Long Before Luther

longNathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2017, 243 pp. $10.49

Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation by Nathan Busenitz recently hit the shelves. Busentiz sets out to discover whether or not the doctrine of justification by faith alone was taught and stressed prior to the days of the Protestant Reformation. Anyone familiar with the Reformers understands the motto, post tenabras lux (after darkness light). This little Latin phrase suggests that there was a darkness in the land in the days preceding the Reformation. Such an assertion is true. However, Busentiz asks whether or not any light existed at all. The answer is a resounding “yes!” Indeed, the author discovers that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers. Rather, they unearthed and recovered this doctrine which can be traced back to the apostles.

Dr. Busentiz utilizes Alistair McGrath’s book, Iustitia Dei, which he admits is “widely regarded as one of the most comprehensive treatments of the subject.” But comprehensive does not necessarily mean accurate as we shall see. For McGrath essentially argues that Luther and his Reformation buddies concocted what we understand now as justification by faith alone. Busentiz adds, “Because the doctrine of justification lies at the heart of the gospel, the implications of this charge are serious.”

McGrath delineates the three pillars of the Reformers’ view of justification which include 1) Forensic Justification, 2) Justification Distinguished from Regeneration, and 3) The Imputed Righteousness of Jesus Christ. McGrath argues that these distinct doctrines are missing in the first fifteen hundred years of church history. Thus, as Busentiz notes, the doctrine of justification by faith alone was “a theological innovation introduced in the sixteenth century,” at least according to McGrath.

With this vexing concern before his readers, Dr. Busentiz carefully guides them on a journey where they discover that sola fide was taught by Augustine and the church fathers. The three pillars the McGrath identifies are used as a sort of litmus test which Busentiz uses to his advantage and I might add, with great skill.

In the final analysis, Busentiz argues that justification by faith alone is not an invention of the Reformers, nor is it a theological novelty. Indeed, this doctrine was taught by the apostles and the church fathers. While it was largely neglected for the first fifteen hundred years of church history, it was, nonetheless a part of the warp and woof of Christian orthodoxy.

While McGrath’s assertions concerning justification are troubling, the three pillars he identifies in Iustitia Dei actually serve Busentiz quite well as he looks backward and ultimately makes a compelling case for the historic doctrine of justification. Busenitz should be commended for his work as he settles the score on this crucial matter that concerns the gospel.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

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Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography

sledHerman Selderhuis, Martin Luther: A Spiritual BiographyWheaton: Crossway, 2017, 347 pp. $23.12

Herman Selderhuis, professor of church history at the Theological University Apeldoorn needs little introduction. His book, John Calvin: A Pilgrim’s Life was warmly received by many as he unpacked the Reformer’s life and legacy.

Now the author makes his contribution to a growing list of books with Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography. As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Selderhuis’s work is a fitting tribute to Luther and the many men and women who made a contribution in the sixteenth century.

Selderhuis examines ten movements in Luther’s life including Child, Student, Monk, Exegete, Theologian, Architect, Reformer, Father, Professor, and Prophet. Each movement is an opportunity for the author to present historical details and relay the massive contribution that Luther made.

The author carefully traces the spiritual history of Luther – from an unconverted monk who struggled with God and even hated him to a man who passionately embraced the doctrines of grace. Selderhuis does not gloss over the negative details of Luther’s life. Luther’s brashness and vulgarity are explored as well as some of Luther’s racist proclivities.

Luther: A Spiritual Biography is an illuminating look at a man whose influence continues to captivate and inspire people around the world. It beautifully complements classic works such as Bainton’s, Here I Stand and should receive a wide reading.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life

kelBob Kellemen, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2017, pp. 246, $19.99

One man blazed a trail in the sixteenth century that laid the groundwork for countless numbers of Christians. Martin Luther was the primary agent who God used in a mighty way as he hammered his 95 theses on the castle door at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. He unleashed a theological revolution known as the Protestant Reformation, where the doctrines of grace were recovered and the gospel began to exert a powerful influence in the lives of people.

