Upon receiving Counseling Under the Cross, the author's name seemed familiar. I personally purchased Robert Kellemen's Anxiety: Anatomy and Cure, a booklet that is part of P&R's The Gospel for Real Life Series. It was helpful to me in some recent pastoral counseling cases. New Growth Press gives us a title reminiscent of Tappert's Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, yet with more guidance for pastors and counselors.
I do disagree with the author's "Tweet-Size Summary" of Chapter 11: "Faith Active in Love: Luther's Methodology of Guiding >> Christian pilgrims progress in their sanctification journey by exercising their heart in the gospel victory narrative by trekking toward the gospel pole of faith active in love." Luther wouldn't speak that way. He would describe sanctification in the language of vocation as he does in Christian Freedom: A Christian is the freest lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all. The "pilgrim" language is anachronistic to Luther. The author does mention The Freedom of a Christian in the main text of Chapter 11 (199ff), yet with a different emphasis than I would provide as a Lutheran.
Given the objection above, I recommend this title for seminarians and pastors. Consider: "As the title of this book suggests, Martin Luther's counseling is gospel-centered and cross-focused. It is grace-filled and gospel-rich…In a hundred different ways you will see what I saw—Luther richly, relevantly, robustly, relationally applying the gospel to suffering, sin, sanctification, and people's search for peace with God" (3). On pages 12-13 he introduces the helpful concept of Anfectungen, helpfully connecting the term to Luther's own concerns and pastoral care, especially with regard to justification and reconciliation (26). By pages 106 and 107, Anfectungen makes room for faith in Christ. The Gospel predominates in the chart on page 57. A Lutheran would connect the individual to the body of Christ as the author does (91), yet more so to Word and Sacrament of Christ rather than pietism's small groups (91ff).
Crossway provided us with both an Advance Reader Copy and final hardcover of Herman Selderhuis' Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. We note no significant changes between the two. Endorsements adorn the front pages of the final edition as well as the intended General Index and Scripture Index.
What exactly is a spiritual biography? I understand the term to focus the subject's life in Christ, covering struggle, theology, practice, and consolation. A Calvinist, Selderhuis gives his own spin on the seventeenth century English non-fiction prose genre of an autobiographical narrative that "follows the believer from a state of damnation to a state of grace." Ten chapters follow Luther from child, student, and monk to exegete, theologian, and architect and finally reformer, father, professor, and prophet (9). "This book is translated from the original Dutch version" © 2016 (8).
"The fear of being lost forever, the fear of God, and his consciousness of sin and guilt led to a zealous study of Scripture in the hope that he [Luther] would find peace and rest" (54). This is well stated. Luther's visit to Rome disappointed him (71). Romans, however, became "the most important book in the new testament for him" (77).
I'm not surprised that it was a Roman Catholic that claimed that Luther didn't nail the 95 Theses to the Church door (100). I am surprised at how trendy it is to doubt this event. This author tends to be more fair and balanced in his assessment of the event in that he allows for 1) an actual "nailing" of Luther's Theses, 2) that the door was truly the public bulletin board, and 3) that a university "beadle" likely did the nailing rather than Luther. That said, I hold to the historicity of Luther nailing the theses himself. There appears to be a correlation (among self-described Lutheran theologians) between belief or doubt in the event's historicity and in belief or doubt in authority and sufficiency of Scripture (see the 2017 documentary film Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World).
For a personal assessment of Luther the man at the time of the Leipzig Disputation by Mosellanus, see 128-129. The initial sentence of Chapter 6 (135) struck me wrong. Yet, I concede that with regard to being and architect and leaving it "to others to build on what he established" I must concede as at least partially true. He wrote his catechisms (230) in part because others did not follow through on his request for them to do the work. Some took up the task of writing new hymns, yet Luther wrote several dozen himself 210).
That Luther did or did not say the words "Here I stand, I can do no other" (159ff) is less controversial to me than the posting of the 95 Theses. Rome had pushed Luther across a red line. They would not tell him where he erred. They would not allow him to distinguish between what he saw as three groups of books.
The author's account and assessment of Marburg (especially 238-240) is more fair than most from a Lutheran perspective. My favorite remains This Is My Body by Sasse. It all should come down to faith rather than doubt or speculation about what Christ said Himself.
Reform of the Sacrament of the Altar went hand-in-hand with a German translation of the New Testament (170ff). One of my favorite paintings depicts this time in his life, with Luther, his family, and Melanchthon gathered around Luther playing a lute (211).
Professor Luther knew Scripture and how to apply it to life. (251). "Prophet" Luther (Chapter 10) is a bit more jarring picture, even for Lutherans who have heard Walther interpret Revelation's Angel with an Eternal Gospel to proclaim. We Lutherans are far more familiar with the pattern set by Luther in ordaining the first Lutheran bishop: "Luther conducted this ordination but with a transformed ritual that reflected Luther's views of the bishop as a normal minister. Everything else remained the same, as if the bishop carried out his work of supervision, pastorate, and preaching" (297).
This is one of the best recent Luther biographies I've read. I'm still stuck in the middle of the Metaxas volume. It would be nearly impossible for one person to read them all!
The Lutheran Reformation lives on. Our intent was to complete and publish this review by the 500th Anniversary of the posting of the 95 Theses, but parish duties intervened. We had twelve deaths in the congregation between our reception of the ARC and the day I write. Reform of the Church, returning to the Word as sole authority for faith and life, and hearing Christ are not activities for merely one quincentennial day, but for our ongoing daily theology, teaching, practice, and pastoral care.