TEN: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided and Worn Out Culture. – a book review
In the first church I served after seminary we had a great old saint who had taught third grade Sunday school for over fifty years. Amazing isn’t it! I was told that she had taught the ‘Thou Shalt Nots’ to every third grader for generations. Every child that came through her class memorized the Ten Commandments. It was tradition. Everyone in the community seemed to know that if you were Methodist and in third grade you were learning your ‘Thou Shalt Nots.’ I miss her. I often wonder if anyone is teaching the third graders these words today. I hope so.
Like most people I’ve always approached the Ten Commandments as a list of rules. I’ve heard them described as ‘the basics,’ ‘the foundations,’ ‘the bare minimum.’ I guess I thought of them in much the same way that I thought of the instructions for a game of Monopoly. Or perhaps I thought of them like the laws we follow in society. Maybe I was a little afraid that if I broke one I might get in trouble with God. As if God functions like a cosmic police officer patrolling the universe looking for rule breakers to smite. I think that’s a pretty common understanding for most folks. After all we’re used to rules. We understand the concept of law. And we expect punishment for violating them. We get it. But maybe that keeps us from really understanding what God is after in the Ten Commandments. We stop thinking about them because we think we understand them, they’re just a set of rules we should follow. But what if they are much more than that? That’s Sean Gladding’s perception in TEN: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided and Worn Out Culture. (buy it here)
Gladding approaches the topic in a novel way. He tells a story. If you’ve read his previous book “The Story of God the Story of Us,” then that won’t surprise you. It struck me as a unique method because I typically read books on theology and Biblical studies and I can’t remember encountering it before. Though Patrick Lencioni effectively uses a similar style in his writing around business and leadership. The story begins in a coffee shop with the introduction of the necessary tension. Two characters begin an highly opinionated conversation around the question, “should we have the Ten Commandments posted in courthouses?” Those in the coffee house are Christian and non-Christian, curious and barely interested, younger and older, and a whole host of others. The central character is a pastor who volunteers to facilitate a weekly conversation around each of the ‘Ten Words’ ostensibly as a means to develop a sermon series on the same topic. The story really begins to take shape as they begin their weekly meetings. Gladding presents the commandments in reverse order counting them down in a David Letterman-like top ten list. This works well. Over the course of the weekly conversations the characters reveal more and more of their personal lives and struggles and they experience a taste of community that each appeared to be lacking. I found myself connecting deeply connecting with each character’s story. As the narrative unfolded I found myself being pushed to broaden and deepen my understanding of these sometimes too familiar words. As the characters struggled to achieve new understanding and to consider what it might mean to live this way in our society today; so I found myself struggling and wondering. Of course there are places in the details where maybe I disagree or only somewhat agree with the particulars. Overall I think Sean Gladding has crafted a true gift for all who will read “TEN.” I’ll finish this short review with my favorite quote from the book; a quote that I believe captures God’s heart for all people and why God gave us the gift of the Ten Commandments:
“When God freed those slaves from bondage in Egypt, I really don’t think it was to give them a bunch of rules they had no way of keeping. That could only lead to fear of God—making God just like Pharaoh. I believe these Ten Words were given to form a people who could live free of fear. Not by keeping rules out of fear of punishment, but by adopting this new way of life out of gratitude for what God had done for them.” (pg. 250).
I enthusiastically recommend you buy and read this book! It would be great for small group study, Sunday school classes, a book club, or staff development. Really, for any reason at all, just buy it-just read it-do it now!
Grace and Peace, Rich