Friday, October 1, 2010

LHP Review: Not Really Lost

Greber, Dave. The Lost Commandment: Have We Really Missed What Jesus Really Wants? Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009. 256 Pages. Paper. $13.99. (LHP)

            Someone browsing online or in an actual store that sells books might come across this book and read the title and think, “Finally, a book that tells me what I need to know about my life in Christ.  Finally, a book that informs me about how to fix what is missing in my life as a disciple of Christ.  Finally, a book that gives me the last puzzle piece to the will of God for my life.”  Well, maybe it does not do all that.  What it really does is preach and teach the Law as if this were some brand-new discovery.  That Law being the words of our Lord Jesus from John 13:34:  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:  just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (ESV).  To answer Mr. Greber’s question in the subtitle – “have we missed what Jesus really wants?” – I would answer simply, “No, we have not.”  Well then, what is going on in his book?  Two things:  1) an improper understanding of sanctification (narrow sense) and 2) an improper method of interpreting the Word. 
            All Christians would agree that Jesus wants - commands - His disciples to love one another as He has loved us.  This falls under the narrow sense of sanctification.  This narrow sense of sanctification is defined in Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation (CPH, 1991) as “that part of the Holy Spirit’s work by which He directs and empowers the believer to lead a godly life” (p. 150).  What I think is missing from The Lost Commandment is the reality that every Christian, while a perfect 100% saint in Christ, still has his or her sinful nature clinging to him or her.  And because of that reality, every Christian is also 100% sinner.  Now, Mr. Greber does speak of sin on occasion in his book.  (A section entitled The Bad News on pages 48-49 speaks of a “fatal disease called sin.”)  But sin never seems to be the deadly deterrent to the believer keeping this commandment or “lead[ing] a godly life” that the sinful nature truly is for a disciple of Jesus.  As I continued to read The Lost Commandment it seemed to me that if I would just do what Mr. Greber wrote in this chapter or the next or the next, then I would be able to love my fellow disciples as Jesus has loved us.  All kinds of helpful advice and tips are included throughout the book.  Each chapter concludes with “Application.”  For example, Chapter Two concludes with two applications, the first being:  “1. Decide to obey the Lost Commandment.  Tell Jesus that you will obey the Lost Commandment with his help and in his strength.  Ask him to help you, beginning now.”  Framed with a proper understanding of the narrow sense of sanctification with God the Holy Spirit being the actor, I suppose one could say this is okay. Not very good, but okay. But I am a very squeamish about telling Jesus what I am going to do.  I would much rather have Him telling me what He is going to do.  But all the helpful advice and tips fell short as they continually directed me to “do this,” and “do that.”  I was certainly convicted of my sin of not loving my fellow disciples as Jesus has commanded me.  But I could not move beyond that.  And besides an occasional mention of Baptism (obedience) and the Last Supper (memorial meal), Mr. Greber has next to no means of grace theology.  Page 10 has this sentence:  “And then he wants us to do likewise in the power of the Holy Spirit.”  Okay.  But how does the Holy Spirit’s power get to me?  Mr. Greber does not expand on that.
            Is the so-called Lost Commandment truly a valid lens through which to interpret the Word of God?  Mr. Greber in The Lost Commandment has laid out a new hermeneutic through which we should interpret the Word of God:  that we should interpret the Word of God through the so-called Lost Commandment.  In other words, we should interpret the Word through the Law.  I would humbly suggest that there is another, better way – Christological interpretation.  We interpret the Word with Christ at the center. Christ, and Christ alone, is the way to see what God’s Word communicates to a fallen, sinful world.  And we do so always making the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel.  Any book titled The Lost Commandment is bound to focus on the Law.  This is what The Lost Commandment does.  I would encourage readers interested in understanding rightly John 13:34 to read the Word of God Christologically, properly distinguishing between Law and Gospel.  And I think Jesus has a better name than Lost Commandment – “new commandment.” 

The Rev. Peter Bertram, a regular QBR contributing reviewer, is pastor of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, Chadron, Nebraska, a congregation of the Wyoming District of the LCMS.