TEN: Rethinking the Ten Commandments (Sean Gladding)

When you read so much literature written in a fairly abstract and academic tone, it’s always nice to have to have a book which reads in a conversational or narrative format. Sean Gladding’s new book Ten: Words of Life for an Addicted, Compulsive, Cynical, Divided, and Worn-Out Culture (IVP: 2014) was a pleasure to read for just that reason. Along the same lines as Randal Rauser’s A Swedish AtheistGladding places you within a coffee shop where you have the pleasure of listening to a deep theological (and pastoral) conversation. This just makes reading theology enjoyable for anyone…and a well deserved break for those of us who like to plow through footnotes!Ten

The book is, as the title suggests, about the Ten Commandments. And the book turns out to be a much-needed book on a much discussed controversial topic. The basic contention of the book, and I think Gladding is right, is that we really don’t understand the point of the Ten Commandments. We tend to think of them strictly as rules. Of course, one need only turn to r/atheism or read Richard Dawkin’s comments to hear the constant ‘couldn’t God give us better rules than that?‘ remark, but Gladding’s contention is that this is a poor way of thinking about the ten. Instead of commandments, Gladding thinks of them largely as Ten Words. Ancient words intended to bring life to every human being.

Gladding starts by suggesting that the Ten Words are really a linear outline of Jesus’ own words: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a fact that most Christians fail to recognize in their handling of the Ten. For most Christians (and non-Christians) the Ten do seem arbitrary. It even took me a couple of years into seminary before recognizing this fact: Jesus’ interpretation of the commandments was based upon its linear progression from God to neighbor.  This is a point that is central to Gladding’s book and his fleshing this out makes for the price of the book alone.

Gladding’s book is too narrative focused to try and detail the many points that it makes but it is one that I recommend, especially as one for serious younger Christians who are struggling in how the Ten are relevant for life. The Ten go much deeper than what even the Decalogue (the official term for the Ten Commandments) say on the face of it: they delve deep, the ask serious questions about greed and falsehood and hatred and pride. And they ask us, as Gladding’s book points out, to equally delve in deep, to be honest with yourself, and to think of the Ten not as abstract rules but as words of life will give you a whole new perspective on what they mean for us now.