Critique My Fourth Deuteronomy Sermon on…

obedience1OBEDIENCE, a dreaded cringe-worthy word! In the 2011 NIV, the word “obey” occurs 206 times, and “obedience” 38 times. Daniel Block (OT scholar who spent 12 years studying Deuteronomy) explains the place and importance of the Law (Torah):

The ancients never had the Law. Without the Law they felt the following:

  1. The gods are angry with me.
  2. My sin has caused the anger of the gods.
  3. I must do something to placate the gods’ wrath.

Without the Law their ignorance is also threefold:

  1. I do not know which god is angry.
  2. I do not know which particular crime I committed that provoked the divine fury.
  3. I do not know what exactly it will take to placate the wrath of the gods.

Into this dark world the Law (Torah) of Moses shines its beacon of glory and grace:

  1. Israel’s God has revealed himself.
  2. Israel’s God has declared the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable conduct.
  3. Israel’s God provided a way of forgiveness that actually solves the human problem of sin.

The plan of God. In the plan of God through the obedience of his people they would demonstrate their greatness to the nations and so fulfill the promise of the ancestors and serve as agents of worldwide blessing (Dt 4:6-8). In the language of the NT, Paul says that Israel was to be a letter from God to the world, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts (2 Cor 3:3).

The failure of Israel. Sadly, the nation as a whole failed in this mission, and the individuals within the nation who fulfilled this calling were rarely more than a remnant. But Israel’s failure negates neither the grace nor the power of the Torah to yield life when understood in proper perspective. Israel’s failure testifies simply to the hardness of the human heart.

What does “keep/obey my commands” mean? It does not simply mean, “Do as I tell you from now on.” “My commands” (Jn 14:15; 15:10) alludes to specific commands revealed long ago as God’s will. When the disciples hear this from Jesus, they are hearing the voice of the One who revealed his “decrees and laws” (Dt 4:1) long ago at Horeb. Through obedience to Jesus we demonstrate our covenantal commitment (“love”) to him. We also display to the world the privilege of salvation, divine presence, knowledge of his will, and blessing. Delighting in obedience to the revealed will of God represents the key to fulfilling the divine mission of reaching the world with his grace.

Is the Law a blessing? John 1:16-17 say, “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (NIV 2011). The 1984 NIV says that “we have all received one blessing after another.” It is not as though the Law is a curse and that grace and truth through Christ is a blessing. Both are blessings. Both are God’s grace. The contrast here is not between law and grace, but two ways of expressing grace: mediated grace (Law) and embodied grace (Jesus). For the Israelites, possession of the Law was a supreme grace (Rom 9:4), a grace exceeded and superseded only by Jesus.

May your obedience be a loving obedience to a loving God. May your obedience be rooted and grounded (not in the Law but) in the grace of Jesus who loves you and all people immeasurably.


  1. Please don’t regard this as endorsing “just obey,” which is unbiblical, clone producing, and which encourages non-critical thinking.

  2. Ben, in UBF I heared the word “obedience” many times. Often not only obedience was demanded, but “absolute obedience”. The target of that obedience was said to be God, but in practice it was the “visible servant of God”.

    In Gal 5:7 I found the expression “obedience to the truth.” In acts I also found (two times) that “we must obey God rather than human beings.” Can you elaborate more on the difference between obeying the truth and obeying human beings? Which truth is Gal 5:7 talking about? (I never found such questions on UBF questionnaires.)

    • Wouldn’t Gal 2:14 answer what Gal 5:7 is talking about?

    • Right, that would be one example.

      Another example of obeying the truth would be to protest when people try to establish a hierarchy in the church, instead of downplaying it as a “blind spot” and believing that by having patience for many decades, the problems will be finally solved.

  3. Joe Schafer

    Ben, what is the purpose of your message? Is it to give people warm, fuzzy feelings about obedience and dispel the notion of this?

    • For me as a German, obedience to authority always seemed to be a root of evil. When hearing the word in UBF, I always struggled with not immediately thinking of Nazis like Adolf Eichmann who said “The orders were, for me, the highest thing in my life and I had to obey them without question”. To some extend UBF achieved that I got warmer, more fuzzier feelings about obedience. But in the end, I found that my gut feeling of suspicion against “absolute obedience” had been very appropriate and I regretted not having regarded my gut feelings well enough.

  4. Ben, there is so much here that doesn’t fit with the book of Hebrews that I just don’t have words to express. I believe your entire framework of obedience is out of sync with what so many Scriptures present.

    The question that is ignored in your framework, as presented here, is this: What does obedience mean for Gentiles?

