A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World

Title of Work:

A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World

Author of Work:

Bryan Wolfmueller


Pastor Nathanael Brenner

Page Number:


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The goal of each Christian is to die in the faith. Conversely, the devil’s goal is to put our faith to death. And so there is an ongoing spiritual battle in the Christian’s life.  

In A Martyr’s Faith in a Faithless World, Bryan Wolfmueller encourages the reader to fight the good fight of faith. “We simply can’t read the Bible without bumping into the uncomfortable fact that we are at war, that we have enemies who want to see us destroyed. We must give up the idea that the Christian life is a peaceful or quiet life” (41-42). Wolfmueller makes the point that Christians need heroes who encourage them to trust God and believe his promises in the midst of all sorts of trouble, who remind them of God’s mercy, who  spur them on to thank God for all his gifts, who can stand as examples, who pray, who serve, who suffer with patience—Christians even need heroes who die. As the title suggests, Wolfmueller’s book is written to provide examples of heroes who fit this description.  

However, this is not merely a book about historical figures. Instead, Wolfmueller chooses to follow a simple five-part outline drawn from Jesus’s Parable of the Sower. Part one explains how the Word (the seed) is always opposed and attacked. Parts two through four address how three different enemies attack the Word: the devil (the bird), the suffering caused by the world (the hot sun), and the choking from our own sinful flesh (the weeds). Part five focuses on the Word planted in good dirt. 

Heroes of faith enter the picture as Wolfmueller begins each section. Out of the great cloud of martyrs, the author chooses Stephen, Perpetua, Polycarp, Romanus, and Agatha, and provides an account of their lives of faith. His list is not one-dimensional, as it is drawn from Scripture as well as the history of the church, including two women (a 22-year-old mother and a 15-year-old virgin) and three men (Stephen, a younger man and an 86-year-old man). These are formidable stories of martyrdom. All the same, Wolfmueller points out that while we may never be stoned to death or burned at the stake for our faith, we do have even more dangerous and sneakier threats in devil, world, and sinful flesh. 

Since his outline focuses on a parable that is about the Word, it is not surprising to find Wolfmueller  presenting helpful suggestions for reading the Bible: 1. Smell the Text—use your imagination and put yourself in the story. 2. Talk Back to the Book—engage, ask questions, circle, underline, read it out loud. 3. Look for the Surprise—know there is something new for you in the text, because God’s mercies are new every morning. 4. Read Theologically—move past the milk to solid food; dig deep into the mysteries found only in Scripture; ask “What does this mean?” before “What does this mean to me?”  5. Delight in God’s Word—the Bible never says to read it, but to meditate, treasure, and delight in it. These suggestions are valuable in bringing Christians along to see that the Bible is a book full of real humanity and not merely a collection of children’s stories. 

As he analyzes the Christian life in this world, Wolfmueller illustrates admirably that it is always lived out under the cross and that devil, world, and sinful flesh will never be far away. Instead of simply telling us that the devil will go after us, Wolfmueller chooses the three estates of church, family, and state to provide a more pointed description of the battlefield on which the devil attacks us. At the same time, he is interested in showing how these estates act as walls to protect the conscience (ch. 8).  

Moreover, life in a fallen world is filled with plenty of other challenges—sickness and temptation, sorrow and death, and persecution for being a Christian. All these cause suffering and strain faith, just like the hot sun bearing down on a seed in rocky soil. Wolfmueller insightfully suggests that our problem is not the suffering (the problem is not the sun itself) but the shallow roots. As Christians, we should not be surprised by suffering but should expect it (ch. 13).  

Challenges also arise from living in a culture that defines love differently than God does. Wolfmueller breaks down many human arguments that try to make breaking God’s commands look like virtues. Our culture takes our desires out of order, but the Ten Commandments and our vocations put things back into order (ch. 19). Wolfmueller devotes an entire chapter to the temptations of sex and money. These temptations of the weeds seem to be very popular, and Scripture spends much time addressing them (ch. 20). Combating them, according to Wolfmueller, is best carried out by living out our baptismal life—dying to sin, rising to live. We continually remind our flesh that it is not in charge (ch. 22).  

The fifth and final part of the book gives powerful encouragement as we fight against the assaults of the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh. Our confidence is in the Word—where our faith started and where we continue to be strengthened (ch. 24). Jesus is our champion who already defeated the devil, so he has no power over us (ch. 25). The people of this world cannot rob us of God’s blessings, no matter how hard they try. They can’t really kill us, because for us to die is gain. They can’t inflict serious suffering on us, because we rejoice to suffer with Christ. Christ’s enemies can’t remove his people from the world; believers live because Christ lives (ch. 26). When we see Christ and all those who have gone before us, we find strength to fight off our sinful flesh as we run the race to heaven (ch. 27). 

This book, simple and clear, makes for an enjoyable and easy read. However, I did feel Wolfmueller could have included a bit less on the Parable of the Sower and a little more on the martyrs. At times, he seems to go deeper into the parable than necessary, focusing too much on the details and forcing thoughts into it. Meanwhile, the martyrs he selected only get a two-page spread each. Longer accounts of the martyrs would go a long way towards inspiring readers. The book’s purpose is to inspire the spirit of martyrs; including only short vignettes may whet the reader’s appetite for inspirational martyr stories while keeping the focus on Christ. 

This book is written with a lay reader in mind and tends more towards the practical rather than deep theology. Wolfmueller intends the book as a follow-up read for youth and adult confirmands. A high school student could easily follow along. Each chapter is only five to twelve pages, and there is an audiobook available.  

A seasoned pastor may not gain deep theological insights from this book but could easily pick up some practical suggestions. This book (re)opens a Christian’s eyes to the hidden spiritual battle and the fight against dangerous enemies in the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. At the same time, it points the Christian to the Savior who has already defeated these enemies and gives us strength to battle against them until death. If you are looking for a Lutheran book to encourage someone to build on the six chief parts of the catechism for their daily living, this is a good one.