Review: DeYoung on the 10 Commandments

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Quick, can you name the 10 Commandments?

Some of you who attended Bible drills as children might have your pneumonic at the ready. But many Christians are vaguely familiar with the commandments at best. Others who didn’t grow up in the church—like myself—may have never given a thought to memorizing such a list. After all, didn’t Christ come to fulfill the law? What does Sinai have to do with us?

Into this scene comes pastor and prolific author Kevin DeYoung with his new work, The 10 Commandments: What They Mean, Why They Matter, and Why We Should Obey Them. DeYoung isn’t interested in shaming the church for our lack of knowledge. Nor is he interested in a memorization challenge. He’s interested in equipping us for holiness and mission. He does so by clarifying points of confusion, using up-to-date examples, and pointing to the deep realities beyond the outward simplicity of the statements.

Do they still apply? Which ones? What do they mean in light of God’s mercy revealed in Jesus?

Highlighting the timelessness and goodness of God’s commands, pastor Kevin DeYoung delivers critical truth about the 10 Commandments as he makes clear what they are, why we should know them, and how to apply them. This book will help you understand, obey, and delight in God’s law—commandments that expose our sinfulness and reveal the glories of God’s grace to us in Christ.

Not Our Instagram Vibe

But first, DeYoung wants to frame the larger “why” at play in studying the Decalogue. The church isn’t ignorant of the 10 Commandments because we’ve tried hard and failed. No, there is a type of apathy involved. Along with that, we have a cultural allergy to authority and rules. Thunder, lightning, a booming voice, and chiseled tablets aren’t exactly our Instagram vibe right now.

This makes the introduction of this book more important than usual. DeYoung thoughtfully meets the culture by prodding us to see that we all care about morality, even when we say we don’t. We feign open-mindedness and tolerance, while establishing new rules that are right in our own eyes. Because of this, we need universal laws—a code that is transcendent, timeless, and wise. We need to see that these laws aren’t oppressive but good, because they were designed by Someone Good. DeYoung poignantly asks, “Have you ever thought about how much better life would be if everyone kept the Ten Commandments?” (21).

Yet even more, we need the gospel. Being convinced of the law’s goodness might fool us into thinking we actually can create the type of order they describe—if not in the whole world, then perhaps in our individual lives. As Tim Keller is fond of noting, we humans tend to ping from irreligion to legalism as quick as a pinball. DeYoung is just as quick to correct this tendency: “The Ten Commandments are not instructions on how to get out of Egypt. They are rules for a free people to stay free” (24).

From here, DeYoung takes us chapter by chapter through each of the 10 commandments. It’s clear that this work is written by a seasoned pastor: there’s always a structure of questions, exhortations, or examples to keep the audience on track. It’s a strength that DeYoung doesn’t use the same framing for each chapter. Like a good exegete of both Scripture and culture, he anticipates the particular confusions of each commandment and plans his treatment to engage them. This is an eminently practical book.

A particularly strong example is the way DeYoung clarifies and translates the second commandment. On first blush, a 2018 reader might not understand what making graven images has to do with her life. It sounds so far away and implausible. But DeYoung shows that the heart behind this law is “against worshiping God in the wrong way” (42). We begin to see that this happens today, just in different forms.

Yet in an age of individual expression, we still need to be walked through the “why” of the second commandment. Isn’t sincerity of intention enough? Here DeYoung exposes what is at stake in keeping this word: the glory of God in the world. The reader is invited to and coached in theological reflection, which adds a depth and richness to the faithful life that rote obedience could never achieve. Such moments happen frequently through 10 Commandments, and are its chief strength.

Reclaiming Treasure

In order for an even wider audience to be able to relate to the book, I wish DeYoung had included more examples beyond the nuclear family. And given the book’s strong beginning, a more robust epilogue that reiterated how God’s good law relates the gospel would’ve been appropriate. Nonetheless, DeYoung’s book is a helpful entry into the current climate. Personal moral failings and terrible atrocities continue to fill our screens and timelines. The church and the world are hungry for true righteousness, even if they don’t realize it.

What better time for us to rediscover and reclaim the treasure of the law, rightly understood in relationship to the gospel of grace?