I've just finished reading Bo Giertz' novel The Hammer of God: A novel about the cure of souls.
Set in Sweden in the early 1800s, the late 1800s and the 1930s, The Hammer of God is the story of how three Lutheran pastors each learn to rely on Jesus. Each is converted twice. The first conversion is an awakening from various forms of liberalism to the law, whereby they preach of the necessity of obedience. Their congregations experience mini-revivals and people embrace temperance and upright living. But after a while it's evident that something is lacking. Next the pastors experience an awakening to grace. Their revivals turn a corner in maturity, the pastors rediscover the liturgy and historic prayers of the church, stop talking about themselves so much and are actually able to help people.
It's a great book. You should read it. Here are a few thoughts.
1. This book is a tract. It's a novel, but the author's aim couldn't be clearer. He's not writing this primarily to tell us a story. He's writing it to make us understand that we are saved by grace and not works. However....
2. This book is thoroughly engaging. The characters feel real - particularly Torvik, the third pastor, who many scholars say is modelled on Giertz himself. At the beginning of his story he is fairly unbearable- awkward, a bit pompous and taken with liberal theology. He mellows through his conversions, and you start to like him, though tend to agree with his wife who
"often thought that her husband was a bit theatrical with his violent way of making problems out of everything and his melancholy disposition to wrestle with the windmills."
3. This book puts fire in the belly. I was moved and motivated to pray and speak and step up in obedience.
One further thing. This book has made me wonder more (I was wondering already) if we set ourselves up to fail at prayer by disregarding the disciplines of previous generations and not using prayer books or pre-written formulas etc. On looking through a prayer book his friend left lying around for him to find, Torvik (the third pastor) concluded:
Was not this the way he must go, if he should get away from this everlasting fluttering between vague feelings and hopeless inertia? If he were faithful in its use, such a framework of intercession would at least keep his prayer life from running dry, as it now so threatened to do.
He thought about it as he climbed the stairs. Was it not a fixed form, a settled pattern, that his spiritual life needed? Everything tonight had preached to him about the significance of the old heritage, about which the external Word and sound doctrine, which were not just a weapon with which orthodox fanatics fought one another, but rather a medicine for tortured souls and an antidote for one's own egoistic inventions. On top of it all, this little prayer book now came with its demand for a self-evident faithfulness and firmness also in prayer.
Anyone read The Hammer of God?