    I sense that you have defined Israel=Christians, as if Christianity is a “better Judaism” or “Judaism 2.0”, and that is the framework I reject. I am a Gentile and as such I am not compelled to obey God’s law in any way.

    I also see the word “fulfillment of the Law and Prophets” missing from your paradigm. “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” Hebrews 10:1

    And there are so many Scriptures that tell us that obedience of any kind to the Law is now cursed. The Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled on the cross, and hence have new purposes. The Law tells us the story about Jesus, leading us to the promised Messiah. The prophets now call us to obey the gospel.

    The Law is no longer binding for Christians, but the law of love and obedience to the Spirit is our new “yoke”.

    What do you make of Romans 3:20-24, Galatians 2:14-19, Galatians 3:10, Galatians 3:25, Galatians 4:21, Galatians 5:2-4, John 5:39-47, Colossians 2:13-15, Ephesians 2:14-16, and the entire book of Hebrews? How do we reconcile the Sermon on the Mount with all this?

  5. I do agree with this:

    “Into this dark world the Law (Torah) of Moses shines its beacon of glory and grace”

    There was a certain glory of the Law and the Prophets who called Israel to obey the Law. And that glory has now faded, being brilliantly and effervescently snuffed out by the One Glory, the glory of Jesus Christ. And this is an all-important gospel message, specifically 2 Corinthians 4:1-18, specifically 2 Corinthians 4:4 “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

  6. Thanks, Brian. My short, perhaps simplistic, response is that obedience is not the means of salvation, righteousness, or justification, but the fruit of it.

    The obedience you are mentioning seems to be a legalistic, curse/threat inducing “you must obey or else” obedience to the Law (or to your personal lifetime shepherd :D), which is clearly not biblical obedience, not even in the OT.

    How would you explain this?:

    • That is easy, because Jesus answered it if you keep reading a little further: “This is my command: Love each other.” John 15:17

      To obey Jesus’ commands is to love, the only debt left outstanding, the only command we have.

      Jesus is the “second Adam” who restored us to the state of grace in the Garden, where we lived under grace with only one command. Jesus now regenerates life in our souls so we re-enter the rest of God with one command: love.

    • When Jesus says, “Love,” you still need to take it to heart, remember his immeasurable love and grace to you, and obey his command.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I know that love is the great “command” of Jesus. But love cannot be commanded. If it doesn’t flow of its own accord, then it’s not really love.

  7. So, do you buy Calvin’s three purposes of the Law?:

    1) convict of sin
    2) restrain the world
    3) guide for Christians

    To whatever degree I would consider all three a blessing of grace from God.

    • Calvin is only in line with Scripture on the first point.

      1) convict of sin – Yes, Scripture testifies to that, Amen.

      2) restrain the world – Yes, but only for a certain time. Scripture testifies to that partially. Scripture says that love is the new restraint because the regulations that did indeed once restrain sin are useless for restraint Colossians 2:23. The Law and the Prophets were very useful and revolutionary at the time. Now they have new purposes.

      3) guide for Christians – No way. This misses the mark. The guide is the Holy Spirit who now is our Navigator through the Holy Scriptures.

  8. So for me obedience is not a dreaded cringe-worthy word. I love obedience! Jesus’ commands are not burdensome because He only gives us one command: to love! So I can now joyfully obey God every day. It is possible to learn to love and I am swimming in this new wine. Why would I ever want to go back to put on the shackles of the Law? Why would I strive to be a prophet who calls people to obey the Law? When Christ lives in me, my soul is being regenerated (not unlike Dr. Who :) and the obedience that comes from faith is fanned into flame!

  9. Brian, The Holy Spirit, mystical and mysterious, works even through biblical commands, imperatives and the Law to always draw us to Christ and to conform us to his image.

    When Jesus says, “make disciples,” you will either obey it or you are disobedient.

    When Paul says, “work out your salvation,” you also either have to obey it or disregard it.

    There should always be conscious willful intentionality in our lives guided by the Spirit to obey God/Bible/commands/imperatives or not. I believe that this is the way I live by the Spirit and in the presence of God by faith.

    Otherwise, just remove all commands and imperatives and Torah from the Bible since they are no longer necessary for daily Christian living.

    • I no longer live by such dichotomies, “either obey or not”. And that is why some have called me antinomian, and all kinds of horrible things. And I’ll live will all those labels, but I won’t shackle my life with “do this or don’t do that”.

      We need the imperatives in the bible, for the Spirit will indeed convict us at times. But I refuse to gauge my life by them. I will willfully and knowingly admit that I willfully and knowingly disobey many commands in the bible. That won’t change on the day I die. And thankfully, my obedience to thousands of imperatives will mean nothing on Judgment day.

