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Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life
Bob Kellemen
New Growth Press 2017

This month the world celebrates the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation when Luther pinned his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. As part of your celebration, you will want to take time to read Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life by Bob Kellemen. Bob tells the story of Luther in a fresh way. As you travel with Bob through the life and writings of Martin Luther, you will be challenged, encouraged, emotionally engaged, and provoked. Along the journey, Bob observes Luther’s ministry and helps you see how you can also serve those in and around your life as well.

Book Summary

The book contains two sections: the first section relates to Luther’s personal life story, and the second section follows his ministry to others. In section one (chapters one and two), Kellemen shares the life and story of Martin Luther. Chapter one tells of the constant terror and spiritual trials of Luther early in life. In chapter two, Kellemen describes the dramatic change salvation and the cross of Christ made in Luther’s life and ministry. He focuses on justification (forgiveness in Christ) and reconciliation (acceptance by the Father).

In section two, Kellemen uses a historical focus of pastoral care and spiritual direction to evaluate Luther’s life and ministry. He helps focus the story of Luther’s work in four primary content areas as they relate to suffering and sin: comfort for suffering – sustaining and healing, confrontation for sinning – reconciling and guiding. He uses this four-part model, alongside Luther’s own writing, to challenge Christians to consider how to both live and minister the Gospel too.

Kellemen’s Voice

Kellemen approaches Luther’s story as his friend, admirer, and student. On the opening page you learn of Bob’s indebtedness to Luther. He writes, “I ADMIT it. This is an unusual title for an introduction: ‘Martin Luther Reformed My Life and Ministry.’” He continues, “More than a play on words, this is an honest confession. Martin Luther reformed my Christian life and my counseling ministry.”

As you read further, you read the observations of a pastor-counselor who has been blessed by Luther’s work as a theologian-reformer and pastor-counselor. Because of this, Kellemen’s voice is both warm and compassionate as he evaluates Luther and his works. The result…Luther’s story is personal, touching, and challenging.

“Counseling Through the Lens of the Cross”

Chapter three is my favorite chapter in section two as Kellemen sets the stage for the rest of the book. In this chapter, he tells the story of Luther’s mom as her son ministered to her on her death bed as evidenced in a published personal letter from him to her dated May 20, 1532. Martin’s letter to his dear mother introduces key elements of Kellemen’s counseling model, through which he observes Luther’s works.

Luther’s heart of gospel-saturated compassion shines through the lines of this personal letter. Concerned Martin sent a prayer for his mother to rehearse whenever she was discouraged in her sickness. In response to John 16:33, Luther encouraged his mom to pray this prayer against Satan, sin, and death. He writes,

I shall cling to him, and to his words and comfort, I shall hold fast; regardless of whether I remain or go yonder, I shall live by this word, for he does not lie to me. You would like to deceive me with your terrors, and with your lying thought you would like to tear me away from such a victory and savior. But they are lies, as surely as it is true that he has overcome you and commanded us to be comforted.[1]

Kellemen continues, “Luther exhorted his mother toward confidence in Christ alone and in Scripture alone: ‘By such words and thoughts, and by none other, let your heart be moved, dear Mother.’”[2]

Recommendation: Read It

As you begin to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, you should consider reading this book to learn more of Martin Luther’s life, struggles, victory in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and his ministry of the Word. As you read excerpts of Luther’s over 2,500 extant letters, Table Talks, and other writings, you will grow in appreciation for his view of the centrality of Christ and the Scriptures. Furthermore, Luther demonstrates how a pastor’s concern for proper theology flows out of a compassionate desire to help people with their suffering and sin. In the process, may all of us who read Counseling Under the Cross be challenged to make Christ the center of our life and ministry.

[1] Kellemen, p. 43

[2] Ibid.

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