Book Review: Words From the Fire

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Title: Words from the Fire:  Hearing the Voice of God in the 10 Commandments

Publisher: Moody Press

Year: 2009

Pages: 195

Author: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Website: N/A

Reviewer: Austin and Charlie

Charlie’s Comments:

I am going to review the first five chapters (commandments) and Austin will review the last five.
Let me start off with an overall review.  First of all, I do love Al Mohler and have greatly enjoyed his books that I have previously read.  Dr. Mohler is an expert at applying a Biblical worldview to modern culture; he is a wealth of knowledge in this regard.  This application of worldview was exemplified in his books Atheism Remix, Culture Shift and Desire and Deceit.  Having said that, I was generally disappointed in this book.  Words from the Fire is an exposition of the 10 Commandments, and not about culture and worldview, and so Dr. Mohler’s writing powers seem to diminish greatly.  The book seems watered down in general.  It is almost as if he wrote a book just for the sake of writing a book.  Another major disappointment in this book is that although does point out some debates related to certain commandments, he usually doesn’t take a position on it and defend it.  That seems like the easy way out.  Nonetheless, there are still some things to be gleaned from this.  I will not give an overview of each chapter as much as I will try to pull out something interesting that was mentioned within it.

The First Commandment: No Other God, No Other Voice

In this chapter the question was raised about how Christians are to understand the OT law.  It says that the Reformers famously debated whether there are two or three uses of the law.  Both Luther and Calvin accepted the fact that the law teaches us our sin.  Secondly, the law has a civil use since it under-girds all law.  The hotly debated possible third point is called the “didactic” use of the law.  It means that the law now instructs us.  In other words, are we as NT Christians to look at the OT to see how we should now live?  Calvin affirmed this and Luther denied it.  This is a very interesting topic, and I wish Dr. Mohler would have fleshed it out a little more, but it is good to know there are these three main approaches to looking at the law.

It is also noteworthy to see that the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods beside Me,” asserts not just theism, but monotheism.

The Second Commandment:  The God Who is Heard and Not Seen

This is the commandment that tells us not to make idols with our hands to worship.  Dr. Mohler says that in this command God is correcting a reversed view that sinful man has developed when he creates idols.  God is saying that He made us; we cannot make him.  We are created in His image; we cannot create Him in our image.

Also, idols indicate control.  A man-made idol can be moved, covered, toppled, and destroyed.  God will not be manipulated or controlled.  His hand will not be stayed.

I would like to quote this paragraph from the book where Dr. Mohler references Augustine.  “What do we do with this?  Well, in the first place, we had better understand that we are natural-born idolaters.  Our hearts are idol-making factories, and this is yet more evidence that we are a fallen race.  Idolatry is rooted in the depth of who we are.  Augustine got to the very heart of this when he said there are, in the end, only two loves – there is the love of God and there is the love of self.  And in the end, every idol comes down to a love of self.  We fabricate the idol, we fashion it, we feed it, we control it, we admire its beauty and its finitude, for it in the end is us.  There we are, as idolaters.”

The Third Commandment: Honoring the God We Know by Name

Dr. Mohler says we profane God’s name in the following ways:

#1) Through Reductionistic Theology

As the name implies, we take God’s name in vain when we reduce Him in our minds to make him less that what the Bible describes Him as in all of His glory.  Dr. Mohler says it is, “…to seek to redefine it in a way that would make His character or His being more palatable for a postmodern age.”

#2) Through Triumphalistic Piety

Examples: God is our co-pilot.  Our dream weaver.  Our life artist.  Our friend.  Our coach.  Our therapist.  “God told me,” “God showed me,” and “God led me” [these quotes are idolatry when ‘without any revealed, canonical, Scriptural word, we speak as if God has spoken to us and has given us a new revelation.”]  Prosperity theology also falls into this category.

#3) Through Superficial Worship

This is somewhat self-explaining.  Contemporary music is prone to this, as the older generation likes to point out.  Although [I found this funny] “John Piper is right when he says that a generation raised on ‘Do Lord, O Do Lord, O Do Remember Me,’ is not well positioned to criticize the young.”

