Monthly Archives: December 2015

An Unsolicited Book Review: Luther on the Christian Life

One of the hardest things for me about transitioning out of the seminary environment is that I have far fewer female friends who care to discuss theology and the deeper things of God. I didn’t realize how much I missed that until my friend Sarah sent me a copy of Carl Trueman’s book Luther on the Christian Life for my birthday this summer. Opening it was a moment of feeling so completely understood by someone. It was such a wonderful gift.

It was an even more wonderful gift as I read it.

I find Luther difficult to read. His style is bombastic and wordy and he assumes his readers to have his classical education. Carl Trueman, on the other hand, is pithy and entertaining. Reading Luther filtered through Trueman was ideal. Rev. Trueman does a masterful job of distilling a frankly overwhelming body of work and drawing out the essence of Luther’s theology. Rather than taking a single point in Luther’s life and calling that “true Luther,” the author takes the reader through the process of growth evident in Luther’s work. He quotes long passages, instead of tweetable sound bites, and he gives historical and biographical background through which to view the quotes. Rev. Trueman also does an admirable job of mostly separating himself from the work. In areas like the Lord’s Supper and the use of imagery, where a Presbyterian (Carl Trueman is an OPC minister, and professor at Westminster Seminary) would differ from Luther, Rev. Trueman offers those differences in footnotes, not within the text. There were only two places in which I felt Rev. Trueman’s voice rise above the work itself. In both places it was deliberate and added to the point being made about Luther rather than (in my opinion) detracting from it. Finally, Dr. Trueman does not permit himself to fall into hagiography or sensationalism. He is unafraid to mention the times in which Luther was “fundamentally wrongheaded” to quote the author, but he gives those moments the percentage of attention they deserve. He does not deny the later life anti-semitism, but he does not permit it to be the sole lens through which Luther can be seen.

Having completed the book, and now stepped back from it for a month or so, I find three major points have stayed with me.

  1. I found the inclusion and discussion of what Luther called “Anfechtungen” to be extremely helpful. Luther spoke of the essentials of the daily christian life as a. speech, b. meditation (not the eastern idea) and c. emotional distress or Anfechtungen. This idea that emotional struggle was not only a guaranteed part of the Christian walk, but a *necessary* element of it was a brain shifting one for me. Understand that Luther is not suggesting we should foster sinful emotional responses. Instead, Luther believed that if we are reading, speaking and crying out the Word of God (speech) and if we are actively pursuing the understanding of the Word of God (meditation) then we will naturally struggle with despair and hope (Anfechtungen.) The word will reveal to us the nature of our sin, and the holiness of God and that will cause a true believer to despair. Rather than being a downward spiral, however, Luther sees the emotional distress as a part of the sanctification process, that will drive us back to speaking and meditating upon the word of God. Luther believed that the emotional distress caused by the word of God was necessary, but that it was an internal response, and it should drive us away from ourselves and toward the external, objective, truth of God.
  2. That leads me to the second point that has stayed with me. All of Luther’s theology was shaped by his view that truth is objective, and therefore must come from outside of us. Dr. Trueman mentions at the beginning of Chapter 5, “. . . the more we examine Luther on the Christian life, the less he would seem to agree with the classic evangelical models.” (p.117) I had already reached the same conclusion by that point in the book. The idea that we must find truth within ourselves, or even that we are capable of some new understanding of God’s truth was anathema to him. Far from the rebel evangelical nailing the pope to a wall that is portrayed in popular culture and social media every October, Luther was seeking to return the Church of Christ to the objective truth that has been entrusted to her. If someone had said to him, as is the common parlance of our time, “I didn’t take that from the text,” Luther would have reprimanded her. There is the text. You take from it what is there, and you seek that outside of yourself, not from within. I was chastened (needfully) and driven back to speech and mediation.
  3. Finally, Luther’s habit of speaking to the devil when he faced questions was tremendously helpful to me. Whether Luther was actually conversing with the physical accuser of the brethren, or just facing his own sinful nature is of no significance, really. The point is, that when Luther found his mind assailed with doubt, he spoke truth audibly. This is a very practical application of Philippians 4:8 that I had once practiced and abandoned as mystical. Hearing the way in which Luther reminded the devil, and himself, of his standing before God, and the promises upon which that standing rested, gave me a sense of permission to do the same. My having a more robust theology now than then, I suspect has also helped it to be a more effective tool.

There is so much more to be commended in this book than a few hundred words can do justice. I recommend it highly, and I hope that this raving blog post also serves as the thank you card I did not send to my dear friend Sarah.

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Reflections on NaNoWriMo

This November I participated in the National Novel Writing Month challenge. It is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel between the 1st and the 30th of November. I have been wanting to do this for some time, and this year we weren’t moving or renovation or any of the big things that had kept me from it in the past. On October 30 I made myself a profile, named my novel and committed myself to write about a vague idea that had been floating in my mind for a few months. I had no idea how it was going to play out, or that it would end in my writing almost 8000 words on the last day of the challenge.I just said, “Sure. Let’s give it a go. How hard can it be?”

On this side of things, I am left with three general observations.

  1. I need to challenge myself more often. This was a difficult task, but I am telling my children every day that the hard things are the way we learn and the way we glorify the Lord. Homeschooling the children has been one of those hard things in which I am pushing myself, but just as an athlete is always pushing to better their time or go further, I need to do that in the things that I am comfortable about doing well.
  2. I can choose not to feel guilty about doing something I enjoy. Part way through the challenge, my Mackerdoodle (who is 8) asked why it felt like I was spending a lot more time sitting at my laptop. I thought about how that made me feel, and how it was making her feel and we talked about it. I told her that I was still being faithful to the family. I was still doing laundry and vacuuming and cooking meals. I was still tucking the kids into bed most nights and homeschooling every morning. I continued to read aloud and to bake bread and make desserts. I had no reason to feel guilty for also choosing to write 50,000 words in one month, so I chose not to feel guilty for it.
  3. I really love writing. I love the sensation of stringing words together  to make sentences that carry specific meaning. I loved developing the characters and building the events and researching a specific time and place. I really love to write, and I had forgotten how much.

So I am editing the novel I wrote, and I am committing to finish Kissing Frogs (for the two of you who care) and I will be blogging more. If the only thing NaNoWriMo did was remind me how much I love to write, it was well worth a month of my time.