Counseling Under the Cross by Bob Kellemen explores the life and legacy of Martin Luther and reveals how his theological framework influenced his counseling ministry.

What Shaped Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?

Part one explores Luther’s background and alerts readers to the oppressive environment that was so common in the sixteenth century. Luther fought desperately to find peace with God but was doomed to failure apart from completed work of Christ which is received by grace alone through faith alone.

Kellemen explains how Luther’s anxiety impacted his life in his early adult years. Luther admits, “For I had hoped I might find peace of conscience with fasts, prayers, and the vigils with which I miserably afflicted my body, but the more I sweated it out like this, the less peace and tranquillity I knew.”

The author continues, “Before he came under the influence of the cross, Luther lived life as a man terrified that he would never find peace with God because his God was not a God of peace. Luther lived with a constant sense of guilt and dread in the face of a terrifying, angry, and unforgiving God.”

The only way Luther found relief is by casting all his hope and future on a sovereign God, by grace alone through faith alone. Kellemen writes, “The Christ of the cross transformed Luther the man terrified before God into Luther the man at peace with God.” This newly converted man now saw God in a different light which not only radically affected his life; it altered his ministry at every level.

What is the Shape of Martin Luther’s Pastoral Counseling?

“Luther’s counseling reflects his theology – it is cross-shaped and gospel-centered.” Part two reveals the shape of Luther’s pastoral counseling. The author examines Luther’s approach to pastoral counseling by exploring two primary angles.

First, soul care: comfort for suffering.Luther’s theology and methodology of sustaining and healing are presented with specific examples of how the Reformer encouraged and edified the saints.

Second, spiritual direction: confrontation for sinning.Specifically, Luther’s theology and methodology of reconciling and guiding are presented here. Again, the author paints a pastoral portrait of Luther and shows him at work among the Body of Christ. While soul care (noted above) involves comforting and encourages Christians, spiritual direction involves a confrontation with people. Kellemen adds, “In reconciling soul care, we seek to startle one another with the gospel.” Such a nouthetic approach is mandated in Scripture (Col. 1:28) and plays a vital role in biblical counseling.

EVALUATION

Counseling Under the Cross is a treasure chest of gospel nuggets. Bob Kellemen does a beautiful job of explaining how Martin Luther applied the gospel to everyday life. One of the most helpful aspects of the book is the emphasis on indicatives and imperatives. The author makes it clear that both are important aspects of the Christian life: “Salvation in Christ (gospel indicatives) frees, empowers, and motivates us through faith to serve others in love (gospel imperatives). Progressive sanctification is faith active in love – exercising the love that comes from faith in the grace of Christ.”

I strongly urge pastors, counselors, and church leaders to prayerfully study Counseling Under the Cross. Additionally, I urge readers to pick up a copy of my recent book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther, as a companion volume to Bob Kellemen’s excellent work.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

 

Why We’re Protestant – Nate Pickowicz (2017)

why we're prot

“Justification is the article upon which the church stands or falls.” So said Martin Luther as he battled for reform in the eye of the sixteenth-century storm that we know as the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers rediscovered the truth and beauty of the gospel message and proclaimed it faithfully and forcefully. Their allegiance to the gospel inform and inspire us as we strive to follow in their footsteps.

Nate Pickowicz beautifully summarizes the spirit of the Reformers in his most recent book, Why We’re Protestant: An Introduction to the Five Solas of the Reformation. First, the author clearly describes the “gospel crisis” that emerged in the sixteenth century. The crisis involves a fundamental disagreement on how sinners are justified. The answers proposed by Rome and the sixteenth century Protestants are clear. The answer proposed by Rome falls short of the biblical benchmark and leads sinners to a pathway of destruction. The Protestant reply is faithful to Scripture and leads sinners on a pathway to the Celestial City.

The essential message of the Reformation is captured in the five solas – grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, and to God alone be the glory. Pickowicz guides readers on a journey that unfolds these remarkable truths in a way that is winsome, historically accurate, and faithful to Scripture.

