Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom

9781433525025In similar accord to Bonhoeffer and Lewis, Luther is often marginalized by the appeal to a broader evangelical context than he would fit within during his own lifetime. Trueman, recognizing the weaknesses of this approach, argues for a more sensible reading in moving beyond the modernly-evangelicalized Luther by studying the real Luther; the systematic thinking, often bombastic, Christian man, in his own historical context (22).

The reason for moving beyond this one-dimensional study of Luther is painfully obvious: we can never be challenged with a shallow reading focusing only upon areas of agreement. In the scope of many other works on Luther, Trueman devotes time discussing Luther’s high sacramentology, his post-1525 writings, the historical/personal context shaping his theological advancements, and the distinction to being a “theologian of the cross” as opposed to a “theologian of glory.”

Trueman’s basic framework draws mainly from Table Talk publications (among other notable works) in the following structure. Chapter one describes Luther’s biographical life, particularly linking Luther’s early life experiences to his existential crises, leading to the dominating shift into a Law-Gospel theology. Beyond this, Trueman highlights specific events shaping Luther’s theology, for example: The Bondage of the Will being not only a response to Erasmus, but undermining the authority of the Papacy. The second and third chapters deal more extensively with Luther’s understanding of the “theologian of the cross,” and subsequently, the power of the Word preached. Thus, the true “theologian of the cross” will be dominated by the idea of the scripture’s supremacy and power to effectively change the hearts of hearers.

The fourth and fifth chapters respectively deal with Luther’s liturgical values and how the Word addresses individual souls. Thus, maturation in the Christian life is not simply one of rote memorization and catechesis, but a profoundly moral exercise intended to grip our affections for God by the knowledge of scripture. Chapter 6 draws out Luther’s sacramentology on the effectiveness and importance of baptism and the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Chapter seven draws upon Luther’s response to the “long-haul,” recognizing the Immanent Return of Christ was delayed beyond his expectations, thus forcing a structured response to Christian living in lieu of licentiousness and antinomian tendencies. Finally, in chapter 8, Trueman reveals Luther’s pastoral nature, specifically with the ordinary aspects of every day life and common struggles of believers.

Trueman fairly reveals Luther, warts and all, as a sinner justified in Christ, mastered by the ideals of being a “theologian of the cross.” This was evidenced in seemingly small ways, such as a tract written on prayer for a barber, yet ultimately, in his ability to effectively point to the cross as a source of perseverance through doubt, trial, the pain of death, and the common struggles of man. Personally, what resonated most deeply was the pastoral devotion Luther had for his congregants, sparing time for hospitality, developing catechisms for the maturation of their faith, and utilizing the cross as the means by which we grow to love God. For the clarity with which Trueman writes and this brief, yet illuminating work upon the life of Luther, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway Books through the Beyond the Page book reviewer program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255