      The only question Jesus will ask is this: Did you visit/feed me? This question is rooted in the one command, the new command, to love one another as He loved us.

  10. Brian, The Holy Spirit, mystical and mysterious, works even through biblical commands, imperatives and the Law to always draw us to Christ and to conform us to his image.

    When Jesus says, “make disciples,” you will either obey it or you are disobedient.

    When Paul says, “work out your salvation,” you also either have to obey it or disregard it.

    There should always be conscious willful intentionality in our lives guided by the Spirit to obey God/Bible/commands/imperatives or not. I believe that this is the way I live by the Spirit and in the presence of God by faith.

    Otherwise, just remove, ignore or disregard all commands and imperatives and Torah from the Bible since they are no longer necessary for daily Christian living.

    • “Otherwise, just remove, ignore or disregard all commands and imperatives and Torah from the Bible”

      Most of them are in fact no longer necessary for daily Christian living (they have never been necessary for Christian living in the first place, they have been only necessary for Jewish living). I think Acts 15:28 makes this 100% clear.

      The reaons why we still keep them in the Bible is not that they are still necessary, but to remind us how lucky we are that we now have freedom in Christ and don’t need to live by such laws any more.

      Please have a look at this commandment: “Keep my decrees. Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

      Ben, honestly, do you really try to keep that command and regard it when buying clothes? You don’t mind at all, right? So whatever the reason is why we keep this and similar commands in the Bible cannot be that we should remember to keep them.

      Regarding this particular verse, I believe it makes sense to keep it in the Bible because it has a symbolic meaning. To me personally it teaches, for instance, that it is not possible to compromize and mingle principles which are incompatible with each other, e.g. the gospel and Confucianism.

    • Well-said Chris. If anyone wants to keep the law absolutely, they must tie tassles on their coat, stop mixing wool and linen in their shirts, build a fence on their roof of their house and accept traditional marriage (which in biblical terms means you can rape a virgin if you want to marry her, have more than one wife which is allowed by the law, etc).

      Dividing up the Law into 3 codexes of moral, civil and ceremonial is a fruitless game of futility in light of what Jesus did.

      The Law puts an end to moral obedience by giving us crazy laws, flawed laws and impossible laws. The Law is good and delightful only in that we see the promises of God and the redemptive pointer to cling to the Messiah who is Jesus.

  11. @Joe, regarding love, I agree that it cannot be commanded in a sense. But the fact remains that love begets love. When I love my wife when I do not feel like loving her, love for her strangely grows in me. I believe that this is the experience of happily married couples. Love for God, Jesus, Spirit, his Presence, likewise begets love.

    Also, I believe that we all know that “God’s love” in the Bible is a demonstrative love. It is not a feeling love, but a love demonstrated by actions. God demonstrated his love for us (Rom 5:8).

    Likewise, we may need to willfully demonstrate love for our enemies and toward those who have hurt us badly.

    Of course, this power of love comes from the Holy Spirit, but it will also involve our willingness.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I do not agree that love commanded by Jesus is not a feeling love. How would your wife react if you told her, “I don’t feel much of anything for you right now, and I usually don’t, but I’ll still demonstrate that I love you by my outward actions”?

  12. @Brian. Like you, I hate dichotomies, and also do not gauge my life by my obedience. But I do like to access myself–not legalistically, and not to pad my ego–but to gauge myself, and by God’s help and Spirit, be more and more like Christ (even if it may not be evident to my dear wife!).

    • Ben, Newbigin presents the one dichotomy I accept: either law or faith. Newbigin rightly calls this the “absolute dichotomy”. This is the framework from which I am contending. I am trying to understand what you are saying in your sermon Ben, but so far you have presented a lecture on obedience that I cannot follow. But perhaps I’m just too rebellious :)

  13. Joe Schafer

    Ben, in your message, you suggest that if Israel had fully obeyed the Torah, she would have been greatly blessed and become a great blessing to the world, a shining beacon of light and salvation. That’s the premise of the Mosaic covenant. That’s what Exodus 19:5-6 literally says. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my commandments…”

    But is that really true? I find that hard to believe for many reasons.

    For example, I do not know what full obedience looks like in the national context. Does it mean that the promise fails if just one Israelite breaks one law just one time? I think not, because systems of punishment for disobedience were built in to the law. Some disobedience of individuals is already assumed. How much disobedience at the individual level is allowed before the nation as a whole crosses over from a state of full obedience to disobedience?

    Or does the promise fail if the nation’s leaders fail to carry out the prescribed punishments when individuals break laws — stoning the Sabbath breaker, killing the newlywed woman whose husband finds no proof of virginity, forcing a rapist to marry the victim, etc.? I would not want to live in a nation in which those laws in Deuteronomy were literally carried out. It wouldn’t be a shining light to the world. It be a terrifying, miserable place, like an Islamic caliphate.

