Book Review: Counseling Under the Cross

IMG_0119The Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century was a pivotal point in Church History. The effects of this movement are still felt today. Through the work of the Holy Spirit and the faithfulness of the reformers, this period recovered many biblical ideals that were lost in the preceding centuries. Among these were the authority of Scripture, salvation by faith alone, the preisthood of all believers, and the need for local pastoral ministry. In his new book Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life (New Growth Press, 2017) Dr. Bob Kelleman discusses the pastoral ministry, particularly pastoral counseling, modeled by Martin Luther. This aspect of pastoral ministry was neglected during Luther’s time, and is an important part of ministry in the church today.

Pastoral ministry in general and pastoral counseling in particular was largely non-existent during the Middle Ages. Pastoral engagement with parishioners was reduced to the admistering of the sacraments. However, early in the sixteenth century reformers such as Martin Luther rediscovered the need for pastoral ministry that extended beyond the sacraments. As the Protestant movement broke away from the established Catholic Church, an emphasis on the local church began to take precendent. This meant that the needs of parishioners were dealt with in a more personal way within the context of congregations. Particularly, pastoral counseling became an important aspect of local church ministry. In Counseling Under the Cross Dr. Kelleman constructs Luther’s practical theology of pastoral counseling by relying on original sources, such as personal letters, Luther’s books/published writings, and the personal accounts of others as recorded in Table Talk. He discusses two basic aspects of Luther’s ministry (1) what shaped his pastoral counseling, and (2) the shape of Luther’s pastoral counseling.

First, what shaped Luther’s pastoral counseling was his own experience with God’s grace. Luther grew up believing that God was vindictive and was extremely afraid of His wrath. He was ever aware of his own shortcomings and the realization that he could never measure up to God’s standard. He saw this as a curse against him. However, while studying the book of Romans, Luther discovered that the wrath of God had been poured out on Jesus through the work of the cross. This meant that salvation was not earned through participating in the sacraments, but freely given by God’s grace. Luther then began to live his life in light of the cross and allowed it to shape every aspect of his life, including his pastoral ministry.

Second, the shape of Luther’s pastoral counseling was extremely personal and biblically focused. He counseled and exhorted his friends, family, and parshionhers through the lens of the cross realizing that there are four basic aspects of pastoral counseling, sustaining and healing (parakaletic counseling) and reconciling and guiding (nouthetic counseling). Luther saw his pastoral role as a physician for souls, pointing them to the only source for true healing namely the cross. Dr. Kelleman discusses both Luther’s theology and methodology for each of these four aspects, providing a model for pastoral counseling that can be applied to the local church today.

Counseling Under the Cross is a practically helpful resource for pastors, as well as lay and professional Christian counselors. This resource would also make a great supplemental reading for course work in a Christian counseling degree program. I would reccomend this resource with one disclaimer by reminding the reader that the scope of Dr. Kelleman’s book is pastoral counseling. In some cases parishioners may need more extensive counseling or psychological help requiring professional/clinical resources. However, the book adds great value to the field of pastoral counseling and its implementation into the life of the local church. Dr. Kelleman stands firmly on the biblical precedent as recovered by Martin Luther during the sixteenth century.



I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the book. It is available for purchase at all major book retailers.


Book Review: Reformation Theology A Systematic Summary

Does the Reformation still matter? I suppose a better question is, does reformed theology still matter? Does it still have a place in the Twenty First Century’s theological landscape? Many Christians are not familiar with names such as Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, or Tyndale. Even more, they are not familiar with the theological truths they championed and how these truths apply to their lives. As we approach the 500th Anniversary of the unofficial beginning of the Reformation, it is crucial that we champion once again these theological truths and remind the Church why they matter. This is what Matthew Barrett (General Editor) accomplishes in his new book Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary published by Crossway (2017).

