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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Can You Believe It’s True?

CanYouBelieve While I disagree with Feinberg in respect to his approach to apologetics (he is evidential, I subscribe to presuppositional), I nonetheless appreciated reading this book. In the post-modern epoch, Feinberg seeks to build a defense in proposal of being able to definitively and qualitatively proclaim truth. Whether we agree on initial premises of apologetic approach, it was nonetheless beneficial for me to understand why he disagrees with presuppositional apologetics, yet also, glean from his understanding of post-modernism and his framework in dealing with the evidences he puts forth.

The book itself stands with much to merit. Feinberg splits the book into three sections, the first being an introduction to modernity and postmodernity. This is truly the point in which I think Feinberg does an excellent job, as he respectively moves through each of these intellectual fields. In this, he highlights both strengths and weaknesses associated with these post-enlightenment ideals, namely demonstrating how post-modernism displays a healthy skepticism of blind appeals to authority, yet on the far other end of the spectrum, casts doubts on the credibility of anything. In this, he rightfully attributes the folly behind the unequivocal, “there is no truth but what is true for you and what is true for me, even if they don’t coincide.”

Once we move beyond this point of the book, he introduces a section devoted to approaching Christian apologetics. While it is clear that Feinberg does not agree with the presuppositional stance, he does note five significant contributions to the field of apologetics.

  1. Everyone has presuppositions and this figures in to our worldview.
  2. The Holy Spirit is needed within apologetics for it to be successful.
  3. Human reason is finite and subjected to the affect of sin.
  4. Scripture does teach that God has been made apparent to everyone.
  5. The strategy of exposing contradictions and demonstrating absurdities in contrary worldviews.

In the third portion of the book, Feinberg moves on to giving defense to particular areas in debate from secular sources:

  • The problem of evil.
  • The reliability of the gospels.
  • The resurrection of Christ.
  • The issue of religious pluralism.

In either case, those looking to read on apologetics will stand to benefit from this section as well.

On the whole, while I disagree on a foundational level – I would recommend reading this book. Feinberg is charitable in his disagreements with presuppositional apologetics and argues winsomely for his case. Yet ultimately, I feel he falls short of the true nature of man in respect to their ability to know truth. If we factor in the ministry of Satan upon the earth to keep unbelievers in their respective blindness, their predisposed, utter inability to understand God in their darkened minds, and the devastating affect sin has upon our intellect, it would seem evident that mankind, apart from the illuminating work of the Spirit, cannot agree even on the relative bodies of Christian truth to their fullness. Instead, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness, leaving any evidences for God to be rejected along with the foundational truths of the scriptures.

Though common revelation is given to man on the basis of natural revelation, ultimately, this is only sufficient to condemn. For true agreement to be reached between a non-Christian and Christian, the common basis is found in the root of truth: the God of all truth. If one does not believe in God, the route by which they come to adhere to any Christian truth is not due to intellectual ability or logical deduction – it is revelatory.

While these truths can lead one to accept the probability of there being a god, it does not necessitate that they believe in the One true God. Hence, it is still an under-girded presupposition on the basis of their own intellectual ability and preconceived ways they are able to study/view the world and how it functions. These presuppositions, namely from a darkened soul that does not understand or seek God (Romans 3:11), gird how they view and explain the evidence. Even if consistent agreement is found, it does not indicate that they are any closer to believing it to be evidence for God than when they first started. Apart from the saving grace of God, they cannot come to believe the foundational truths, which lead one to salvation.

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 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.