    Are you willing to say from the pulpit that the “grab the hot women” law in Deuteronomy 21:10-14 was a good law to live by? Perhaps it was marginally better than the way women were treated by warring Canaanite tribes. But a kingdom of priests and a holy nation has to be more than just marginally better than the barbarians around them.

    And it’s very hard to look at the blessing/curse chapters at the end of Deuteronomy and take them at face value. At face value, they strongly suggest that God is like a vending machine. You put in obedience, you get out some blessing.

    We’re in a quandary. If we try to uphold the idea that every passage of Scripture and every chapter of Deuteronomy reveals perfect truth about the character of God just as accurately and clearly as every other passage — which is what many evangelicals would call a high view of Scripture, and anything short of that is a slippery slope to liberalism and heresy — then we have to massage and twist the Torah rather dramatically to say that it is consistent with our gospel doctrines. Because a surface-level reading of Deuteronomy is not very consistent with what we believe about the character of God as revealed through Jesus. Very smart people can write long books that say “if we are very, very smart in how we read Deuteronomy then we will discover that in every detail it is actually a declaration of the gospel.” The irony of that approach is that, in trying to prove that Deuteronomy and the gospels are really saying the same thing so that everyone maintains a high view of Scripture, you have to massage (some would say distort) Deuteronomy and overlook lots of bad things in it, which is not so respectful of Scripture.

    Another way to read Deuteronomy is to see it as retrospective and subversive. Retrospective means that, in its final form, it was edited and pieced together in the exilic and post-exilic centuries as a commentary and reflection on Israel’s past. Subversive means that the underlying message is that the Mosaic covenant, the Torah project had utterly failed and, in fact, was doomed from the start and rather absurd, because you cannot make people godly through a caliphate-style system of laws and punishments. The monarchy wouldn’t solve the problems either. The failure of Israel’s monarchy is also a strong theme at the end of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy can be seen as an acknowledgment that Israel’s religion and national systems had utterly failed to bring about the wonderful blessings to Israel and the world that had been promised. The book, like the Old Testament as a whole, ends with a big question mark: What is God up to? Has God abandoned Israel? How is he going to fulfill his unconditional promises to Adam and Noah and Abraham? Rather than looking for perfectly consistent gospel doctrines in the book of Deuteronomy, maybe we should concede that it is an amazing piece of retrospective literature that expresses Israel’s cry, “God, we’ve failed and now we’re demoralized and confused about who we are and what you’re up to. Ten of our tribes are lost. Are you still there? Do you love us? Are you ever going to come back to us again?” Rather than teaching definitive doctrines about grace, maybe Deuteronomy is a collective sigh of anguish and confusion and crying out for a Savior, even though the authors had no clear idea or agreement on who that Savior would be or what he would do.

    • Joe Schafer

      If someone wants to say that full obedience to the Torah is “obeying everything from the heart” — which, by the way, I do not disagree with — then please explain this:

      How would you obey the “grab the hot women” law (Dt 21:1014) from your heart?

      Or how would you obey the laws about stoning adulterers from your heart?

      I’m not trying to mock the Bible. I’m merely suggesting that the OT poses many serious challenges for Christians, and if we want to have a mature faith, we have to acknowledge that many of the pat answers we have offered about reconciling the OT law and the NT gospel aren’t fully satisfactory. To say that is to be honest, not rebellious.

      Sometimes the best answer that a pastor can give is “These questions are hard. I don’t know.” It’s scary to preach that kind of message. Words of certainty coming from the pulpit sound better and more reassuring than confessions of ignorance. But maybe we should be more comfortable with uncertainty and ignorance than with a false mask of certainty.

    • Joe, I agree with your line of thought. Although I don’t claim to have all the answers, I do claim that it is not so difficult to figure out the basis of the OT/NT relationship. One thing that helped me was to realize the bible does not present only 2 covenants. To reduce the grand biblical narrative to 2 covenants does violence to the gospel actually. According to Jewish thoughts I’ve read, there are 8 covenants (and don’t forget about the “covenant of salt”?)

      Yet these covenants are consistent, but only when we drop the obedience/blessing dichotomy. The Law’s purpose is to stop us from every way of getting to God and godliness (both in terms of salvation and sanctification) except through the promised Messiah.