“Reformation Theology” is a broad term. It encompasses varying ideas from a host of theological traditions including Lutheran, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, etc. For the purposes of reformation studies a concise definition would be “the predominant theological truths rediscovered and propagated during the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation.” Truth be told some of the reformers sharply disagreed on some theological viewpoints. Such as Luther and Zwingli over the issue of Christ’s presence in communion. However, there was a basic consensus that transcended regions during this period of time. Many of those ideas are still believed and practiced today by Christians the world over. This is the focus of Barrett’s systematic theology.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One gives an overview of the historical background and theological landscape of the sixteenth century. It discusses the varying reformations that comprised the Protestant Reformation, how they differ and how they intertwine. Part Two discusses the main teachings of reformation tradition via systematic overview of the theological ideas espoused by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Tyndale, etc. These topics include the attributes of God, predestination and election, the person and work of Christ, baptism, communion, the Church, and eschatology, etc. The reformers had varying views on each of these topics and many of them disagreed sharply. However, they were issues central to the heart of the Reformation of the sixteenth century and subsequent generations.

The main divide between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Reformers: the issue of authority. The crux of the Reformation and the theological truth from which all others flow is the teaching of Sola Scriptura, that Scripture alone is the final authority for all aspects of the Christian life. Roman Catholic theology held Holy Scripture in high esteem. However, it held the teachings of church fathers, church councils, and the pope on the same level. The scriptures themselves were translated into Latin, a language unknown by common folk. This prevented the laity from reading scripture for themselves, forcing them to trust the clergy and the pope to rightly interpret for them.

Due to the rise of the humanist idea of going back to sources, the New Testament was read in the original Greek, thanks to scholars such as Erasmus who compiled a version in 1516. Many of the reformers obtained copies of this New Testament and they began to translate it into their mother tongue, allowing the common folk to read the scriptures for themselves for the first time. For the reformers, Scripture alone was the highest authority for the Church and the Christian life. It was over this issue that many of the reformers eventually split from the Catholic Church. Some of the reformers even gave their lives for the sake of this truth. By reading the scriptures for themselves, this opened the dialogue for other theological discussions and doctrinal formations, the effects of which are still felt today.

Most Protestant traditions trace their heritage back to the sixteenth century reformation. Yet, even today many Reformation heritage churches disagree, as did the reformers, on issues such as the mode of Baptism, church polity, predestination and election, eschatology, etc. In reformation theology, there is room for disagreement and discussion. That is the beauty of having the freedom to read and apply Scripture in the context of the local church. However, what binds together most congregations of the reformed tradition are the five solas: sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, sola Christus, and sola Deo Gloria. Namely, salvation preached as a gift from God by grace through faith in the work of Christ as revealed in Scripture to the glory of God.

Reformation Theology is an excellent source to further one’s understanding of the theological formation of the sixteenth century reformers. It is well laid out and clearly presents the material for ease of study. The contributors go in depth on the varying topics by leaning heavily on original sources such as formal writings and personal correspondence from the reformers in order to draw their conclusions. This book is a much needed contribution to the academic world regarding this period in Christian thought. It will serve as an excellent textbook or additional reading for seminary or graduate level classes on the Reformation. The book is also a great resource for the lifelong learner who desires to grow in their knowledge of the subject. I highly recommend this timely book and hope that it is utilized to rekindle the flame of the Reformation in our day.

I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book. It is available for purchase at all major book retailers. 

500 Years of the Reformation


This year marks the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Protestant reformation when on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenburg. Although reformation ideas had been circulating long before Luther (think Jon Hus and Joh Wicliffe to name a few), he kickstarted one of the biggest movements in modern world history. The celebration of the Reformation has both societal and spiritual implications. Western society owes its foundation to many of the landmark events of the Reformation. But most significantly the Reformation sparked a spiritual revival that we are still feeling the effects of today.

