A Review of Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom by Carl R. Trueman
This is now the third book I’ve read in the “Theologians on the Christian life” series by Crossway, edited by Justin Taylor and Stephen J. Nicholls. The author, Carl Trueman (apparently not related to the other Mr. Trueman, the jailor in John Bunyan’s Holy War), is perhaps the Reformed/Presbyterian community’s “resident Luther expert.”
Though I will freely grant his importance as a Reformer and influence on Western Christianity and I respect him as “the father of Protestantism,” for whatever reason I’ve rarely found myself excited to read a book by or about Martin Luther. But I have an inability to say no to books that call my name, so alas, here I go.
This book has a different flavor than the other two I’ve read. Certainly there is less of a popular feel to it, and it gets into more involved areas of theology and ecclesiology to an extent which I haven’t seen in other books in this series. Trueman’s command of his subject shines through a bit more brightly than Nicholls on Bonhoeffer or Ortlund on Edwards. Though Ortlund and Nicholls’ books have some areas of strength comparatively speaking, Trueman generally handles his subject in a way that instills more confidence in the accuracy and evenness of the portrayal.
Trueman paints Luther skilfully and fairly. I especially appreciated Trueman’s discussion of humor in the conclusionand also the section where he speaks about the misunderstanding of Luther’s teaching on sanctification. I also found the discussion of “anfechtungen” to be surprisingly lucid.
I can’t say that Trueman has “blown me away” with this book, either. On the negative side, I feel like he sort of got bogged down in discussing historical aspects of Luther’s views and practices on liturgy and the sacraments. I’m not saying that these things aren’t relevant. They clearly are. However, I feel like they sort of crowded out other aspects that may have been slightly underdeveloped. It seems that he was just sort of rushing to fit in vocation, marriage, children, etc.
That said, though, Trueman has delivered a solid presentation on what we can learn from Martin Luther on the Christian life. It is detailed, well-organized, conveys enthusiasm, interesting, and useful. What more can we ask for? It is a profitable read and well worth taking the time to work through.
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