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.