      Lesslie Newbigin in “The Household of God” pg. 40, says this far more eloquently that I am saying it:

      “The law is not contrary to God’s promise but it serves the purpose of shutting up every way to God except the way of faith. Law cannot itself give life, but it can drive us to Christ. ‘But now,’ he says, ‘you Galatians are all, by faith and baptism, members of Christ, the true seed of Abraham (19-29). Since you have been freed from this prison-house and made sons of God through reception of the Spirit of His Son, how can you turn back again to prison-routine? (4.1-11).”

  14. Ben, since Chris mentioned Nazi Germany, I think we should study what Hitler and the Nazi’s did.

    The Nazi’s did as you say, remove the entire Old Testament, getting rid of all commands. They then inserted their own commands.

    I am not saying that. I think we should learn from the theologians who did not join the Nazi Christian-based ideology.

    Gerhard von Rad was an OT theologian who resisted Hitler’s version of Christianity which was void of anything Hebrew, even the study of Hebrew language.

    Here is a review of some of von Rad’s theology. I agree with these conclusions. We must retain the OT Law and stories of the Prophets because they tell the story about Jesus the promised Messiah. But since the Law and the Prophets were fulfilled, they now have been transformed into the gospel narrative.

    “The question of the significance of Deuteronomy preoccupied von Rad over the length of his career, in both his scholarly works and those aimed at a broader readership. As is well known, von Rad concluded that Deuteronomy is not law but rather sermons by traveling Levites preaching a renewed message of redemption. He argued that Deuteronomy’s law code was not dead text but live instruction, not incomprehensible demands for works, but spiritual exhortations to remember God’s grace. Deuteronomy returns Israel, hundreds of years after Moses, to the foot of Mount Horeb to renew Yahweh’s election and salvation. From this retrospective vantage point, Deuteronomy delivers its message of Israel’ selection. Von Rad concluded that in its purest form, Deuteronomy declares Yahweh’s constant, unconditional election of Israel to salvation. »Mit derErwählung Israels ist der Heilszustand angebrochen. . . . Es bedarf nun nichtseitens des Menschen eines Suchens oder einer problematischen religiösenLeistung, um das Heil herbeizuzwingen und seiner teilhaftig zu werden.«
    Socomplete and pervasive is Israel’s election that the concepts of commandments and obedience are subordinated. »Die Erfüllung der Gebote ist also keineswegsdie Voraussetzung des Heiles.«
    In fact, any attempts within Deuteronomy to narrow or make Yahweh’s salvation conditional upon obedience are seen to reflect later, secondary expansions. Only in these later additions does one find»eine gewisse Präponderanz des Gesetzes gegenüber dem Evangelium.«


    What do you think of von Rad’s assessment? I think we might find some common ground here.

  15. In regard to ubf, we don’t need to teach a better understanding of obedience. We need someone within ubf leadership with enough gumption to write a ubf version of The Barmen Declaration.

    • Joe Schafer

      The authors of Barmen were just like the R-group. They forgot God’s grace and disrespected God’s appointed authorities.

    • Just wanted to say the same. The Barmen Declaration is more like the UBF reform declaration that has already been written.

      What UBF needs now to be written is rather a UBF version of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt.

    • Ah yes, excellent point Chris. Thanks for this correction. Indeed the ubf heritage has already been abandoned and demonstrated to be abusive and flawed. What remains is only the admission of guilt by those in leadership.

    • Yes indeed, if there is something I long to see from top ubf leaders, it is this:

      “With great pain we say: By us infinite wrong was brought over many peoples and countries. That which we often testified to in our communities, we express now in the name of the whole church: We did fight for long years in the name of Jesus Christ against the mentality that found its awful expression in the National Socialist regime of violence; but we accuse ourselves for not standing to our beliefs more courageously, for not praying more faithfully, for not believing more joyously, and for not not loving more ardently.

      Now a new beginning is to be made in our churches. Based on the Holy Scripture, with complete seriousness directed to the lord of the church, they start to cleanse themselves of the influences of beliefs foreign to the faith and to reorganize themselves. We hope to the God of grace and mercy that He will use our churches as His tools and give them licencse to proclaim His word and to obtain obedience for His will, amongst ourselves and among our whole people.”

  16. Precisely Joe!

    “Subversive means that the underlying message is that the Mosaic covenant, the Torah project had utterly failed and, in fact, was doomed from the start and rather absurd, because you cannot make people godly through a caliphate-style system of laws and punishments.” – See more at:

  17. Ben I wish I could click a thousand dislikes but I can only click once…

    I simply have to vent my anger over the picture you chose for this article.

    Your picture of “If you love me obey me” and a dog is horrific given our context. We all know what I’m talking about. Those who were given dead-dog training should not be mocked in such a way. And the obedience to the gospel should not be reduced to the obedience of a dog. I am sorry for the trigger reaction, but that is one of the most infuriating things I’ve ever seen.

