books, liturgy

Frank Answers About His Books

Frank, you are a prolific author!  
How would you describe your various books?  With regard to intended audience, purpose, and focus?
(We read mostly Pfatteicher and Lathrop when I was in seminary.)  

Answer: Thanks for your question. I’ve hung on to it for a couple of month while trying to decide how to answer it. I don’t want to write a long article about my life’s work, but what I have to say is too long for one of my brief answers. For those who haven’t discovered it yet, there is a page on my blog listing my published books.

This year is actually the fiftieth anniversary of my career as a published writer. I had published material in college and seminary publications. In fact, I was editor of the Hartwick College student literary magazine, Desideratum, back in my undergraduate days (1964-1965). But my first peer reviewed article was “Berdyaev, Orthodoxy, and the Theology of Hope,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 7/3 (Summer 1970): 455-75.

I’m glad you read Philip Pfatteicher and Gordon Lathrop when you were in seminary. They are also prolific authors. I imagine you read Philip H. Pfatteicher’s Commentary of the Lutheran Book of Worship: Lutheran Liturgy in its Ecumenical Context (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) and at least Gordon W. Lathrop’s Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993). Philip Pfatteicher didn’t teach in a seminary, so he couldn’t use my books in his seminary classes. But Gordon Lathrop told me that he had his students at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia read my Christian Liturgy — Catholic and Evangelical (see below), as did Mark Bangert at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. It’s also been used in some non-Lutheran seminaries in North America and in other countries.

The question asks me to describe my various books. Well, I have seventeen books of various sizes with my name on the cover, five of them collaborative (three of which I edited, the other two with multiple authors). There are twenty other books in which I have a chapter, plus articles in special issues of five journals (two in Swedish). Then there are several hundred journal articles, of which maybe a dozen would be worth mentioning. Being president of the editorial board of The Liturgical Conference (1995-1998, 2001-2004) made me the de facto publisher of Homily Service and Liturgy and other Conference publications. Add to that a couple of dozen articles in reference books and some published sermons and you can see that the task of reviewing my life’s work as an author would be daunting.

So here’s what I’ll do in answering the question. I’ll first discuss the intended audiences of my books. Second, in terms of purpose I’ll mention the books that I wanted to write for particular reasons. Finally, I’ll discuss the focus of my interests, particularly my recent interest in the body in relation to liturgy, sacraments, and spirituality.

Some of my books originated as academic courses or lecture series. So the audience of the books would be similar to the audience which heard my oral presentations: mostly pastors, students, and interested lay people. Of course, as a scholar I also wanted to share ideas with my peers. That is usually done in professional journal articles. The origins of the books are accounted for in the introductions. My contributions of chapters in other editors’ books were invited.

Christian Worship and its Cultural Setting (Fortress 1983; available as a reprint from Wipf & Stock with the above cover) was written to demonstrate what I had been teaching at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (1978-1981) since my non-renewal was focused, in part, on whether I included “contemporary culture” as part of my teaching. I was also teaching along these lines at the University of Chicago Divinity School (1981-1983). New Creation: A Liturgical Worldview (Fortress 2000) was based on two lectures series spliced together: on liturgical theology given in Sweden and on liturgical evangelism given to the Moravians in North Carolina. Embodied Liturgy: Lessons in Christian Ritual (Fortress 2016) grew out of a course by that title I taught at Satya Wacana Christian University inSalatiga, Central Java, Indonesia in 2014. Eucharistic Body (Fortress 2017) was based on lectures given to Church of Iceland pastors in Holar, Iceland in 2016.

Some books I wrote just because of my concerns or interests. The Witness of the Worshiping Community (Paulist 1993 was written to tackle the confusion of worship and evangelism that was rampant in the 1990s due to the impact of Church Growth Movement. The People’s Work (Fortress, 2006) was written to pursue my own interest in the social history of liturgy. Lutheran Identity (Augsburg Fortress 2008) was a manifesto of evangelical catholicity that I wrote while going through chemotherapy in 2007. Introduction to Christian Liturgy (Fortress 2012) was written to provide a liturgical catechism answering fifty questions typical of questions pastors wrote to me about.

