The 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.

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