    • So sorry, Brian. “Dead dog training” NEVER EVER crossed my mind. I chose the picture simply because it was cute, and somewhat related to my post, and for the sake of levity and humor.

  18. Let me repeat myself and say thanks for all the comments which I truly enjoy reading, and which I have to say that I really do not disagree.

    @Brian, I fully concur with your quotes from Newbigin and about von Rad.

    @Joe. Yes, Israel failed, and God knew beforehand.

    The garden, temple, sacrificial system, Law, judges, kings, etc, all look to the ultimate fulfillment by the Messiah.

    Dt 21:10-14, according to all commentaries and scholars that I’ve referred to all say the same thing: protect the dignity of women, who have suffered endlessly at the hands of men.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, yes, by all means, we must protect the dignity of women. But that law in Dt 21 falls far short of that. At best, there is only a tiny spark of that in the law. To draw “protect the dignity of women” out from the text requires a huge amount of external input and eisegesis. If we are going to say things like “The law of the Lord is perfect,” “the law of Moses is absolutely good,” and so on, then intellectual honesty requires us to explain that what we mean by “the law” is not the law per se, but only the sparks and embers of goodness in the law that are now ignited to life by Jesus and fanned into flame by the Spirit.

      The law of Moses itself is not such a shining beacon of law and grace. It was better than what other nations had. It was a sign of the special relationship that Israel had with the creator God. It helped pave the way for the Messiah. But it wasn’t a super-wonderful thing. It wasn’t the gold standard that would have made Israel awesome if they had given it their best shot. Jesus was and is the gold standard. I think it behooves us to recognize that.

      When preachers say unqualified wonderful things about the law of Moses, many of us cringe, and for good reason. For postmodern audiences, that kind of preaching may not help the cause of Christ, and might actually drive people away.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, maybe this will help you to understand what I’m trying to say.

      If you say that obeying Dt 21 from your heart means fully protecting the dignity of women, then in order to obey it from your heart, you cannot actually do what that law explicitly permits you to do. That’s too convoluted for my taste.

  19. Are you saying or do you think that my presentation of obedience in response to the love and grace of God (in both the OT and NT) diminishes or obscures or confuses or misinforms the proclamation of the gospel?

    I really have no problem saying I don’t know and I don’t fully understand, because the truth is I don’t know and I don’t fully understand. Yet (even though I am not the apostle Paul!) I do want to continue to learn, read and study in order to proclaim the whole counsel, will, plan, purpose of God (Ac 20:27):;ESV;NASB;HCSB

    • I’m saying your presentation confuses the gospel proclamation. The main reason is that you don’t clearly say what or who we obey. If that is made more clear then it’s probably ok.

      This is confusing because you hint (with a sly smile) that we who received grace must submit all over again to the 613 mizvot. Clarify that and you’ll probably have more of a sermon than just a lecture about obedience.

      So even though I don’t like (or understand) the grace produces obedience paradigm, I would be ok with it if you very clearly articulate who and what we obey, that is Jesus and the gospel through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and sounding board of the Holy Scriptures.

  20. @BK, btw, I do not perceive the quotes by Newbigin and about von Rad contradicting anything in my entire write up:

    What/who we obey is God, by the Spirit and through his word/gospel of grace (even in the OT, which is the miraculous, supernatural and unmerited sheer grace of redemption from slavery [Dt 5:15; 15:15; 24:18]).

    It never crossed my mind that one who receives grace must submit to all 613 mizvot. I’m sure Jesus’ disciples understood this as well in Jn 14:15, 21, 23. Jesus, in his words and surely by his persona and demeanor, links obedience entirely to love. This is really the point I want to make. I’m sure that John’s audience likewise understood this as well in 1 Jn 5:3.

  21. @Joe, I think I understand (maybe not!) what you are saying. I think you would agree that the Bible (OT to NT) is progressive revelation from less to more to perfect fulfillment in Christ.

    So, I do agree that if we obey the Torah literally today (the slaughter the conquered Cannanites of all men, women, children might be the utmost worst), we are surely in trouble, and surely most Christians today would not take that literally (even if some have to justify some kind of religious war). Yet, it still requires an explanation, which I am considering posting at some point. The reason I have not is perhaps because I have not met people in person who bring up these objections, even though I am sure there are countless who do out there. And the “new atheists” Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Dennet are having a field day bringing up this horrible image of God.

    Yet, Jesus said that the OT points to him repeatedly (Jn 5:39, 46; Lk 24:27, 44), which I am assuming includes the “troublesome imperfect parts” of the OT.

