Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman
Do we really need another book on the famous Augustinian monk from the 16th century? Well, yes, if the book captures Luther’s genius from decidedly unique and formative perspective. Professor Carl Trueman, in his new book, Luther on the Christian Life, does just that, by situating Luther in his historical milieu, locating his main theological theses, and providing a glimpse into Luther as pastor, calling all Christians to follow Christ in a world of upheaveal.
What was it about Luther, especially post-1525, that radiates a sort of encouragement for Christians today? Trueman writes, “As a theologian who was also a pastor, he was continually wrestling with how his theological insights connected to the lives and experiences of the people under his care. This gave much of his writing a distinctly pastoral dimension. Further, he was (for a theologian) unusually forthcoming about his own life and experiences. There was a personal passion to Luther that finds no obvious counterpart in the writings of other significant Reformers (23-24).” In his Table Talk, even in his 95 Theses, there was a concern with how theology might aid regular, everyday people facing the burdens of life in Germany, including taxes, a church hierarchy, and laborious jobs. Further, Trueman mentions that Luther was one of the most human of theologians, recognizing his faults and frailties, not promoting himself like one would see today on Twitter or Facebook.
Trueman offers his readers a vivid description of how Luther’s theology of the cross works out in practice, but also how Luther went beyond his medieval masters in highlighting the moral dimension of the cross. Trueman writes, “The moral crisis of sin does not have a great impact on this picture. For Luther, it is not simply God’s apparent unpredictability that makes it necessary to pay attention to how he has revealed himself; it is the fact that human beings are dead in sin and ever inclined to invent a god who conforms to their expectations (56-57).” In concert with the via media, Luther focused on how God acts through the way God reveals himself. In the theology of the cross, God reveals mankind as being dead in sin both in a moral and epistemological sense (we cannot truly know God without special revelation), and in doing so highlights that epistemology is not a theoretical issue but also a moral issue.
In a very practical and telling way, Luther gives us a glimpse into how to deal with the Devil on a regular basis. Trueman writes, “Luther’s advice on how to deal with the Devil in such circumstances varies. Perhaps the most appropriate advice he gives is to use the Word of God against him,… In fact, the Devil fears the spoken Word above all things, as he also does the sacraments because the power they derive is the incarnate Christ and the Word of promise (116).” We don’t often talk about the devil in Christian circles, but for Luther, the Devil was a ominous presence, yet one who was not to be overcome by dread with. The Word of God was Luther’s defense against Satan’s lies as it our defense, including the promises we find in their pages.
This book was a sure delight, a challenging read because Trueman draws out the ways Luther fought sin and corruption with ferocity that is unmatched today.
Thanks to Crossway for the copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.