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  • Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life by Bob Kellemen
  • John T. Pless
Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life. By Bob Kellemen. Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017. 246 pp.

Kellemen, president of RPM Ministries and a professor of biblical counseling at Faith Bible Seminary in Lafayette, Indiana, offers a testimony to his discovery of Martin Luther as an effective pastoral counselor who has much to offer contemporary Evangelical Christians. Kellemen examines Luther's own spiritual development, especially focusing on his spiritual trials and struggles, and observes how Luther came to a robust confidence in the righteousness of Christ as God's gift for broken sinners. Throughout his telling of Luther's story, the author peppers vignettes of his own experiences and connects them to Luther's insights. He sees the Reformer as a helpful ally in what he terms "the biblical counseling movement."

The bulk of the volume explores Luther's pastoral legacy using the template developed by William Clebsch and Charles Jaekle, Care of Souls in Historical Perspective (1964) where pastoral care is said to consist in four functions: (1) Sustaining; (2) Healing; (3) Reconciling; (4) Guiding. Under each of these headings, Kellemen offers examples, more often than not, taken from Theodore Tappert's Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel (1955), demonstrating how Luther used the scriptures and especially the gospel to fulfill these functions. Luther's care for Jerome Weller who was suffering from depression as well as numerous individuals who were physically ill or mourning the loss of a loved one are cited as examples for Luther's emphatic identification with those who suffer as he used the Word of God to sustain them in their afflictions. Kellemen sees Luther's proclamation of the resurrection to the sick, dying, and grieving in circumstances of both external and internal suffering as indicative of the healing function. Human sinfulness is overcome by the reconciling work of Christ so Kellemen sees Luther's focus on the forgiveness of sins in letters that address terrified consciences as fulfilling the reconciling function. The guiding function is connected to Luther's use of the "guideposts" (210) of faith, love, and conscience.

While Kellemen brings together much material from Luther and offers suggestions for applications in ministry today, he most often does this by attempting to distill principles from Luther. The author [End Page 215] often blends psychological language with theological vocabulary in a way that gives only minimal attention to Luther's overall theology. Kellemen rightly emphasizes the externality of God's Word in Luther's pastoral counsel but this is not carried over into a discussion of the place of baptism and the Lord's Supper in Luther's approach. There are a few echoes of the "theology of the cross" in the book but they are largely left undeveloped as is the necessity of distinguishing law from gospel in pastoral care.

Kellemen certainly has a great appreciation for Luther and his pastoral work demonstrating that the Reformer continues to have influence well beyond the boundaries of the church that bears his name. Even at those places where one might wish the author had treated Luther's theology with more precision, one can admire his robust claims for the potency of Luther's legacy for pastoral care.

John T. Pless
Concordia Theological Seminary Fort Wayne, Indiana


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