Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life
Martin Luther was not only a theologian, a writer, and a preacher, he was a pastoral counselor who longed for peace with God. Now, 500 years after he posted his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, his teachings on gospel-centered and cross-focused pastoral care can transform our approach to soul care, and teach us that daring faith in Christ alone can change our life today and give us peace forever.
In Counseling Under the Cross, biblical counselor and noted author Bob Kellemen mines the riches of Luther’s letters of spiritual counsel to give readers a new understanding of how Luther engaged in the personal ministry of the gospel. He guides pastors, counselors, lay leaders, and friends toward a deeper understanding of the gospel that will directly impact their personal ministry to others. Through lively vignettes, real-life stories, and direct quotes from Luther, readers will be equipped to apply the gospel to themselves and others, and learn that pastoral care is what every believer does in one-another ministry.
As one of the most influential figures in Christian history, Luther was not only the father of the Reformation, he was also the father of “gospel-centered counseling.” As sons and daughters in the faith, we have much to learn from him. Counseling Under the Cross equips us to apply the gospel richly, relevantly, and robustly to suffering and sin so that we find our hope and help in Christ alone.
- On the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses, Bob Kellemen provides a historic Christian roadmap to pastoral care for modern pastoral and lay counselors from one of Christianity’s most influential figures.
- Highlights Luther’s personal and pastoral motivations, going beyond his theology and ministry to explore his personal search for peace with God and his pastoral concern that his flock grasp the grace of God in Christ.
- Equips pastors and counselors to apply the gospel richly, relevantly, and robustly to suffering and sin through lively vignettes, real-life stories, and direct quotes from Luther.
- Encourages readers that pastoral care is every believer’s call in one-another ministry and trains them to speak gospel truth in love.
- Explores Luther’s unique contributions to the body of Christ beyond his work as a pastor and theologian, including his work on reconciliation, sanctification, and comprehensive counseling that he democratized for all Christians.
- While writing his PhD dissertation on Martin Luther’s pastoral counseling, Kellemen was transformed through Luther’s gospel-centered and cross-focused pastoral care. In Counseling Under the Cross, Kelleman hopes readers will come to know how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and see that his love that surpasses knowledge.
“Bob Kellemen’s decades of experience as a counselor, teacher, leader, and author make Counsel Under the Cross a rare gift for pastors and counselors. This book provides an inspiring account of Luther’s journey from fear to faith, a comprehensive explanation of the classic forms of pastoral counseling, a practical theology for helping sufferers and sinners, and a Christ-centered focus throughout—all leading to ‘faith working through love.’ Read Counseling Under the Cross and be encouraged, instructed, and equipped.”
Pat Quinn, Director of Counseling Ministries, University Reformed Church
“Counseling Under the Cross exalts our Lord Jesus Christ. It has enlarged my appreciation for Luther and given me a new perspective on Luther as a pastoral counselor. I pray that the Lord will be pleased to use this book to call us back to the cross of Christ, that we might more fully follow the example of Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 6:14 by glorying in the cross above all else. I am personally grateful for Bob and for the clear and practical teaching he has provided in this book about the centrality of the cross in counseling and by extension the entire Christian life and ministry.”
Wayne Mack, ACBC Member of the Academy; Director and Professor at Strengthening Ministries Training Institute; Counseling Pastor at Lynnwood Baptist Church; author of Preparing for Marriage God’s Way
“I LOVE this book! I’m with Bob. Martin Luther has instructed and encouraged and reformed my life and ministry, too. Beyond the helpful unpacking of the key elements of Luther’s theology and methodology, Counseling Under the Cross reminds us that the issues that we wrestle with in our current soul care ministries are not new. What must be renewed in each generation is the courage to challenge the status quo—even within the church—with practical, biblical answers. This book will help you with that reforming process.”
