Kevin DeYoung’s Ten Commandments

When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I underwent a significant shift in my understanding and practice of the Christian faith. Though I had spent my younger years in the Dutch Reformed tradition, I found myself increasingly drawn to Reformed Baptist churches. Though that transition was quite smooth, there is one issue more than any other that continued to perplex and concern me—the role and relevance of the Ten Commandments in the New Covenant. This was an area of significant and ongoing emphasis in the Dutch Reformed churches of my youth—the Ten Commandments were read aloud each Sunday and we were told to live according to them. Yet I found they typically received scant attention in Baptist churches. Frankly, I was not perfectly comfortable with either approach.

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Though my understanding and convictions have since deepened, I was still excited to learn that Kevin DeYoung has written a book on the Ten Commandments. One of the reasons I enjoy DeYoung’s books and wider ministry is that he grew up in a very similar tradition. He gets me, or I get him, or something. I looked forward to reading this take on the commandments and am grateful I took the time to do so. It was time well spent.

DeYoung begins by answering two key questions: Why should we study the Ten Commandments and why should we obey them? We should study them because most of us are ignorant about them; because they have historically been at the center of Christian instruction; because they are key to ethics under the Mosaic covenant; because they are key to New Testament ethics; and because God’s Law is good and worthy of our delight. We should obey them because they speak to God’s people who have been set apart to live in God’s way; because they reveal the heart and the character of God himself; because they explain who God is to us; because they guide us into true freedom before God; and because this law is meant to follow (not replace) gospel.

Having dealt with such introductory matters, DeYoung dedicates one chapter to an examination of each of the commandments. In each case, he examines the importance of that particular law and then provides practical guidance on how to keep it. So, for example, he explains that the fifth commandment is about giving honor to whom honor is due and shows that it serves as a transition between the first and second tables of the law since honor for parents is “the foundation upon which love for our neighbor is built” and the “one that shapes all other relationships.” He explains what it means to honor our parents (reverence, obedience, and gratitude), what limits there are on honoring our parents (we must not obey parents at the expense of obedience to God), why we should honor them (because it pleases God and because he rewards such obedience), and then provides practical tips on actually doing so, both as children under their authority and, briefly, as adults who no longer are.

I found his explanation and interpretation of the fourth commandment especially helpful. Of all the commandments, this one seems to have seen the greatest disruption or transformation between the Old Covenant and the New. It has been my experience that people in the Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed traditions tend to emphasize (and perhaps over-emphasize) the continuity while people in the Baptist tradition tend to emphasize (and perhaps over-emphasize) the discontinuity. I think DeYoung does a stellar job of grappling with both the strengths and weaknesses of his own background and theological tradition while still celebrating and honoring “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

There is one element of DeYoung’s writing that jumped out at me: He dials back the humor that has marked most of his books. There are a few humorous statements along the way, but far fewer than in The Hole in Our Holiness, Just Do Something, and so on. While I’m not at all opposed to humor, I think that was a wise and mature choice for this title. He’s a fantastic writer either way.

The Ten Commandments is a worthy book on an important topic. No matter your theological background and convictions, I’m convinced you’ll benefit from reading it (and any other of DeYoung’s books).

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