today.” I found Kleinig’s definition of “spirituality” to be very useful. First, he identified what the popular definition of piety is:
Popular piety presupposes our unrealized spiritual potential; it seeks spiritual enrichment and empowerment through the practice of appropriate spiritual exercises.
From that he explained what Lutheran and Christian piety must be. Spoiler alert! It’s different than popular piety:
We do not, as we follow Jesus, become increasingly self-sufficient. Rather, we learn, bit by bit, the art of begging from God the Father, until at our death we can do nothing but say, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!”
This passage is one of many where Kleinig develops the concept that Lutheran spirituality is “receptive spirituality.” His approach flows naturally from the Lutheran understanding of the Means of Grace and our status as recipients of God’s mercy and love. Indeed, the unifying thought of “reception” held the rest of the book together. For that reason I often found myself nodding in approval as I read, and I’ve highlighted dozens of passages in the book for future review and reference. As a pastor, I found the book invigorating and encouraging as I continue to teach Christian piety to my congregation. I also benefitted as an individual Christian.
Kleinig’s approach to the topic obviously flows from his own deep, personal spirituality. He learned in his own life that personal piety must be a spirituality of reception. And so he finds a way to tie each of his topics into that unifying theme, and he does so with the intensity of someone who clearly believes in what he’s discovered for himself.
Every Sunday when we go to church, every day as we do our daily devotions, the risen Lord Jesus comes to us, just as He did that first Easter Sunday. Jesus stands in our midst, breathes on us, and says: “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22). As He breathes His Spirit on us, we breathe His Spirit into us.
I appreciated how vividly Kleinig portrayed Lutheran spirituality. Intellectually, I know that these things are true, but the book seemed to drive home to my heart and emotion that yes, this stuff is real and it matters. In fact, very few pages of the book are devoted to steps and methods. Instead, Kleinig presents the principle in a winsome way, and only when we’re convinced by the words of Scripture and an intense application of those words does he go on to say, “OK, now here are some ways you can do that.”
My favorite chapter was the chapter about prayer. I think it exposed a number of flaws in my own approach to prayer, as well as some of my own shortcomings as a pastor. Not only that, it gave me a fresh understanding of prayer and its value.
Lutherans, particularly in my corner of Lutheranism, are quick to point out that prayer is not a Means of Grace. You are not saved by your prayers. Unfortunately, the side effect of hammering home this truth is that, for me anyway, we easily downplay prayer as something not as important as the Word of God and the sacraments. Perhaps unintentionally, we devote so much time to promoting the Means of Grace (as we should), that we unintentionally demote the idea of prayer and what we can actually receive through an active prayer life. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Kleinig presents Scripture’s case for frequent, intercessory prayer very well. What struck me the most were his practical comments on just why prayer is so important. Again, I felt it was an approach that convinced not only my intellect, but my heart and emotions as well.
Christian prayer, therefore, depends on our participation in the life and activity of the triune God. Our prayer does not depend on the development of any innate human spiritual capacities but on the grace of God given to His dependent children. It depends completely on Jesus and His work of intercession. And Jesus gives us His name and Word to include us in His prayer.
Kleinig’s approach works well with the growing popularity (thanks to resources like the Treasury of Daily Prayer) of praying the Scriptures, or praying the catechism. Our prayer becomes one of repeating and reflecting on the teachings of the Word, which in turn bends our hearts and wills to the heart and will of God.
The Father will give us whatever we wish because we will desire what He wants to give us.
Kleinig promotes the goal of attuning ourselves to the Word of God and therefore to his will so that we pray according to his will, and therefore join in the divine work of Christ as we intercede on behalf of those around us.
We Christians not only equal but actually surpass the miracles that Jesus performed in His earthly ministry. We continue the divine work of Jesus and perform the greater miracles of the new age where those who were born blind to God receive sight and those who were once dead in sin are raised to eternal life. And we accomplish this by prayer to God the Father in the name of Jesus.
Kleinig asserts, and rightfully so, I think, that the practice of regular intercessory prayer among Christians will not only foster greater personal piety, but closer relationships with those for whom we pray. That’s a good lesson to remember.
A few other miscellaneous notes about the book:
- The book is replete with useful illustrations to explain theological concepts. I think my preaching will benefit from coming into contact with so many good illustrations.
- The length was very manageable and the chapter subdivisions allowed me to read short bursts when time was tight. I read the book in Kindle format on my iPad. The paper version is 287 pages.
- The chapter on the benefits of meditating on the Word sparked some worship ideas in my head that I’m thinking of implementing at our Thanksgiving Eve service at St. Stephen.
- The book was useful in spurring me on toward accomplishing a personal and professional goal of setting aside a set time each working day for personal devotion, intercessory prayer, and meditation.
This is a good book and worth reading.