Christian Liturgy–Catholic and Evangelical (Fortress 1997) is a special case. It was part of a two book project I undertook with Philip Pfatteicher at the invitation of Fortress Press to produce a resource for Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) comparable to Luther D. Reed’s The Lutheran Liturgy (1947, 1959) for Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). Reed provided a history and commentary on the Common Service Book (Fortress 1947) and revised it for the Service Book and Hymnal (Fortress 1959) . In our view Reed’s book could not easily be updated to account for the LBW. CSB and SBH were products of liturgical retrieval; LBW was a product of liturgical renewal. Reed’s book would have to stand as the classic it is. So in a comparable resource for LBW I was to write the historical background, making it no less ecumenical than Reed’s history, and Phil was to write the commentary on the orders and texts, also placing LBW in an ecumenical context. Phil published his Commmentary on the Lutheran Book of Worship in 1990; my history book was mostly finished around 1995/1996 and was published in 1997. By the way, Gordon Lathrop’s Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology was published in 1993. Between Pfatteicher, Senn, and Lathrop you have LBW set in its ecumenical, historical, and theological context.

I had thought about updating Christian Liturgy after twenty years and I even starting writing up revisions. But for now I have put that idea aside. To carry the story into the 21st century would require getting into subsequent Lutheran worship books (e.g. Evangelical Lutheran Worship and Lutheran Service Book, both 2006). Even now supplementary sources are being provided for those 2006 books, which looks like the denominations are gearing up for the next “resources.” Unfortunately, everything is time bound. My book is as much related to liturgical renewal represented by LBW as Reed’s was to liturgical restoration represented by the SBH. Reed’s book still has useful information. I trust that my book is also still useful. If Fortress Press is interested in a 25th anniversary edition, Christian Liturgy should still stop its narrative at the end of the 20th century. But it would include the influence of Greek symposium banquets and Roman public bathing on the Christian Eucharist and Baptism in the early centuries and discuss the whole issue of the impact of contemporary Christian music on the worship life of the mainline Protestant churches by the end of the 20th century, among other things.

Finally, in terms of issues of interest to me: obviously, renewing the liturgy as the public service of the people of God has always been my focus. To do that we need to know what the liturgical tradition is and to discern what in the tradition addresses our current cultural context. The cultural context can change. I came of age in the 1960s with its social revolutions (civil rights, anti-war, sexual/gender) and its ecumenical excitement. I was studying liturgy and serving on liturgical committees in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. I was in graduate school at the University of Notre Dame Theology Department when the whole work of the Council was informing liturgy, theology, ecumenism, the church’s mission in the world, and the understanding of the church itself. It was theologically and liturgically a heady time. I find much of that ecumenical liturgical consensus unraveling in the 21st century.

Where can we find a new commonality and a new direction for liturgical renewal? The liturgical renewal movement after Vatican II was textually-oriented. During the 1960s–1980s we were producing new books. We were engaged in issues of contemporary speech, gender-inclusive language, emancipatory God talk. This is stuff of the head. The rest of the human body was largely ignored, even though liturgical scholars were getting into ritual studies. But I believe it is in the human body itself that we can find commonality and renewal. This is not new for me. Already in my first book, The Pastor as Worship Leader (Augsburg 1977), my emphasis was on ritual actions, which requires bodily performance. The body has also become the focus of behavioral and social sciences, philosophy and theology. There are also no sacraments without a body to receive them–both the personal body and the ecclesial body. For me, the way forward is to focus on the body.

In my personal return to the body as a source of wisdom and communication after cancer treatment in 2006–2007, I discovered embodiment. We can argue about gender-exclusive or -inclusive Trinitarian language and emancipatory God talk, but there is nothing gender-exclusive about bowing and making the sign of the cross with one’s body. If liturgy is not embodied, it will not be engaging or meaningful to the participant. But the meanings the body provides are not like the meanings provided by scholastic theology. They are more phenomenological than rational. I explored these meanings in both Embodied Liturgy (Fortress 2016) and Eucharistic Body (Fortress 2017).

Now Protestant Spiritual Traditions, Volume 2, which I edited, has just been published (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020). The original Protestant Spiritual Traditions (Paulist 1986) is becoming Volume 1. Volume 1 included essays on Lutheran, Reformed, Anabaptist, Anglican, Puritan, Pietist, and Methodist spiritualities authored by authorities within these traditions. I wrote the Introduction and the essay on “Lutheran Spirituality.” Now 34 years later Volume 2 includes essays on Baptist, Quaker, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and East Asian Protestant spiritualities by authorities within these traditions, as well as an Introduction and a 70-page essay on “The Body in Protestant Spirituality” that I wrote.

The Body in Protestant Spirituality

Why did I add a lengthy essay on “The Body” to a book that was dealing with denominational spiritual traditions? Because this was a way of going through the history of Protestantism looking at Protestant contributions to Christian spirituality and Western culture that transcend denominations, and that weren’t much discussed in the essays. The list is long but not miscellaneous because one practice led directly to the next.

