If Luther was talking to pastors today, what counsel would he give them about pastoral counseling? “Do it!” We think we are too busy to counsel. We think we are ill-equipped to counsel. We think we should just preach (the pulpit ministry of the Word) and not counsel (the personal ministry of the Word). Luther was busy—and he still counseled. Luther never had a course in “pastoral counseling,” but he still counseled the Word. Luther was a preacher, but he was also a pastoral counselor.
Bob Kellemen’s newest book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Lifereleases on September 11, 2017, by New Growth Press. Just in time for the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, Counseling Under the Cross shares scores of powerful vignettes, Luther quotes, and real-life narratives that illustrate how Martin Luther provided biblical counseling to hurting and struggling people. The following author interview with Dr. Kellemen provides a great introduction to the book.
1. Many people, when they think of Martin Luther, think of the great theologian-reformer. Yet you say that it was Luther the pastoral counselor who motivated Luther the reformer. In what way?
In his own life, Luther struggled to understand how to find peace with God. After many failed attempts at gaining favor with God by works, Luther finally realized the truth of salvation through Christ alone by faith alone through grace alone. He then spent the rest of his life helping others to come to the same saving realization. He nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg because he had tremendous pastoral concern that people were being led away from grace/faith and led toward works as the means for peace with God.
2. You explain that Luther struggled greatly with depression, anxiety, fears, and even with what we might today call “OCD.” What were Luther’s struggles like and how did he find peace and hope in the gospel?
Luther lived in terror that he could never satisfy a holy God—and he could not—in himself. He was tormented daily with fears of death and damnation. When Luther came to realize that Christ already satisfied all of God’s righteous requirements, Luther found the peace he longed for. Luther taught that if we deal with life’s greatest fear/anxiety—whether God accepts us—then we can face all of life’s lesser (but real) anxieties and fears. Grace grants peace.
3. Counseling Under the Cross is filled with scores of vignettes and stories of Luther’s pastoral counsel. Which stories are most meaningful to you?
It’s almost impossible to choose from among so many stirring examples, so I’ll highlight a “category” of care. In the book, I share numerous vignettes where Luther counseled grieving people. We often think of Luther as the fiery reformer. But he also had such a tender heart for hurting people. He encouraged people to grieve honestly, deeply, and candidly. He entered their pain and loss, and then he directed them to the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Grieving people found in Luther a compassionate spiritual comforter.
4. One of the most powerful messages of Counseling Under the Cross is the four-fold message Luther taught about our salvation in Christ alone. What is that four-fold message and what difference does it make for our lives and ministries today?
In Christ, the Father says to us, 1.) “Forgiven!” (Justification). 2.) “Welcome home!” (Reconciliation). 3.) “Saint!” (Regeneration). 4.) “Victor!” (Redemption).
What difference does it make? We are to preach the gospel to ourselves every day so that we understand who we are in Christ and so we then live out that newness through Christ.
5. If Luther was talking to pastors today, what counsel would he give them about pastoral counseling?
We think we are too busy to counsel. We think we are ill-equipped to counsel. We think we should just preach (the pulpit ministry of the Word) and not counsel (the personal ministry of the Word). Luther was busy—and he still counseled. Luther never had a course in “pastoral counseling,” but he still counseled the Word. Luther was a preacher, but he was also a pastoral counselor.
So, “Pastors, just do it! Speak gospel truth in love.”
6. You end each chapter with a tweet-size summary. So, what’s your tweet-size summary of Counseling Under the Cross?
I’d use the sub-title of the book as the foundation for that tweet. Here we go:
Richly Apply the Gospel to Each Other’s Daily Lives: “Forgiven! Welcome home! Saint! Victor!”
David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.