#4) Through Manipulative God-Talk

This quote from Yale law professor Stephen Carter sums it up well: “In truth, there is probably no country in the Western world where people use God’s name quite as much or quite as publicly or for quite as many purposes as we Americans do.  The third commandment not withstanding, few candidates for office are able to end their speeches without asking God to bless their audience of the nation or the great work we’re undertaking.  Everybody is sure that the other side is sincere.  Athletes thank God on television after scoring the winning touchdown.  Politicians like to thank God as on their side.”

The Fourth Commandment: Resting Secure in the God Who Saves Us

This is the chapter where I was most disappointed.  There are several general views of keeping the Sabbath, and I was hoping to get expert opinion here.  However that is not the case.  Dr. Mohler’s basic opinion is that we should yearn for Sunday worship and rest, but that it is not legalistic.  He says that is because there is no universal recognition among people around the world of a Sabbath pattern (in nature), there is not a universal acceptance of a seven-day week. Vestiges of all the other commandments are found in the natural order, but the law written on the human heart does not universally indicate knowledge of the Sabbath.  Also, the Sabbath day as a day of rest emerges only in the Mosaic period.  And of course, our ultimate rest is fulfilled in Christ.

Dr. Mohler says that our view of the Sabbath should be less about what we “don’t” do, and more about what we “do” do – gather with God’s people and worship.  He says, “Are there things we ought not to do on the Lord’s Day?  Certainly there are.  Anything that would detract from our worship should not be done on the Lord’s Day.  Anything that would rob the Lord’s Day of priority worship should not be done.  Anything that would be on our minds when we are worshiping, as if we can only get done with this in order to go do that, is a matter of sin, no matter what it is.”

The Fifth Commandment: Honoring Our Parents, Cherishing a Patrimony

This one is also very self-explanatory.  Here are some quotes:

“Faithfulness beings at home.”

“A Christian home is to be the first school, the first church, and the first government.”

“The transfer of doctrine will not be received by the child through osmosis.”

“Premeditated treason against parental authority must be shut down or the insurrection will spread!”

“In caring for our parents we teach our own children what covenantal faithfulness looks like.”

Austin’s Comments

I echo Charlie’s feelings about this book.  Good solid read, but disappointing if you’re looking for Mohler to interact deeply with culture and “The Big 10”.  I found the book helpful in clarifying some of my own misunderstandings about the Ten Commandments and in gaining a better grasp of their function.  However, I’m hoping for a sequel entitled “More Words From the Fire” where Mohler takes each commandment and focuses on (1) how he believes we should use the commandment in light of the historical two/three uses of the law and (2) how each commandment is on trial in our present culture.

The Sixth Commandment:  The Sanctity of Life and the Violence of Sin

In this chapter Mohler discusses the depth of “You shall not murder”.  “The worth of human life is grounded in the Creator rather than in the creature.”  He spends some time comparing “murder” and “authorized killings” as well as the question “Is there such a thing as a Just War?”.  Mohler is faithful to state that at some points in Scripture God authorizes the death of humans by other humans.  However, he fails to interact much with these common cultural questions.

I did find this quote interesting and helpful:  “Without the first five commandments, everything we learn in the second table of the law is continuously and ruinously negotiable.”  (pg. 112)

The Seventh Commandment:  Why Adultery is About Much More than Sex

Dr. Mohler points to how adultery is becoming more commonplace.  He cited a brief article in the Los Angeles Times about a new line of greeting cards marketed toward adulterers.  This “Secret Lover” collection just scratches the surface on how we’ve institutionalized adultery in so many areas of our culture.  Mohler drives straight to the societal danger of adultery when he says that “[It] begins the breakdown of order that threatens the entire society, for how can we trust each other if we cannot trust each other in our most intimate commitments?” (pg. 133)  The remainder of the chapter discusses the link between physical adultery and spiritual adultery and then brings in Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 concerning lust of the heart.  Mohler’s main point is simply what the title of the chapter implies – adultery is much more than sex.

One section of this chapter where Mohler speaks directly to pastors with regard to adultery, was very instructional.  I provide highlights here:

“You must establish absolutely unbendable rules for what you will and will not do, where you will and will not go, and with whom you will and will not meet.”

