AUSTRALIAN BIBLICAL REVIEW
BOOK REVIEW Published in Volume 54, 2006
CARL E. BRAATEN and CHRISTOPHER R. SEITZ (eds), I Am the Lord Your God: Christian Reflections on the Ten Commandments (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005). Pp. xi+275. $US22.00.
In this edition, Carl E. Braaten and Christopher R. Seitz have gathered fourteen essays, each of which exegete one of the Ten Commandments-for two major purposes; first, the editors show common ground in an ecumenical context. This is evident in the selection of contributors as well as some essays that contain addresses from an Anglican Communion Institute and the Centre for Catholic and Evangelical Theology conference. Yet this ecumenical approach seems subordinate to the second purpose: “The authors of this book are calling the church to be the church, and not succumb to the temptation to serve as an agent of popular religion” (p. x).
Given this ecumenical stage, it may be fair to ask how well each of the essays performs their exegesis. Indeed, many of the contributors are willing to seek out a common arena of discussion. David Bentley Hart, "God or Nothingness" (pp. 55–76), situates his thought-provoking discussion within the context of contemporary nihilism. He shows how Christianity began by combating the ‘pagan’ world and asks when Christianity recedes what it left? (p. 69). If we turn from Christ today, he suggests, we do not turn to other deities (for we do not have the option) but, rather, we turn to nothingness. Likewise, Bernd Wannenwetsch, “You Shall Not Kill” (pp. 148–74), takes a similar approach in drawing upon sources that are often considered the ‘property’ of certain denominations. He compares Luther‘s and Aquinas’s interpretations of this commandment showing they focus more on Jesus’ rendition of the commandment than the OT use of it. It is clear immediately and throughout that anyone interested in exegetical questions will benefit from the multiple perspectives here, especially in what Patristic exegesis has to say.
One exception to this thematic unity is Robert W. Jenson’s “Male and Female He Created Them” (pp. 175–88), which moves far beyond the bounds of discussing the commandment concerning not committing adultery into discussions about the Song of Songs. One could question how relevant the Songs are for understanding the commandment, since Jenson does not draw a clear enough correlation between them. He only says he wishes to explore the Bible’s meaning of what it is to be male and female. Yet would not a discussion of Exodus’ or Deuteronomy’s representation of gender be more relevant for understanding the commandment? Then, Jenson suggests that the Song is love poetry between God and Israel rather than originally human love poetry; albeit his points are drawn from other works and not his own investigation, some valid objections are made against the sole classification of the Song as merely secular love poetry. But Jenson classifies the aversion to the more alle-gorical reading as “very Protestant” (p. 183). A reader may question how constructive such statements and tones are in the context of an ecumenical discussion, no matter from what background the author comes.
Other contributors not mentioned above are the two lead essays which set the blueprint: Phillip Turner’s “The Ten Commandments in the Church in a Postmodern World” (pp. 3-17) and Seitz’s ‘The Ten Commandments: Positive and Natural Law and the Covenants Old and New—Christian Use of the Decalogue and Moral Law” (pp. 18–38). Then, Thomas C. Oden’s “No Other Gods” (pp. 41–54), Ephraim Radner’s “Taking the Lord’s Name in Vain” (pp. 77–94), William T. Cavanaugh’s “Killing in the Name of God” (pp. 127–47), Reinhard Hütter’s “The Tongue—Fallen and Restored: Some Reflections on the Three Voices of the Eighth Commandment” (pp. 189–205), Markus Bockmuehl’s “Keeping it Holy: Old Testament Commandment and New Testament Faith” (pp. 95–124), Carl E. Braaten’s “Sins of the Tongue” (pp. 206–17), R. R. Reno’s ”God or Mammon” (pp. 218–236), Robert Louis Wilken’s “Keeping the Commandments” (pp. 239–52) and Gilbert Meilaender’s, “Hearts Set to Obey” (pp. 253–75).
The majority of essays serve the two purposes of the discussion; they call the church back from a relativistic and uncertain future. Further, they discuss the relevance of the commandments for today. But the triumph of this collection is how this is done. The authors’ ecumenical approach calls on the whole Church, not merely their denominations. Through this method, I believe their primary goal is strengthened. This collection will command a wide audience for those interested in ecumenical dialogue and specifically exegesis that leans towards the theological implications of the commandments.
Shawn W. Flynn
Corpus Christi College