Author Interview Q&A with Dr. Bob Kellemen on Counseling Under the Cross
A Word from Bob: On September 11, 2017, New Growth Press (NGP) releases my newest book, Counseling Under the Cross: How Martin Luther Applied the Gospel to Daily Life. You can download free resources and pre-order a copy now at 25% off at my RPM Ministries store here. My publisher, NGP, did an Author Interview Q&A with me about the book. Today I share Part 1 of that interview. Enjoy!
NGP Question 1: You began and ended your education with Martin Luther. Since he lived some 500 years ago, our listeners might be interested to hear more about that!
I attended a Lutheran kindergarten. Then, some thirty years later, I completed my PhD dissertation at Kent State University, writing on Martin Luther as a Case Study in Christian Sustaining, Healing, Reconciling, and Guiding. And in almost all 14 of my books, I quote Luther. Truly, Luther has been a spiritual companion for my entire life.
NGP Question 2: In Counseling Under the Cross, you say that Martin Luther reformed your life and ministry. How so?
As for my life, BL (Before Luther) I applied justification to my life—I knew that God the Judge forgave me because of His Son’s death on the cross that paid for my sins. However, I wasn’t really grasping reconciliation. I pictured it like this: The Judge said, “Forgiven!” Then he sent me out of his court room, not wanting me in his life. Luther helped me to grasp reconciliation, which we could picture like this: God the Judge takes off his judge’s robes, puts on his family attire, and, because of Christ, invites me into his family. Because of Luther, I now hear God saying to me not only “Forgiven” but also “Welcome home!”
As for my ministry, people often ask me what biblical counselors most impacted my counseling. I’ll mention modern counselors such as David Powlison, Steve Viars, and Ron Allchin. But then I’ll say that the person who has most influenced how I apply the gospel in counseling is Martin Luther. To learn how…you could read Counseling Under the Cross!
NGP Question 3: Many people, when they think of Martin Luther, think of the great theologian-reformer. Yet you say that it was Luther the pastoral counselor who motivated Luther the reformer. In what way?
In his own life, Luther struggled to understand how to find peace with God. After many failed attempts at gaining favor with God by works, Luther finally realized the truth of salvation through Christ alone by faith alone through grace alone. He then spent the rest of his life helping others to come to the same saving realization. He nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg because he had tremendous pastoral concern that people were being led away from grace/faith and led toward works as the means for peace with God.
NGP Question 4: You explain that Luther struggled greatly with depression, anxiety, fears, and even with what we might today call “OCD.” What were Luther’s struggles like and how did he find peace and hope in the gospel?
Luther lived in terror that he could never satisfy a holy God—and he could not—in himself. He was tormented daily with fears of death and damnation. When Luther came to realize that Christ already satisfied all of God’s righteous requirements, Luther found the peace he longed for. Luther taught that if we deal with life’s greatest fear/anxiety—whether God accepts us—then we can face all of life’s lesser (but real) anxieties and fears. Grace grants peace.
NGP Question 5: Counseling Under the Cross shares vignettes where Luther ministered to at least three people who by today’s diagnostic labels would be considered “mentally ill.” How did Luther minister to these individuals?
Luther counseled one person who thought he was a rooster, counseled another person who claimed he was a corpse—dead, and counseled a third person who was a “retentive”—refusing to urinate. Those are hard cases! With all three individuals, Luther followed the model of Ephesians 4:15 by speaking gospel truth in love. Luther applied the gospel of Christ’s grace specifically to their struggles. And he did so in the context of Christian community—loving these individuals, expressing compassion, empathy, and care, and engaging the Body of Christ in relationship with these troubled souls.
NGP Question 6: Counseling Under the Cross is filled with scores of vignettes and stories of Luther’s pastoral counsel. Which stories are most meaningful to you?
It’s almost impossible to choose from among so many stirring examples, so I’ll highlight a “category” of care. In the book, I share numerous vignettes where Luther counseled grieving people. We often think of Luther as the fiery reformer. But he also had such a tender heart for hurting people. He encouraged people to grieve honestly, deeply, and candidly. He entered their pain and loss, and then he directed them to the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Grieving people found in Luther a compassionate spiritual comforter.
NGP Question 7: Counseling Under the Cross has scores of direct quotes from Luther’s letters of spiritual counsel. Which quotes of note are most powerful in your thinking?
This is another difficult question because there are almost 600 direct quotes from Luther in Counseling Under the Cross. On my website, I selected 95 Quotes of Note (since Luther had his 95 Theses). Here are links to those 6 posts:
- Part 1: 15 Martin Luther Quotes on the Sufficiency of Scripture.
- Part 2: 15 Martin Luther Quotes on Comforting the Suffering.
- Part 3: 15 Martin Luther Quotes on Looking at Life Through the Lens of the Cross.
- Part 4: 15 Martin Luther Quotes on Preaching the Gospel to Ourselves.
- Part 5: 15 Martin Luther Quotes on Growing in Grace.
- Part 6: 20 Martin Luther Quotes on Salvation by Faith Alone.
Here are two of my favorite quotes…
- “You say that the sins which we commit every day offend God, and therefore we are not saints. To this I reply: Mother love is stronger than the filth and scabbiness on a child, and so the love of God toward us is stronger than the dirt that clings to us. Accordingly, although we are sinners, we do not lose our filial relation on account of our filthiness, nor do we fall from grace on account of our sin.”
- “For who is able to express what a thing it is, when a man is assured in his heart that God neither is nor will be angry with him, but will be forever a merciful and loving Father to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous and incomprehensible liberty, to have the most high and sovereign Majesty so favorable to us. Wherefore, this is an inestimable liberty, that we are made free from the wrath of God forever; and is greater than heaven and earth and all other creatures.”
The Rest of the Story
I invite you to visit my RPM Blog Site again soon as I’ll be posting Part 2 of the NGP Author Q&A later this week.