Martin Luther was one of the bright shining stars of the 16th centuries who God used to restore reason to the church and recover the gospel of Jesus Christ. Carl R. Trueman unpacks the Protestant Reformer in his latest work, Luther on the Christian Life.
The book is a balanced blend of biography, Reformation history, and theology. Beginners and seasoned students of Luther will all benefit from Trueman’s work.
While each chapter is a worthy read, the fifth chapter, Living By the Word will be the focus of this review. The author does a magnificent job of drawing Luther’s love for the Bible in these pages. But he demonstrates how important the Holy Spirit was in Luther’s life and theological framework: “For Luther, the Spirit is only given with the external word.” Indeed, the Spirit of God uses the Word of God to transform the people of God. Eliminate the Spirit and the result is a dry rationalism. Remove the Word and the result is a subjective train wreck. Luther stressed the importance of both the Word and the Spirit.
Luther’s devotional life and approach to the Christian life is explored, leaving readers with much to contemplate and weight out. The author contrasts Luther’s emphasis on being a theologian of the cross (as opposed to a theologian of glory):
The very essence of being a theologian of the cross is that one sees God’s strength as manifested in weakness. The primary significance of that is the incarnation and the cross. God’s means for overcoming sin and crushing death are the humiliation of his Son, hidden in human flesh. Nevertheless, the cross also has a certain paradigmatic aspect to it, for it indicates that God does his proper work through his alien work.
Additionally, Luther’s approach to spiritual warfare is reviewed. Anyone who battles melancholy stands in good company, for Luther battled the same throughout his adult life. Truman adds, “Luther certainly regards the cultivation of despair as one of the primary tasks of the Devil … Everything hangs on this, from confidence before God to ethical conduct before neighbors, to the ability to look death in the face and not despair.”
Luther’s struggles are always held captive to the Word of God. Ultimately, Luther’s relief comes when he rests in the promises of the gospel. Luther says,
And so when I feel the terrors of death, I say: ‘Death, you have nothing on me. For I have another death, one that kills you, my death. And the death that kills is stronger than the death that is killed.’
Carl Trueman offers a carefully thought out treatment of Luther, which includes both triumphs and tragedies. The reader can determine which issues merit further studies. Luther and the Christian Life is a fine contribution to the growing work on the German Reformer.