Wayne A. Vanderwier, Executive Director, Overseas Instruction in Counseling
“We know Martin Luther as the father of the Reformation, not as a counselor. But as you read Luther in Counseling Under the Cross, what you find is a theologian who cared deeply for God’s people: Luther’s cross-centered theology translated to gospel-centered counseling. Kellemen’s Counseling Under the Cross is a rich collection of Luther’s stories, quotes, and lively vignettes that trace out how Luther’s care of souls puts Christ squarely at the center of everything!”
Deepak Reju, Pastor of Biblical Counseling and Family Ministry, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, DC; author of The Pastor and Counseling
“Think you know Martin Luther? Think again! Bob Kellemen has done a masterful job at highlighting the Augustinian monk’s heart and pastoral care. Meticulously researched and thoughtfully presented, in Counseling Under the Cross, Kellemen brings his trademark organizational skill, creative writing, and warmth along with a compelling insight into an oft-overlooked aspect of Luther’s ministry. Join Kellemen on this journey to the past and be encouraged that gospel-centered counseling is not so new after all.”
Jonathan Holmes, Pastor of Counseling, Parkside Church; Council Member, Biblical Counseling Coalition
“And I thought I knew something about Luther! Counseling Under the Cross is such a well-researched and beautifully written book. Because Martin Luther desperately needed gospel counseling himself, he developed a perspective of soul care that reaches deeply into the heart of broken sinners who long for (and yet fear) intimacy with God. And although he wrote 500 years ago, we still need his perspective—a perspective that proclaims God’s self-giving love for anxious sinners demonstrated by the perfect life and substitutionary death of the Son he loved. Perhaps if the church had paid more attention to Luther’s paradigm for soul-care, she wouldn’t have given herself over to the futile philosophies of the world as she has. Bob Kellemen has given us a gift that has been sorely needed by the church: a revival of Luther’s deep, gentle, and loving counsel. What a gift!”
Elyse M. Fitzpatrick, Author of Counsel from the Cross
“In Counseling Under the Cross, Bob Kellemen has written an insightful work concerning the implications of Luther’s theological observation that will greatly help the Christian pastor and biblical counselor address serious issues of the heart. Living under the cross changes people for the better! If you want to learn the theological impact of this truth, you must read this book! The transformation that occurred in the heart of Martin Luther happened because he was a fervent student of the Word. His observations concerning Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11 were completely life-transforming because he learned salvation was wholly a work of God, solely secured by the work of Christ on the cross.”
John D. Street, Chair, Biblical Counseling Graduate Programs, The Master’s University & Seminary; President, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC)
“When he nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg 500 years ago, Martin Luther didn’t just spark a church reformation, he started a personal revival for soul care. Bob Kellemen’s insightful book, Counseling Under the Cross, keeps the Reformation alive. When it comes to the cure of souls, Dr. Kellemen writes like few others. Now we know why. He has been deeply influenced by the suffering and victory of Martin Luther, a man once under a hopeless works theology. Luther’s deliverance is ours too. Grace-saturated and gospel-focused, Counseling Under the Cross will change the way you counsel yourself and others. I highly recommend it.”
Garrett Higbee, President of Soul Care Consulting
“We all know Martin Luther, the Reformer who recovered the bedrock scriptural principles summarized in the great solas. Five hundred years later, as the church stands in need of a recovery of biblical soul care, Bob Kellemen introduces us to Luther the biblical counselor. In Counseling Under the Cross, Bob shows how Luther faithfully ministered God’s Word to those in his day who were simultaneously sinners and sufferers. Bob also shows how Luther addresses the challenges faced by biblical counselors today, including the proper balance of the gospel indicatives and the corresponding imperatives. One of the greatest benefits of this book is that it offers the reader the cream of Kellemen’s years of extensive research in a very concise and readable format. I highly recommend it.”