The theological ideas of the priesthood of all believers, the sufficientcy of Christ, and the sovereignty of God all found their renewal in modern history through the work of the reformers. The basic doctrines of all evangelical churches would not be possible without the Reformation. Although, there came to be factions and sects within the Reformation, all modern followers of Christ owe a grate deal of gratitude to the work of God during the time period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For this reason, I have selected a reading plan for 2017 that will focus mainly on the German reformation through the work of Martin Luther, but will touch on the reformation in Switzerland through the work of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli and the English reformation through the work of William Tyndale and others. Below is a selected list of the biographies, histories, lectures, theologies and other resources I will be using this year and I reccomend them to anyone interested in deepening their own study of and appreciation for one of the most important eras of Church history.




Book Review: Gospel Fluency

imageWhat is the gospel? The gospel is the central teaching of the Bible and Christian life, what the Apostle Paul called the “first importance” (1 Corinthains 15:3). Namely, it is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. Theologically, it is the way in which sinners can come to have a relationship with God through the work Jesus on the cross. His righteousness is exchanged for ours and we are counted as righteous before God. All believers in Jesus would claim to know this truth, as well they should. But do all believers in Jesus truly allow this truth to have its full work in their lives? This is what Jeff Vanderstelt discusses in his new book Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life published by Crossway.

If the gospel is to be of first importance, it must be preeminent and affect every area of the Christian’s life. But as Jeff Vanderstelt argues in the book, not all professing believers are fluent enough in the gospel for it to work itself out in their lives. Gospel fluency, like knowing any language, takes practice and applying to all of life. The more it is used, the more proficient one becomes. But unlike knowing another language or skill, the work of the gospel is shaped in the life of believers through the Spirit of God as it is applied on a regular basis. Better put, the more one applies the gospel, the more they allow the Spirit of God to work in their lives.

The book is well laid out into five parts. Part One named “Gospel Fluency” sets up the remainder of the book by laying out the argument for the need of applying the gospel to all of life. Vanderstelt argues that all people struggle with unbelief. Some people are fully unbelievers, in that they do not yet believe in Jesus. But even people who profess to follow Jesus do not believe that His work is sufficient in certain areas of their lives. Vanderstelt displays this truth through stories and saturates the book with scripture to make his point. Becoming more gospel fluent continues the work of sanctification in an effort to become more Christlike in every area of life.

Part Two named “The Gospel” is a basic theological treatise on the overarching storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation. He walks through the entire Bible to demonstrate the work of God in history to restore what was broken by sin. Again he saturates the section with scripture and highlights his points through stories of his pastoral and personal experiences. Parts three and four named “The Gospel in Me” and “The Gospel with Us” demonstrate that Jesus is the hero in the lives of individual believers and how this is displayed in the life of the Church. The rhythms of rememberance through worship and the Lord’s Supper serve as reminders for the need of the gospel through community.

Part Five named “The Gospel to Others” demonstrates the importance of the Church being on mission in the world to share the truth of the gospel with others. This is accomplished when individual believers all the gospel to affect all of their lives in family, work, and leisure. As followers of Jesus rub elbows with all types of people daily, they have opportunity to live and share the gospel. The Church accomplishes this by displaying the love of Jesus to the community collectively and by equipping believers to be on mission.

Gospel Fluency is an excellent practical theology of the gospel and I highly reccomend this book as resource for pastors, church leaders, and individual believers to grow in the gospel. The way Vanderstelt ties Biblical truth with story demonstrates the power of the gospel in real lives. This is highly encouraging for all believers and churches. He does not propose a fool proof model for church growth and discipleship. The gospel model he lays out in the book has been used throughout Church history and is the only hope for the Church in the future. The gospel is the first importance and without that hope, our faith is in vain.

I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life

img_0081Human beings are not simple creatures. We are a complex web of what we think, what we believe, and how we behave. All three aspects of the human experience affect how we relate to God, ourselves, others, and our circumstances. In personal ministry and faith based counseling, these aspects must be kept in mind, because the root issue may connected to something different than the issue at hand. This is what Dr. Jeremy Pierre discusses in his new The Dymanic Heart in Daily Life published by New Growth Press.