“You must never develop emotional bonds with a person of the other sex who is not your wife . . . When a mutual emotional relationship begins and when the excitement and the anticipation and the enjoyment of that gaze begins, adultery begins.”

“We must establish boundaries in our ministry of accountability.”

The Eight Commandment:  Dealing with the Inner Embezzler

Here, Mohler discusses the dignity of and our right to personal property (something many on the fringes of the emergent movement might deny).  He then goes on to assess the reality of theft in a fallen world.  It’s a very honest assessment and he leaves no room for doubt that no economic or political system, short of that established upon Christ’s return, will alleviate this world from theft.  Churchill said of democracy “It is the worst form of government, except for all the others” (pg. 156).  “There is no economic system that does not dirty our hands through complicity with evil.  There is no economic system that does not create problems even as it solves problems.”  (pg. 156)  “If we’re really honest, one of the most difficult aspects of any contemporary economic analysis is that we are all deeply complicit in what honestly might be well defined, if not unavoidably defined, as stealing.”  (pg. 157)  Mohler later points to the fact that as New Covenant believers our possessions are not a sign of divine favor but rather a sign of incredible responsibility.

The Ninth Commandment:  The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

In a lot of Mohler’s writings, he combats the erosion of truth in our postmodern era.  In this chapter, he beats out the same tune; helpful but nothing new if you’ve read Mohler before.  He does point out the deceptive power that a lie has and states that “Lies subvert a fundamental requirement for civilization – trust.”  (pg. 165).  Sounds like he agrees with Calvin and not Luther on that third use of the law.  Dr. Mohler also unveils how our culture sees lying as “an important step in the development of the self.”  This was intriguing to me, and while Mohler quoted a few literary references, he left the topic all too quickly for me.

In the later portion of the chapter, Mohler posses an important question, one that was building in my mind from the start of the chapter:  Is deception ever legitimate and if so, how do we reconcile this with #9?  He answers the question with a series of questions and a simple closing remark:  “We find ourselves repeatedly in situations where it appears that the lie will serve better than the truth.  We do know this: God will judge the lie, and we will be judged for our lies” (pg. 177).  I find the questions posed by Paul’s unnamed objector of Romans 3 screaming in the background here, “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say?  Is the God who inflicts wrath unjust? . . . But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I still also being judged a sinner.” (Rom. 3:5,7)  Obviously sin is exceedingly sinful and the Gospel is good news indeed.

The Tenth Commandment:  Why Covetousness Kills Contentment

I found this chapter to be the most helpful and informative, because here in #10 we find the only commandment aimed directly at the intentions of the heart.  Mohler depicts the first and tenth commandment as bookends which make clear the comprehensiveness of the whole.  “Remember, because the Ten Commandments begin with monotheism and the total claim of a God upon His people, the end point is not merely the external directive addressed to our actions.  Rather, the final commandment deals with our desire.  And that word desire infuses our understanding of the entire Decalogue, because at the heart of all the commandments is the desire we have for our own personal preferences.”  (pg. 184).  Mohler defines this difficult word “covet” as “a hankering after”.  He does a good job here showing the pervasiveness of coveting; it was revealing to me for sure.  “What do we do when we get a new car [or toy]?  We have got to show it to someone, almost like there is no fun to be had if nobody is around to covet it.”  (pg. 186-187).  Personally, I’ve always thought that lust was the sin I struggled with most.  “Covetousness is the only sin that trumps lust; covetousness never sleeps.” (pg. 189)  Blast!  “But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind.” (Rom. 7:8)

Mohler closes the chapter and the book appropriately by going to the Gospel.  “As Christians, we read these commandments with the knowledge that, more than anything else, these commandments point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.” (pg. 194)

Structural Likes: Charlie – Short chapters.  Austin – short, easy to read chapters; as an aside, I think this book is a great introduction for a new believer.

Structural Dislikes: Charlie – N/A.  Austin – N/A

People Who Gave Acclaims: Johnny Hunt, Ligon Duncan, Ronnie W. Floyd, James MacDonald, J.D. Greear, Dr. Richard Land, Phil Roberts, Dr. Daniel L. Akin, Steve Gaines, PhD

Other Books by Author: Atheism Remix, Culture Shift, Desire and Deceit, and more.

Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 4:56 am  Leave a Comment