Jim Newheiser, Director of the Christian Counseling Program, Associate Professor of Counseling and Practical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, NC
“When I first heard Dr. Kellemen talk about Luther as a soul physician, I was somehow surprised. After all, Luther is the bold Reformer, not a caring shepherd of suffering people. However, Counseling Under the Cross proved me wrong. Bob masterfully describes the transformation of a fearful monk into a faithful, bold, and loving pastor. And he does so not in a merely historical fashion, but by applying eternal truths for today. Praise God for the work of the Cross then, now, and forever.”
Alexandre “Sacha” Mendes, Associate Pastor (Brazil); Director for Vision and Expansion of the Brazilian Association of Biblical Counselors (ABCB); Member of Board of Directors, Biblical Counseling Coalition
“With the flood of Reformation 500 books coming out, Bob Kellemen offers a unique contribution and perspective with Counseling Under the Cross. Like pulling up to Luther’s famous dinner table in Wittenberg for a table talk, Kellemen guides us through the pastoral care of one of the heroes of the faith. Luther’s counsel on suffering is particularly needed in our contemporary church. I’m happy to commend Dr. Kellemen’s book to any Christian wanting to know Luther and the God Luther served.”
Steve DeWitt, Sr. Pastor, Bethel Church; author of Eyes Wide Open
“Would it surprise you to know that Luther, the Reformer, was also very much Luther, the tender shepherd? Passion for soul care grows best in the soul that needs care. In Counseling Under the Cross, Bob Kellemen shows how Martin Luther’s biblical theology, fashioned on the anvil of his own desperate need, inevitably shaped him to be a lover of souls who longed to see gospel truth bring freedom to fellow sufferers. We do well to sit with him at Jesus’s feet and learn, along with Bob Kellemen, what he meant when he called us to love one another. Counseling Under the Cross is accessible, insightful, instructive, encouraging, and it has been a means for me to worship God as Bob has masterfully portrayed his faithfulness to build his church one needy soul at a time.”
Betty-Anne Van Rees, Council Board Member of the BCC; Founding Member of the Canadian BCC
“Most know of Luther’s preaching, but Bob Kellemen powerfully and practically shows the commitment Luther had for using God’s Word in biblical counseling. Bob creatively shows how that commitment was rooted in the same great gospel that initially rocked Luther’s world at salvation. Luther, more than any other from the Reformation, has been the one I return to again and again. I love his passion, his raucous laughter, and the way he not only preached great sermons but poured his life into others at close range. Counseling Under the Cross demonstrates that in living color.”
Brad Bigney, ACBC Certified Counselor; Lead Pastor, Grace Fellowship Church; author of Gospel Treason
“Counseling Under the Cross by Bob Kellemen is Martin Luther expertly assembled so we witness how the cross of Christ yields honesty, transparency, compassion, comfort, wisdom—full-on humanity. In wonderfully accessable form, it is as if Luther were speaking to us at his table or writing to us the most personal of letters. And we, in turn, can’t wait to speak of such matters to those we love!”
Ed Welch, Faculty Member, CCEF; author of Side by Side
“While movements may bear a leader’s name, we must never forget the source of a leader’s fame—grace alone. Dr. Bob Kellemen, practically, powerfully, and beautifully illustrates how God ministers his grace to and through sinful and broken vessels—like Martin Luther and us! It is refreshing and encouraging to see our weaknesses and the all-sufficient grace of God mirrored through Martin Luther’s discovery and application of God’s grace to himself and others. Dr. Kellemen’s excellent work and writing in Counseling Under the Cross motivates us to thank God that our counseling does not lead to ourselves or any other human being but rather to the victory won at the cross!”
Charles Ware, President of Crossroads Bible College; Council Member, Biblical Counseling Coalition
Robert W. Kellemen, PhD, is the Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Department at Crossroads Bible College and the founder and CEO of RPM Ministries. He is also the author of many books, including Gospel-Centered Counseling and Gospel Conversations. Bob and his wife Shirley have two children and two grandchildren.