Most of us are not as self-aware as we would like to admit. Many times our behavior is connected to something deeper than what is on the surface. When we can get past the superficial issue, down to the root of what is going on in our heart we can begin to see growth and healing. For many of us we need help doing that which is why we turn to friends, pastors, and counselors for help. Whether you are the friend, pastor, or counselor it is important to be equipped to point the person seeking counsel what is truly going on in the heart.

In the book, Pierre gives a biblical theology of the human heart and its dynamic nature. He shows how what we think affects our beliefs (desires) which in turn affects our behavior and how that relates to the world around us. The goal of ministry and faith-based counseling is to look past the behavior to what is truly going on in the heart. Many times behavior can be modified by repenting of wrong thinking and beliefs, which is the theory of neuthetic counseling. Sometimes, however, additional psychotherapy and/or medication can be helpful. Pierre seems to point to a faith-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach in personal ministry and counseling. Basically, our behavior can be modified when we reorient our thinking and beliefs to match what Scripture says about who God is and who we are. The goal is to help others become more self-aware and help them apply the gospel to every day life situations.

Pierre does an excellent job of making this concept of faith-based CBT applicable in peronal biblically based ministry for church leaders who are not formally trained counselors. He also does an excellent job of providing real life examples of how this approach can be applied in every day life. This book is an excellent biblically based resource for pastors, ministers, and counselors who desire to serve their parishioners and clients well. It is a great side table guide to better understand how the gospel applies to the dynamic heart of people in every day life.



I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book. 

Learning to pursue the Caller and not the calling

23505897I love it when the Lord uses a book to speak straight to my heart the exact words I need to hear at a particular time. Some time back I was in a used book store here in Birmingham when a book caught my eye. The title was Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’ House and Back Again by Ryan J. Pemberton. I was intrigued! As I thumbed through, I realized that the book was a spiritual memoir about the author’s call to ministry, which involved him studying theology at Oxford in England. I knew that I had to buy it, because I myself have been struggling with my own calling and what that means in my life. I am glad I did!

Using the medium of story, Pemberton shares his experience with following the call of God on his life. For him the call meant leaving his comfortable job and studying theology halfway around the world in an effort to become a writer who relays spiritual truth in a way that the average person can apply to their lives. The journey took him from mountain tops, living in C.S. Lewis’ home; to lows, living away from his wife during their first pregancy. However, through it all, Pemberton reminds us that “being called by God…doesn’t mean being called to a particular job, school, or even vocation, so much as it means being called to surrender” (pg.237). The calling of God is about dropping our nets and following Jesus wherever he leads. Following Jesus is not easy and will cost us something, but in the end it is worth it because Jesus is always worth it!

Although the specifics of his story are different, the journey is the same. When the journey brought him to places he never imagined he would be, like waiting in line at the social services office. He asked himself the same questions that everyone asks when life does not turn out the way we’d hoped. Lord, did I hear you wrong? Am I not called? Did I misunderstand? Is this worth it? In the end, Pemberton discovers that the Christian life is not about pursuing a calling, but pursuing the Caller. His story harkens to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “seek first the kingdom of God ships righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). When we pursue the calling above all else, it becomes an idol. Yet, when we pursue God above all else, we discover our true purpose, namely to enjoy God in personal relationship.

I loved this book because I read my story in Pemberton’s story. I have found myself in many of the same positions, spiritually speaking. His story speaks right to my heart because I fully understand the difficulty of leaving all to follow Christ. I have been where he was, ready to throw in the towel. Yet, hearing a story similar to mine, from someone who is walking the same journey reminds me that I’m not alone. It beckons me to stop and be reminded that God did not call me to serve Him, He called me to trust Him. For the first time, while reading this book, that truth made the journey from my head to my heart. My life may not end up how I envisioned, but all that matters is that my name is written in heaven and in that I rejoice.

