On Giving Advice to God: Devotions on the Wisdom of God and the Foolishness of Man (Two Volumes), by Daniel M. Deutschlander. Northwestern Publishing House, 2017/2018
Rev. Deutschlander has provided us with clear, evangelical, pastoral, and sound biblical devotions in these two volumes. Each devotion is about three pages long. The first volume covers Advent through the Ascension of our Lord. The second volume covers the church half of the Church Year, departing from the lectionary to cover the theological topics of redemption, the means of grace, the church and her pastors, the new life, and the end times.
The underlying theme of these volumes is Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 1:25, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” The title, “On Giving Advice to God,” puts the devotions into perspective. Deutschlander sets forth the biblical or doctrinal situation, offers the most reasonable human response to it, marvels at how foolish God’s response appears to be, and then proceeds to show us the boundless grace of God’s wisdom. He understands how people think. He is familiar with the carnal objections to God’s grace and is quite adept at refuting them.
Deutschlander writes with confidence that the great mysteries of the faith are inherently powerful to elicit, sustain, and strengthen faith. From the incarnation to the crucifixion of Jesus, he shows how what is contrary to human reason and expectation is exactly what the doctor ordered for our spiritual health. He does not hesitate to delve deeply into Christian doctrine to find the truth that meets all human needs. These devotions are doctrinal, catechetical, pastoral, biblical, and, above all, evangelical.
Rev. Deutschlander demonstrates how instruction in the pure doctrine is the essence of pastoral care in his devotions on redemption, the means of grace, and the church and her pastors. Referring to the “pictures” of atonement, reconciliation, and justification, he teaches and applies the gospel to faith and for faith. His theology is thoroughly Lutheran and evangelical. While emphasizing faith, he does not make it the cause of what it receives, but teaches divine, gracious monergism throughout. He stays within the Synodical Conference tradition on such matters as objective justification and the efficacy of the absolution, clearly teaching both.
His presentation of the doctrine of the means of grace is clear and thorough. While following the structure of the Catechism, he does not refer to it or cite it. Among the means of grace, he includes: the gospel in the Word, the gospel in baptism, the gospel in the Sacrament of the Altar, and the gospel in absolution. He does not explicitly mention the sermon, though it might be assumed that for many if not most Christians, this is where the Word of God is most definitively given.
His treatment of absolution was to this reviewer quite refreshing. Instead of debating about whether absolution can be bestowed only by the pastor, he teaches that it is given to all Christians and assumes that Christians will make use of the keys in their daily lives. He also encourages Christians to avail themselves of the care of their pastors. He treats the corporate confession and absolution in the Divine Service, not as an inferior form of absolution, but as the ordinary way it is bestowed in the life of the Christian. Still, he promotes and encourages personal and private confession and absolution as well. His treatment of absolution shows a seasoned familiarity with people. He does not impose. He does not lecture us on how authentic Lutheranism requires a particular form of confessing and absolving. Instead, he speaks in generous and evangelical language, encouraging sinners to avail themselves of God’s absolution in whatever form it may come. Rev. Deutschlander, a pastor and teacher in the Wisconsin Synod for many years, says nothing on the topic of the church and the pastoral office that would not receive a hearty “Amen” from a Missourian.
As stated above, the theme is the counterintuitive teaching of the Apostle Paul that God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom. Developing this theme throughout accomplishes three things. First, it reminds us of our inherent spiritual blindness and utter dependence on the Word of God for spiritual light. Second, it encourages us to rely on God’s Word implicitly, especially when it appears to our human reason to be foolish. Third, it prepares us for the disdain of the world that thinks it knows so much better than God about what is what in the spiritual realm, yet remains blinded by unbelief. Deutschlander is familiar with the daily battle the Christian must wage and endure. His devotions provide weapons with which to fight.
One last observation is in order. As Lutherans today face the threat of antinomianism from certain quarters and acquiesce to the threat by neglecting the teaching and preaching of sanctification, these volumes provide great encouragement to the preacher to preach sanctification. Deutschlander does so quite effectively, showing the organic connection between the forgiveness God freely gives us in Christ and the new life we live on account of being justified by God. His emphasis on the new life of the Christian in no way detracts from the centrality of the doctrine of justification, but rather confirms it. Reading these devotions will reinforce you in your prior Lutheran conviction that the pure doctrine is food for the soul.
I highly recommend these volumes as additions to your daily devotions.