These contributions begin with an emphasis on marriage and family as a way of living the Christian life in opposition to the emphasis on virginity and celibacy in the ancient and medieval church. This implies embracing sex and sexuality as a divine gift rather than renouncing it as a drag on the soul. The family rather than the cloister became the center of spiritual life for Protestants. Arguably this was Protestantism’s greatest social revolution.

Martin and Katharina von Bora Luther’s home –the former Black Cloister where Luther had lived as an Augustinian friar.

There were consequences of the assault on celibacy that I felt compelled to follow to show further contributions of Protestantism to spirituality and culture. As monasteries emptied out and closed, Luther advocated using their endowments to fund town common chests to end begging and address the needs of the hungry poor. Other reformers followed Luther’s lead. Empty monastic buildings were turned into hospitals and orphanages, such as those in Geneva and Halle (the amazing work of pietist leader August Hermann Francke). Protestant ministries addressed the issues of bodily health as well as the salvation of souls. This became the strategy of Protestant global missions from the start; medical missions accompanied evangelistic missions. Protestant spirituality must encompass soul and body equally.

This could have been enough. But missionaries were dying from tropical diseases. The physical culture movement in the early 19th century, fathered by Friedrich Jahn in Prussia and Pehr-Henrik Ling in Sweden (both of whom had theological degrees), aimed to provide bodies fit for mission and ministry through gymnastics and exercise. (These pioneers also provided the basis for modern physical education). At home in Europe the inner mission movement addressed unhealthy social conditions in industrialized cities. This was the context for the establishment of the deaconess communities whose sisters provided health and social services to the physically isolated. Florence Nightingale, who trained in the deaconess community at Kaiserswerth in Germany, developed standards for the modern nursing profession.

The physical culture movement was promoted worldwide in the YMCA under its trinitarian motto of healthy minds, bodies, and spirits, and then was taken up in the YWCA. Concurrently, so-called Muscular Christianity worked for more athleticism in the churches to attract men and boys to church and mission (and to downplay the perceived feminization of the churches). Muscular Christianity died out in the 1920s, but it was the precursor of men’s ministries organized in the mid-to-late 20th century. (I explore Promise Keepers in the 1990s in this essay.) While these evangelical men’s organizations were homophobic, homoeroticism flourished in the YMCAs focus on the nude body and male intimacy. Gay cruising in the Y waned in the 1970s after associations began to admit women into membership.

A church basketball team. Basketball was invented by the YMCA for its urban gyms. It also invented Volleyball for use in its outdoor summer camps.

But as the YMCA ceased to be a Christian haven for homosexuals and the churches were unwelcoming, Pentecostal pastor Troy Perry reached out to alienated gays and lesbians with a church of their own, the Metropolitan Community Church. LGBTQ members are found in all churches and religions, whether they’re “out” or not. But only some Protestant churches have welcomed and included them, including in ordained ministry. African American Protestants, most notably Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Jr., organized and led the freedom marches of the American civil rights movement, in which marchers literally put their bodies on the line. Protestants also contributed to the revitalization of the modern postural-based Hatha Yoga through the athletic programs of the Indian YMCA and the promotion of the northern European physical culture at the Mysore Palace where Krishnamacharya was the head teacher of the yoga school. Protestants have embraced gaia theory in the environmental movement, which connects human bodies with Earth’s body, and have developed a stewardship of creation. This gives a glimpse of what’s included in my essay on Protestantism’s body spirituality. I hope you will read it for the details.

My Continuing Work

I recognize that this is not an exhaustive list of body-related practices in Protestant spirituality. Other scholars may want to follow some of these threads. But I’ve started a series of articles that address issues of the body and worship. Published this year was “The Body and Perception: The Philosophic Basis of Liturgical Participation,” in Bran Cones and Stephen Burns, eds., Fully Conscious, Fully Active: Essays in Honor of Gabe Huck (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2020), 90–103.

I’m currently at work on articles on “Ritual and Sacrament as Bodily Practice” for the T & T Clark Companion to Sacraments and Saramentals, “Liturgy and Inculturation” for the Routledge Handbook of Christianity and Culture, and “Embodiment and Entrainment” for the Oxford Handbook of Music and Christian Theology. God willing, there’s plenty to write about in the coming years.

Frank Senn

Liturgy is bodies in motion processing into the dimension of the Kingdom of God.

Leave a Reply