• Peter Leithart is a theologian who can get creative with his writing. In this fresh look at the Ten commandments, he points to Christ as the fulfillment of the “Ten Words”. He shows us how these Ten Words speak to every area of our lives, including “worship, time keeping, family, violence, sex, property, speech and desire.” Leithart reminds us that God’s first command was to His first son Adam, while at Sinai, God gives His Ten commands to His son, the new Adam (Israel). These Ten Words reveal the character of God, designed to form Israel into the image of the Father. They also reveal Israel’s mission of imitating and imaging the Father. These Ten Words guide Israel to be what Israel actually is or must be – “the son who rules in His Father’s house.” The Ten Words also reveal Jesus, the Son of God. To the question, “Is the Decalogue for us?”, Leithart answers, “We might as well ask, 'Is Jesus for us?'” Reflecting on the First commandment, Leithart is very insightful. The First Word, he writes, “doesn’t merely refer to ranking (no God higher than me) but to position (no God in my vicinity).” He asks practical questions like, “When you’re cornered, do you lash out and blame others. Do you have so much trouble admitting your sins that you scapegoat your wife or husband, your parents or children?” If yes, then he says we are nothing but idolaters. The Second Word, he suggests, doesn’t prohibit all representational art, but rather making images to bow before and serve them. This is nothing but spiritual adultery. The unseen God has been seen in the person of Jesus, but even after the incarnation, Leithart reminds us that we still live by the ear! On the Third Word, Leithart reminds his readers that the prohibition is for us to speak and live as if God doesn’t matter. We are to bear His name with the weight it deserves - in everything we do! The Fourth Word reminds us of the Sabbath, which “pauses life’s noise”, which recognizes human limits, and most importantly, reminds us of the Sovereign Lord. The Fifth Word reminds us to honor parents, to give weight to their opinions and advice, while the Sixth Word reminds us that all of life is sacred. Leithart makes beautiful connections between the various commandments and shows us how one commandment is often an extension of another. I thoroughly enjoyed these connections he makes! I also love the way he keeps pointing to the gospel in each of these brief expositions. Reflecting on the 7th commandment, Leithart writes, "Sexual faithfulness in marriage and sexual purity outside of marriage aren’t mere demands of law. Sexual faithfulness preaches the gospel. When a husband and wife are faithful to one another, sexually and otherwise, they become a created symbol of the covenant God who keeps his vows to Israel and the new Israel. By keeping the Seventh Word, we dramatize the good news of Jesus, the Bridegroom of the church, who gives himself in utter fidelity to and for his Bride”. We often don’t think of our personal choices this way, but we must! Even though these are brief expositions, each of these are helpful reminders and pointers to the God of the Ten Commandments. I enjoyed Leithart’s creative writing and will recommend the book for an introduction to the Ten Words. *Note: Thanks to Lexham Press for a complimentary copy. I was not required to write a positive review.*
    1. Let me start with this: I don’t agree with everything in this book (minor quibbles only). But that hardly matters! There is so much to commend in this book that minor objections can be safely ignored. Harold Senkbeil, a former farm boy and present-day Lutheran pastor, brings together his farm and ministry experience to produce a modern-day classic for the soul-caring pastor. This is pastoral theology at its very best! Here are some questions he tackles with great precision and care: How does a pastor cultivate the heart of the Great Shepherd? What does it mean to be a sheep-dog guiding the sheep? How does the pastor develop a ‘habitus’ (a heart disposition) for ministry? How does a modern-day pastor battle ‘acedia’ (lack of care) in ministry? What does it mean to be a ‘sentinel’ (a soldier on guard)? What is the role of the evil one in deep spiritual battles? Overall, the book is a soothing balm to the weary soul! Harold begins by introducing the pastoral craft, highlighting the virtue of steady patience and the joy of hard labor, taking his cues from farming. His main premise is that action flows from being; identity (‘habitus’) defines activity! On the one hand, the pastoral disposition or habitus is a gift of the Holy Spirit; on the other hand, it must be polished and mastered by deliberate interaction with God’s people. In other words, the pastoral habitus is not ‘adopted’, but ‘acquired’ by much practice and over the long haul. Pastors, he says, are nothing more than ‘errand boys for Jesus’! I love that humble definition of a pastor! According to Harold, the process of curing souls has two phases: attentive diagnoses followed by intentional treatment. Attention and intention, he says, are equally vital! He writes, “The pastor must first listen to the soul before he can minister to the soul.” A hearty amen to that! He suggests that the pastor must listen simultaneously on four different levels (these are signs or guideposts): 1) faith, 2) providence, 3) holiness and, 4) repentance. Under intentional treatment, he suggests ten theses for the cure of souls, highlighting the role of the Word of God and the sacraments in intentionally treating spiritual ailments. If faith comes by hearing God’s Word, and if the world, the flesh and the devil conspire to destroy that faith among God’s people, the pastor’s role is clear: he must apply the Word of God and the sacraments specifically and individually, much like a skillful physician. Harold then drives home his point by comparing the role of a pastor to a sheep-dog. This chapter is pure gold! The sheep-dog's one ear, he says, is tuned to the voice of the Shepherd and the other is tuned to the voice of the sheep. This is how it must be with the pastor too! He highlights three things about the relationship between the sheep-dog and the shepherd: 1) The sheep-dog doesn't know or grasp the Shepherd's full intent. 2) The sheep-dog is not self-assertive but is the agent of his master's mind. 3) The sheep-dog's tail is always wagging because of his love for the shepherd (despite frustration caused by wayward sheep). Harold further writes that the sheep-dog carries out such exhausting work not by its own strength, but by spending much time looking at the shepherd. Isn’t that how pastors receive rest for their souls too – by looking to the Great Shepherd of their souls? The insights in this chapter are thoroughly illuminating! Harold then helpfully distinguishes between guilt and shame, saying things like, “Guilt is sin committed; shame is sin suffered” and “Guilt has to do with behavior while shame is a matter of identity. Guilt is tied to sinful things I've done; shame is the continuous experience of utter remorse over who I am.” He also reminds the pastor that genuine virtue and good works come from the Holy Spirit – they cannot be manufactured from within! The couple of chapters on holiness remind the reader that proximity to the source of sanctification is absolutely indispensable for the sanctification of our souls. By faith in Christ who is “actual righteousness and true holiness”, we can participate in that divine life. He also reminds the pastor that spiritual battles in ministry (sexual battles, acedia, etc.) cannot be fought with our puny intellects or helpless will-powers. We and our people need Christ, who has won the battle against the evil one. We must never forget that the devil is a defeated enemy! We are mere sentinels (soldiers on guard), who when attacked, call the real warrior and champion Christ to fight for us! The last few chapters then deal with mission (Christ’s other sheep), pastoring pastors (shepherding the shepherds), and the need for equilibrium in ministry. Overall, very enriching chapters! Much more could be said about this masterpiece, but I wouldn’t want to give too much away - though I already might have whet your appetite! As I said, it is difficult to agree with everything that Harold writes (especially his Lutheran bias, which is clearly seen), but his pastoral heart will undoubtedly warm your weary heart. I read this work not because I am a pastor, but to understand my pastors. Oh, how they need our encouragement and support in serving Christ’s flock! I only wished that this book were 50-80 pages shorter (he does repeat things, but only for emphasis). Nevertheless, I am sure it will be well worth your time. I highly recommend it. *I thank Lexham Press for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review*