Luther on the Christian Life (1)

An excellent book has come off the Crossway presses earlier this year. Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman is a title worth buying and reading. There are numerous books about Martin Luther available today. Many are large and imposing to the average reader. Truman’s book balances brevity with depth of content. The chapters are of a manageable size for an evening’s read and the material treated in each is digestible in one sitting. What is the aim of this book? As the title indicates, this book is part of a series which offers the perspectives of prominent churchmen of the past on the Christian life. Trueman’s installment in the series deals with Martin Luther’s view of the Christian life. As Reformed Christians our roots are deeply ingrained in the soil of the “Lutheran” Reformation as well as the “Calvinist” Reformation. We rightly consider Luther one of the fathers of our churches as well. Therefore, we are very interested in what Luther has to say about living the Christian life. Although Luther wrote long ago during the late Middle Ages in a society quite different from our own, his instruction is as relevant as ever. His practical wisdom and his spiritual insights, drawn from a deep understanding of the Scriptures and his own experience of the Christian life, are timeless. The eight chapters of this book offer an opportunity for edification through engaging the reader with the thought of this great saint and doctor of the church of the past. By listening to Luther and searching out his profound Christ-centered thought we can surely grow in our understanding of the gospel and our own Christian lives.

Today we will briefly review the first chapter entitled Martin Luther’s Christian Life. In the opening chapter Trueman provides a brief yet lively retelling of Luther’s own Christian life and the important events which shaped him into the great Reformer, pastor, and theologian he became. We need not recount those events here. Let the interested read the book. Whether one is looking to learn more about Luther or already well acquainted with the great reformer’s life, one will surely find Trueman’s historical sketch to be both enjoyable and profitable. There are two things I found especially helpful about Trueman’s approach. First, instead of abstracting Luther from his historical circumstances, Trueman endeavors to present Luther to the reader in his own context and historical situation. This helps us understand why Luther did the things he did and thought the way he thought. In this way the author illuminates how God used the events of Luther’s own Christian life to shape his understanding of the Gospel and how it is to be lived. Luther was a man who knew the gospel of grace by experience. His own struggle with sin and the torturous question of how one can become righteous before God was the means God used to lead Luther to study the Scriptures and recover the great doctrine of justification by faith. Although Luther became a doctor of theology the gospel was never a mere matter of the intellect for him. Luther lived his theology. He is an example to the generations that follow him. Second, Trueman presents Luther to the reader as a real man of flesh and blood. On the pages of this book we not only find Luther the bold reformer and devoted servant of God; we also find Luther the man, with all his flaws and shortcomings. This makes Trueman’s sketch of Luther’s life relatable. Luther was one of us. He struggled with the same temptations and sins that we face. Luther was a man who was weak and a sinner, yet used by God to accomplish things that no man could ever accomplish by himself. Without a doubt God gave unequalled gifts to Luther. He stands among the greatest men of church history. And yet for all that, the reformer of Wittenberg was a real man like us. That is what makes him so lovable to his heirs.

Justin Smidstra

One thought on “Luther on the Christian Life (1)

  1. Reblogged this on The Three R's Blog and commented:
    With Justin Smidstra’s permission, I re-post his recent review of a book I have mentioned here as well: Carl Trueman’s new title, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Crossway, 2015).
    Justin plans to do a chapter-by-chapter review of the book, so look for more to come here as well as on the Young Calvinists blog. Thank you, Justin for your permission, and for the fine start to your review of this significant book.


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