One man blazed a trail in the sixteenth century that laid the groundwork for countless numbers of Christians. Martin Luther was the primary agent who God used in a mighty way as he hammered his 95 theses on the castle door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. He unleashed a theological revolution known as the Protestant Reformation, where the Doctrines of Grace were recovered and the gospel began to exert a powerful influence in the lives of people.
Counseling Under the Cross by Bob Kellemen explores the life and legacy of Martin Luther and reveals how his theological framework influenced his counseling ministry.
What Shaped Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?
Part one explores Luther’s background and alerts readers to the oppressive environment that was so common in the sixteenth century. Luther fought desperately to find peace with God but was doomed to failure apart from completed work of Christ which is received by grace alone through faith alone.
Kellemen explains how Luther’s anxiety impacted his life in his early adult years. Luther admits, “For I had hoped I might find peace of conscience with fasts, prayers, and the vigils with which I miserably afflicted my body, but the more I sweated it out like this, the less peace and tranquillity I knew.”
The author continues, “Before he came under the influence of the cross, Luther lived life as a man terrified that he would never find peace with God because his God was not a God of peace. Luther lived with a constant sense of guilt and dread in the face of a terrifying, angry, and unforgiving God.”
The only way Luther found relief is by casting all his hope and future on a sovereign God, by grace alone through faith alone. Kellemen writes, “The Christ of the cross transformed Luther the man terrified before God into Luther, the man at peace with God.” This newly converted man now saw God in a different light which not only radically affected his life; it altered his ministry at every level.
What is the Shape of Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?
“Luther’s counseling reflects his theology – it is cross-shaped and gospel-centered.” Part two reveals the shape of Luther’s pastoral counseling. The author examines Luther’s approach to pastoral counseling by exploring two primary angles.
First, soul care: comfort for suffering. Luther’s theology and methodology of sustaining and healing are presented with specific examples of how the Reformer encouraged and edified the saints.
Second, spiritual direction: confrontation for sinning. Specifically, Luther’s theology and methodology of reconciling and guiding are presented here. Again, the author paints a pastoral portrait of Luther and shows him at work among the Body of Christ. While soul care (noted above) involves comforting and encourages Christians, spiritual direction involves a confrontation with people. Kellemen adds, “In reconciling soul care, we seek to startle one another with the gospel.” Such a nouthetic approach is mandated in Scripture (Col. 1:28) and plays a vital role in biblical counseling.
Counseling Under the Cross is a treasure chest of gospel nuggets. Bob Kellemen does a beautiful job of explaining how Martin Luther applied the gospel to everyday life. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the emphasis on indicatives and imperatives. The author makes it clear that both are important aspects of the Christian life: “Salvation in Christ (gospel indicatives) frees, empowers, and motivates us through faith to serve others in love (gospel imperatives). Progressive sanctification is faith active in love – exercising the love that comes from faith in the grace of Christ.”
I strongly urge pastors, counselors, and church leaders to prayerfully study Counseling Under the Cross. Additionally, I urge readers to pick up a copy of my recent book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther, as a companion volume to Bob Kellemen’s excellent work.