Why We’re Protestant is a veritable battering ram and a boon for the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As we draw near to the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation, I commend this fine work and trust that God will use it to fortify a new generation of reformers who exalt the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Gospel Reformation

bold

The excommunicated monk sits alone in silence. Beads of sweat accumulate on his brow as he reads from the pages of the Greek text. A dark cloud casts a shadow over his homeland as the grace of the gospel is obscured by a church that cares more about tradition than truth.

For the next ten months, Luther will pour over every word, translating the Greek into the heart language of the German people. When his work is complete, the German people will be able to read the Bible for themselves. They will no longer be dependent upon a priest who has misrepresented God, mangled the truth of his Word, and maligned the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For hundreds of years, the gospel had been buried and replaced by a system of “man-made righteousness.” The Roman Catholic Church exchanged truth for tradition. The power-brokers of tradition maintained a chokehold on people who didn’t know any better.  Confessing sin to a priest replaced confessing sin to a holy God.

Yet, Luther unearthed the precious jewel of the gospel, a reality which is unveiled in my new book, Bold Reformer:Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther. Only $0.99 for a limited time on Amazon.com.

A SPECIAL SALE ON AMAZON!

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The Kindle version of Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther is now available on Amazon for $0.99.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the castle door in Wittenberg. One act of courage sparked a theological firestorm in Germany that set the world ablaze in a matter of days. Spreading like wildfire, thousands were introduced to the gospel which is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther takes readers on a journey through a remarkable period of church history. It will challenge contemporary readers to learn the lessons of courage, and perseverance. It will inspire a new generation of people to follow Jesus, obey Jesus, and worship the Savior with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. It invites a new generation of Christ-followers to recover the gospel in their generation and make their stand as a bold reformer.

Bold Reformer is born out of personal pastoral turmoil and inspired by the courage of Martin Luther.  My hope is that many pastors, Christian leaders and Christ-followers will be encouraged as a result of reading this book; that God will propel them into the future by his grace and for his glory.

Endorsements:

“David Steele’s Bold Reformer is a book for our times! As we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, how appropriate to look afresh at ways the bold faith and action of Martin Luther can inspire and instruct our own faith and work. Christians today need strength of character and boldness of conviction. Steele’s presentation of Luther’s life moves readers to live bold lives that adorn the gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.”

Dr. Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, Chairman of the Department of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Pastoral ministry is often mingled with both blessing and despair. Many pastors experience seasons of opposition that result in discouragement and even depression. David Steele’s new work, Bold Reformer is an exploration into the gospel-centered convictions of the stalwart reformer, Martin Luther. Luther faced many pastoral hardships during his ministry, but emerged victorious because of his unwavering faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I encourage you to drink from the refreshing waters of this book and use the life of Luther as an example that emboldens you to stand strong in the midst of the fiery trial.”

Dr. Steven J. Lawson, President, OnePassion Ministries, Dallas, Texas

CORNERED IN A CASTLE: THE RESOLVE OF MARTIN LUTHER

IMGP0693The Protestant Reformers were men of unbending principle. They were men of unyielding conviction. These men fought relentlessly for the truth. Some of the battle took place privately as godly men wrote books and treatises, which magnified the mighty work of the gospel.

The story is well-known about how Frederick the Wise arranged to have Martin Luther “kidnapped” and secretly transported from the city of Worms to the Wartburg castle where the Protestant Reformer would spend the next ten months in seclusion. These days were spent largely in isolation under the pseudonym, Junker Jörg.

Luther made good use of his time at Wartburg, translating the Greek New Testament into German, the language of the people. Leather spent hour after hour, laboring over the text and translating God’s Word for the common man. Soon, thousands of people would read the Word of God in their mother tongue for the first time. They would hear the Word of God thunder from the pulpit in their heart language.IMGP0676

After his brief stop in Wartburg, Luther made his way back to Wittenberg where his reformation efforts continued. Indeed, the Reformation tides continued to swell as the Word of God grew and people were transformed by God’s Spirit.

For more on this topic, see David Steele’s new book, Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther.

Dr. David Steele is the Senior Pastor at Christ Fellowship in Everson, Washington.