    Also, it is the perfect God in Christ who is also the perfect God on Mount Horeb/Sinai who gave the Ten Commandments, knowing full well that we will always break them to impunity from OT to NT till today. I believe they are still applicable and important for Christians today (NOT for salvation, but AFTER knowing the grace of God).

  22. Ben, I like your full outline much better than the brief article here. I can live with your outline even though I’m not hearing the explicit definitions I’m looking for (and probably unfairly portraying onto your sermons!). Yes I am in an explicit mood today, having just bought “The Explicit Gospel” by Matt Chandler.

    And I like the fact that you are willing to take on the challenge of preaching every Sunday on Deuteronomy, that is a daunting task for sure! And I really appreciate that you are not teaching the ubf-styled lecture method, which would simply butcher Deuteronomy beyond recognition. Grace and peace and Godspeed for this sermon series!

  23. Ben, since you asked to be criticized, here is another thing regarding your sermon that needs to be addressed.

    You write that “The ancients never had the Law”. But is this really true? What about the codex Hammurabi which was a detailed law with many similarities to OT laws, probably written down even 400 years before the 10 commandments were given. Or the “Code of Ur-Nammu” which is even older. And not only the Babylonians had laws, others like the Hittites also had tables with laws written on them. The Greek Gortyn code is also from the time when the Deuteronomic code was written down.

    So the premise you make is not so solid, and therefore we should not try to argue based on that premise.

    Another thing that made me stumble is how you came to that premise. You say, because Daniel Block “an OT scholar who spent 12 years studying Deuteronomy” said so – an example par excellence for an “argument from authority”. This is not to say that Mr. Block is not a good scholar (I’m sure you just misunderstood or oversimplified what he wrote) but to say that we must be careful to argue properly and check if an argument is really valid, not just appeal to a single authority even if it is from Wheaton college.

    Also, the fact that Mr. Block studied Deuteronomy for 12 years does not make him an expert in history of the ancient world. Again, I’m sure Mr. Block has a solid background knowledge of history, but you don’t mention to that, you emphasize only the Bible study. I see here the UBF idea shining through that if you only study the Bible for many years, you understand everything about the world and also become an expert of history. I remember how Samuel Lee often tried to appear as an expert in history, explaining e.g. why the Germans lost the war, getting many well-known facts completely wrong, and then coming to conclusions from these “insights” into history in his Bible message. I can give you some example from real Samuel Lee messages if you like.

    What I want to say with all of this is that in order to improve our Bible messages and make them relevant and appealing to university students, we must learn to become “intellectually honest”, as Joe called it. I agree that this is a severe weakness of most modern Evangelicals, but UBF as a ministry serving students should not try to even undermatch what many Evangelicals are doing.

    I recently watched the TED talk Great design is serious, not solemn by Paula Scher. I believe there is a lesson here to be learned that applies not only to great design, but also to great teaching and preaching.

  24. Thanks, Chris. Good point. Actually the reason I mentioned Daniel Block was simply to say that I could not have come up with such arguments and reasons myself!

    I agree with you that we should not primarily teach by saying, “Because such a person is an authority or an expert it must be true and you must accept it.” Yes, you’re also right that mine is perhaps a simplification (dumb-down version) of Block, whose book is choke full with detailed footnotes, explanations, elaborations and counter-perspectives.

    It is also my own attempt to say that obedience is very important for any and every Christ-follower, because Moses and the OT and Jesus and the NT explicitly say so. To my understanding and observation I notice and experience that many Christians teach and understand obedience in a “non-gospel,” legalistic, moralistic and guilt-inducing way in order to try to force obedience, conformity and “proper behavior” out of their members, rather than pointing to Christ and the gospel.

    I will listen to the TED talk later today (after church and before the Superbowl!).

    Please listen to Block’s 42 min lecture which I think would be well worth your time:

    • I assume nobody here will say that obedience is not important for Christians. But as you saw from the discussion, the topic of obedience raises a plethora of serious and difficult questions. These are the questions that need to be addressed. If you open that can of worms, you must also deal with it.

