Book Review: Doctor of Souls

Title of Work:

Doctor of Souls: The Art of Pastoral Theology

Author of Work:

John D. Schuetze


Pastor Joshua Free

Page Number:


Format Availability:

Hard Cover



Doctor of Souls: The Art of Pastoral Theology, by John Schuetze.  Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017. 348 pages.

John Schuetze serves as a pastoral and systematic theology professor at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.  He has a D. Min with an emphasis in pastoral care from Trinity Ev. Divinity School as well as an M.S. in professional counseling from Concordia University Wisconsin.  He also serves on the staff at Christian Family Counseling.

Doctor of Souls is an easy to understand pastoral theology book that communicates clearly what Scripture says about serving in the pastoral ministry and the many issues pastors face.  The author is clearly well-versed in Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions, as well as a host of other topics and fields. As a doctor of souls, Schuetze says we are to be masters of God’s Word. We are to properly use God’s Word as we care and minister to God’s people. After all, Schuetze says, that’s what pastoral ministry is all about: “It is the art of applying the law and gospel principles of God’s Word to practical situations in an evangelical manner” (2).

John Schuetze’s Doctor of Souls is a great addition to Armin Schuetze’s (John’s father) and Irwin Habeck’s book The Shepherd Under Christ. Schuetze is quick to point out in his foreword that Doctor of Souls is not intended to replace The Shepherd Under Christ. Both books offer unique perspectives on how to deal with practical cases while still applying the ageless truths of Scripture. Both books offer a variety of Scripture, as well as references from Luther and the Lutheran Confessions, that support our beliefs and practices.

Schuetze rightly highlights that many aspects of ministry have changed since the publication of The Shepherd Under Christ. In order to assist pastors in an ever-changing world, an updated practical theology book was needed. Schuetze does a fine job touching on the new questions and quandaries that have come up in the 21st Century world: ethical medical dilemmas, various mental health issues, blended families, single families, same sex attraction, etc. Schuetze does a good job of applying the timeless truths of Scripture to an ever-changing world.

The use of Scripture is very evident in Doctor of Souls. Not only does Schuetze offer biblical references throughout his book, he often gives the full Scripture passage and sometimes the surrounding verses to give the reader a better understanding of what God wants us to know. Schuetze makes sure to let Scripture speak, but not in areas where people may want Scripture to speak. For instance, Schuetze addresses the tragedy when a child dies before birth or before his or her baptism. He asks the challenging question: What is the eternal fate of such a child? An example Christians like to use in a situation like this is John the Baptist in the womb of his mother Elizabeth. When Mary visited the home of Elizabeth and greeted her, the unborn baby John reacted to the sound of Mary’s voice. Elizabeth explained, “As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy” (Luke 1:44). Schuetze cautions not to take this reaction by John the Baptist as proof that the Holy Spirit does work faith in the heart of an unborn child through the spoken Word. He rightly responds to that idea with two points:

First of all, the account simply says that John reacted to the sound of Mary’s greeting. To use this to support the idea that the spoken gospel works faith in the unborn would be to see more in the account than is there.

Second, we know that John’s birth and life were unique. Earlier in Luke 1 the angel announced John’s birth to Zechariah. When speaking about the child he would father, the angel told him, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth” (Luke 1:15). The angel indicated that John’s situation was unique. Therefore, we should be careful not to draw a doctrine from a section of Scripture that relates what happened in the case of one person, especially when the account reveals this person’s situation was special (183).

Schuetze is not afraid to allow Scripture speak for itself, even when it may not give the answer one may be looking for. Schuetze turns to the book of Job to help readers understand this Scriptural point. Job wants to know why God allowed certain tragedies to take place in his life. In so many words God told Job “He is God, and Job is not.” As human beings we have no right to demand that God give us an answer to a situation when he chooses to remain silent. Schuetze highlights that the Lord reminds Job that despite his hardships, the Lord is still the covenant God, the God who loved him and cared for him, the God who still regarded him as a dear child.

Doctor of Souls also touches on how to properly handle the Word of God. Schuetze mentions the Biblical Middle Road Principle. He does a fine job explaining the principle with a picture of a road with two lanes. We want to avoid going too far on one side or the other. We also want to avoid the ditches, or the extremes, when we approach theology and apply it to our lives. Sticking with the road analogy, Schuetze rightly mentions the line that divides the road into two lanes: law and gospel. This analogy is illustrated for the reader to see and better understand how to apply law and gospel (13).

The figures and illustrations the author presents are a useful feature of the book.  These illustrations help readers comprehend better the points Schuetze makes.

Doctor of Souls not only allows Scripture to speak, but the Lutheran Confessions have a prominent voice as well. In chapter four, when Schuetze addresses pastoral care of his members, he brings up the Black Death pandemic that harassed Europe during Luther’s time. The question whether it was proper for a Christian to flee such a plague or rather the individual remain and care for the afflicted was brought before Luther. Coincidently Luther’s comments apply nicely to our COVID 19 pandemic:

Use medicine, take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places where your neighbor does not need our presence has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?

Those who are engaged in a spiritual ministry such as preachers and pastors must remain steadfast before the peril of death. We have a plain command from God: “A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep but the hireling sees the wolf coming and flees” (John 10:11). For when people are dying, they most need a spiritual ministry which strengthens and comforts their consciences by word and sacrament and in faith overcomes death. Accordingly, all those in public office such as mayors, judges, and the like are under obligation to remain. To abandon an entire community which one has been called to govern and to leave it without official or government, exposed to all kinds of danger such as fires, murder, riots, and every imaginable disaster is a great sin (112-113).

In a world where mental health disorders are being diagnosed in more people than any time in history, the section on mental health is extremely meaningful. It is evident the author is educated in this field. Schuetze offers his readers comfort by mentioning that pastors don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of properly diagnosing everyone’s disorder or attempting to solve everyone’s fear, anxiety, and depression.  Schuetze, a licensed professional counselor, assures his readers that is not the pastor’s role. He says in one of his Pastoral Points to Ponder (another great component of the book): “In general, pastoral counseling tends to be more vertical, while clinical counseling tends to be more horizontal” (269). Schuetze makes it known that pastors are not trained in this field like a LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor). Pastors are limited in what they can offer members in this area. Even though pastors are limited in this field, they are educated in Scripture. LPCs typically will not be trained in interpreting and applying Scripture to sinner/saint as pastors are. Both pastor and counselor play key roles in helping a person who suffers mentally or emotionally.

As far as weaknesses in Doctor of Souls, this reviewer has none. I have heard of some fellow pastors who struggled with the author’s take on the elements in the Lord’s Supper, specifically the content of the cup which Jesus instituted. Some feel it goes too far to say something other than wine makes up the content of the cup. Schuetze does a good job communicating his thought, going back to the Greek language of the New Testament, as well as referring to church history. Schuetze writes:

From history we can establish that this “fruit of the vine” comes from a grape vine. We cannot establish with certainty that it always referred to a fermented liquid product of the grape vine. For this reason, within our fellowship we have refrained from binding consciences where Scripture does not bind them. It is the Holy Spirit not the church’s practice that determines the contents of the cup. It is God who inspired the term “fruit of the vine” and not the word “wine” (91-92).

The Doctor of Souls is a stimulating read.  Weighty topics are brought to light. Challenging terminology is used as well, which may be unfamiliar to lay people. For this reason, caution might be urged for some readers. The author does present lengthy foot notes that help offer greater context of a certain topic. Those studying for the pastoral ministry or those who serve in the pastoral ministry will find this book to be a helpful resource for their faith-life as well for their ministry-life.