I am thankful for Ryan Pemberton’s obedience to the call of God on his life. He truly is a wonderful storyteller! His writing is a gift from the Lord. He draws the reader into the story by making the reader feel what he felt and experience what he experienced. This book is a great reminder that the call to follow the Lord is one of adventure and is never dull! I highly recommend this charming memoir to anyone who has said yes to following God. It will remind you that you are not alone!

As a gift to my readers Ryan has graciously offered a signed copy of the book to be given away on this blog. The giveaway will be held from May 22 – June 5. More details will be forthcoming!


Book Review: Zeal Without Burnout

imageMinistry is hard! It is tiresome, demanding, never ending work that requires a great deal of sacrifice. If you are in ministry or have been in ministry you know exactly what I am talking about. But all too often the journey in ministry brings an unexpected detour due to burnout. For folks in ministry, the passion (or zeal) that brought them to ministry is what drives them towards burnout. In his new book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash sheds light on the reasons why ministers burnout and ways to remedy the problem before it occurs.

Throughout the book, Ash gives seven keys to warding against burnout in ministry. Each of these seven brutally remind us that we finite creatures and are not God. In fact, we are in desperate need of the Lord each and every day!

First, we need sleep. God wired human beings for the need to sleep. This daily rhythm of rest allows us to cease from work and recharge. Sleep not only allows the body to rest, but it rests the mind. While we sleep our brains process what we experienced that day. Sleep most importantly, reminds us that while we rest God continues to work.

Second, we need Sabbath rest. Sabbath rest is a weekly rhythm of rest where we take an entire day off from our typical work. For most ministers this will not be on Sunday, but another day during the week. This is a time to enjoy the Lord through any means that truly allows us to rest. People rest differently. Some rest while reading or journaling, while others rest by hiking or playing a sport. The important principle is to cease from work and allow the Lord to work while we rest.

Third, we need friendship (or community). This is an important support system that allows us to share our burdens and enjoy the Lord together. Without friends, we become isolated and can feel like we are going at it alone. I must confess that I struggle with this key.

Fourth, we need inward renewal. Every day we need a time set aside where we pray and read Scripture to commune with God. By doing this we are feeding ourselves. The majority of the work of ministry is pouring into others. But if we are allowing the Lord to pour into us then we will dry up and be of no use to others.

Fifth, we need to warned against the celebrity mentality. Our society celebrates and worships fame. Unfortunately, this same mentality has crept into the church. All too often ministers fall into the trap of celebrity, which becomes their demise. In the end it devestates their ministry because they become disqualified for ministry service.

Sixth, we need encouragement. It cannot be said enough, ministry is difficult! Ministry leaders desperately need encouragement. The biggest encouragement that people in ministry need is that it is worth it. Many who are in ministry have left their family, a comfortable career, or hometown to follow their calling. Unfortunately, many times it is difficult to see how ministry is worth the sacrifice.

Lastly, we need to be reminded of the joy of ministry. Most people who enter the ministry do so because they express a calling from the Lord. Yet, after life punches you in the face and knocks you down that can such the joy out of ministry. The encouragement is that the Lord does not need us to serve him, but he wants us to serve him. This must serve as a wonderful reminder that serving the Lord is a joy, not a chore.

This book was highly encouraging and easy to read. One of my favorite quotes comes from the end of the book. Ash says, “If I never preach another sermon, never lead another church meeting, never give another talk, never have another one-to-one spiritual conversation with anyone, never use my gifts ever again in ministry, my name is still written in heaven. And in that I will rejoice.” These very powerful words speak truth to the heart of a minister on the edge of burnout. We must remember that the Lord has called us to serve him not because he needs us, but only because He chooses to work through us. This puts into perspective the need for rest in the midst of the demands of ministry.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is currently in ministry and anyone who is considering ministry. It is a wonderful resource on a needed topic! If you are in ministry you must learn how to balance the demands of the job with rest and replenishment. This resource will help you work through that without throwing in the towel.


I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review of the work.