      As a practical example, young UBFers are often conflicted when their parents want them to do something (e.g. attend an important family meeting) and their UBF shepherds want them to do another conflicting thing (e.g. attend a UBF conference at the same weekend). To make things worse, maybe the Holy Spirit tells them to do something completely different (e.g. help a friend in need or spend the weekend alone). But being young and immature, they are of course not completely sure whether it is the Holy Spirit speaking to them or their own idea. All the more the UBF shepherd tells them in such cases it’s always their own idea and they are unspiritual. So whom do you obey in such a situation? The Bible says, listen to your parents. It also says listen to your teachers. And then it says you need obey God more than human beings. So, what do you do? As you see, “obedience” is not so easy in practice. In can mean a myriad of things. God does not speak to us directly as he did to Abraham. Just because a self-acclaimed “servant of God” appears with power posturing claiming to be your shepherd, do you really need to obey that person and live your life according to that person’s ideas? Even “simply obeying the Bible” is not so easy, because the Bible does not contain concrete things that can be applied directly to our lives, and there are so many different laws in the Bible which can be interpreted in so many ways. So simply saying “obedience is important” does not help much. It rather misdirects people to look for an advisor who tells them exactly how the Bible needs to be understood and what they need to do in order to obey God, and then they follow that person believing they now obey God absolutely. I believe people are already willing to obey. Where they need help is learning how to do that properly. In my opinion, the best answer here is to point to the NT and to the freedom in Christ, not to the OT.

      I tried to watch the Block lecture, but honestly, it has become difficult for me to listen to such kind of sermons and lectures. Also my wife asks me to take some timeout from ubfriends again because it occupies me too much. So please forgive me for bailing out at this point. The discussion you started is very important and I hope others, particularly current UBFers, will jump in.

    • Chris, please listen to your wife: OBEY her…absolutely! As you and I surely know, “A happy wife is a happy life!”

    • I will do so, Ben, and this will also make your life a bit easier ;-)

      Just to clarify one statement from my last comment: “I believe people are already willing to obey.” With “people” I meant the kind of people that have been fished by UBF and are now gathering there. Preaching to them about the importance of obedience is really preaching to the choir.

      As I said, obedience to God is an abstract and difficult thing. What UBF does is give people a framework that tells them exactly what obedience to God means. If you follow the code of conduct in UBF and obey your shepherd, then you can be sure to obey God. All the messages and sogams are a refinforcement and reinsurance of that simple idea: “If I follow the rules of UBF, then I am obeying and pleasing God and following his will and predetermined way for my life.” By preaching the importance of obedience, you don’t help people to see what’s wrong with that.

      Anyway, ‘nough said. I don’t want an angry wife. Over and out for now.

  25. Joe, indeed as you say “We’re in a quandary.”

    We cannot throw out the Law and the Prophets, pretending they don’t exist.

    We cannot inventively create gospel meanings in the Law and the Prophets that aren’t there.

    I like what you say about a flawed system that God knew was flawed from the start. I like this is “third option” or “trinitarian” type thinking.

    Here is something else to ponder. Don’t we have the same quandary in the New Testament? For example, it would be nice if we could say “I obey the NT commands absolutely.” But is not that the same farce as saying “I obey the OT commands absolutely?”

    In the OT we have such perplexing commands as this: Israel is to kill people of other religions as in Deuteronomy 17:2-7.

    In the NT we have such perplexing commands as condoning slavery as in 1 Peter 2:18 and the prohibition of women teachers as in 1 Timothy 2:12.

    My point? We must realize that the bible is contextualized narrative. Surely there are archs of thought and timeless truths. But to claim we should obey the exact written code of the bible itself is to make the bible into an idol. So I have nearly the same objections to NT obedience as I do to OT obedience.

    We must answer succinctly *who* and *what* we are obeying.

    We can rather easily describe *why* we are to obey, and I don’t have much problem with those answers in your Deuteronomy sermons Ben. It is the who and the what that are not clear enough for me.

    If we do not clearly answer who and what we obey, we risk re-building the temporary system that Jesus fulfilled. And at the extreme we run the risk of supporting regimes and Christianized ideologies like Hitler’s that will result in excessive control and much harm to people.

    I believe the role of any prophet, apostle, teacher or preacher is to discern this contextualized narrative and then re-contextualize some meaning for our generation. In short, we need to learn how to be story tellers and masters of narrative, all while being intellectually honest as Chris and Joe have commented.

  26. Brian, I agree with this: “to claim we should obey the exact written code of the bible itself is to make the bible into an idol.” – See more at:

    Some thoughts: Both God in the OT and Jesus in the NT knew full well that everyone without exception would fail to obey perfectly or completely, and thus everyone’s obedience would be flawed, half-baked, incomplete, questionable, with selfish motivations and hidden agendas. I think this is a given. Anyone who insists otherwise is basically a Pharisee, whether Christianese or devilish.

    Salvation is and has only been by grace both in the OT and NT. Thus, our always flawed and half-baked obedience will also only be acceptable by grace, and not by our obedience.

    I believe that God sees every genuine Christian’s half-baked obedience that does not depend on our efforts or sincerity or earnestness, or even our faith. Thus, our reliance and dependence is entirely on God/Jesus who justifies the wicked.