Critique My Fifth Deuteronomy Sermon on Law

10commandmentsYour feedback on my first four sermons of Deuteronomy–Sin (Dt 4:1-46), Leadership (Dt 1:9-18), Faith (Dt 2:1-3:29), and Obedience (Dt 4:1-49)–compelled me into a state of liminality. It did not feel comfortable. But it was enriching and thought provoking. I believe it helped my extemporaneous preaching, following which I received interesting responses, which were unusual. With Sin, several people surprised me by voluntarily confessing their sins to me. With Leadership, I was told that my sermon did not connect with the text. With Faith, I was told that I was “intense” (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad). With Obedience, several people said that they felt free to come to God as they were from where they are (Dt 4:29), which was a most satisfying response. I thank God for your critique and for such feedback from my West Loop congregation.

My fifth Deuteronomy sermon is Law (Dt 5:1-33), which is the Ten Commandments (literally “ten words”) or the Decalogue. My theme is that Grace always precedes the Law. Law follows Grace. The Law is preceded by the Gospel. The three parts are:

  1. Grace (Dt 5:1-6): I am the Lord who redeemed you from slavery (Dt 5:6).
  2. Law (Dt 5:7-21): Love God and love your neighbor (Mt 22:37-39; Mk 12:30-31).
  3. Response (Dt 5:22-33): We will listen and obey (Dt 5:27).

The point I tentatively hope to make is that God’s amazing love and grace is expressed when he delivered his people from slavery, a most helpless, hopeless and inhumane state, where death might be preferable to life. (The horrific condition of slavery is graphically and viscerally depicted by the gut-wrenching movie 12 Years A Slave.) Following deliverance and redemption, the Law was then given not to enslave them to the Law but to enhance the liberated life. Similarly the Bible was not given to enslave us to its teachings rigidly and inflexibly, but to liberate us when we grasp, by the help of the Holy Spirit, just who the God of the Bible is.


  1. Joe Schafer

    Ben, you are truly a glutton for punishment.

    I’m sorry if some of my previous comments on your previous messages were too harsh. I’m in a period of life where I feel the need to be polemical and curmudgeonly. (New words for the day.) I’m also in a liminal state. I’m transforming to a new version of myself and reacting harshly to my old self in order to spur on that process of change.

    I won’t offer any criticism on this message. I’ll just say something that generally applies to the subject of law.

    I long for the day when someone can stand up in one of our churches or ubf chapters and just give a message like this.

    Folks, let’s get real. For a long time, we have been saying things like “The law of the Lord is perfect.” We’ve ascribing all sorts of wonderful, almost magical qualities to the written laws of the Old Testament. We did so with the best of intentions, because we wanted people to study the Bible and believe in the Bible. We didn’t want to say anything that might unsettle people’s simple trust in the Bible as the word of God. So we heaped praise on the Bible in ways that exceeded even the Bible’s own internal testimony about itself. And some of us did so out of fear, because we wanted to be seen as good, trustworthy, Bible-believing Christians, and we certainly didn’t want to be accused of going soft on the Bible, undermining its authority like those dreaded L-people (liberals).

    Of course, there are traditions of thought within the Bible that do pile on this kind of praise. Verses like Psalm 19:7 and 2Tim 3:16 come to mind. Those are the go-to verses, the standard proof-texts, that evangelicals use to affirm the authority of the Bible. (Neither of those verses actually refers to the Bibles that we have in our hands today, but that’s another story for another day.) We don’t want to discount those verses. We want to keep them fixed in our minds.

    But we also need to face the fact that there are other traditions within the Bible itself that admit that the law was not perfect. There are strands of thought that highlight the deficiency of the OT law and, indeed, the written text of the Bible, to by itself bring about the effects that God desires. Two examples of this are Ezekiel 20:25 and Mark 10:5. And there are many, many others. If you are an astute student of the Bible, you can surely find them for yourself.

    The fact is that we all know that many parts of the Mosaic law are not strictly good. They have some good elements. The purpose behind them was good. These laws were in many cases better than the status quo and better than what other nations had. But the Mosaic law is not strictly perfect, and a society that obeyed them exactly would not have been a Shangri-La. Would you want to live in a culture where adulterers and Sabbath breakers were stoned? Where polygamy and slavery were the norm? Where women were sometimes forced to marry their rapists? Where defeated enemies were put to death or forced into servitude or sometimes sex-slavery?

    So let’s stop promulgating the idea that the Old Testament law was so wonderful. It wasn’t. And to say that is not to disrespect the Bible. Rather, it’s to admit that the Bible is very rich, very complex, very enigmatic, very messy, and it’s a product of its times. We need to give the Bible its due. The way to do that is to try to read it on its own terms. To appreciate it for what it actually is, not what we would like it to be. It doesn’t do any good to pay compliments to the Bible that, when carefully and critically examined, do not pan out. To continue to do so strains the credibility of the church and hinders our task of bearing witness to the truth of the gospel and raising disciples who are thoughtful, discerning and honest.

  2. Thanks, Joe. For some odd reason, I actually do like/enjoy punishment to varying degrees! I also love the words “polemical and curmudgeonly.” (I embrace the former as applying to myself and hope that the latter is not how I come across. But that might be an unrealizable hope!)

    (I think) I hear what you’re saying. Would this be a fair assessment?: Christians say the Bible is good and perfect, because through it, you may come to know God. But you (and others, say Greg Boyd and many others) are saying that the Bible is obviously not perfect nor is it often a fair reflection of God, but nonetheless you should still read and study it, understand its complexity, so that you may come to know God.

    If the above is a fair or reasonable assessment of what you are saying, it seems to me (I think) that many will seriously wonder why the Bible is the very Word of God, if it contains imperfections, inaccuracies, and even inaccuracies and wrong portrayals of God Himself, especially in the OT (only Christ is the perfect representation of God). I understand that it is God who accepts us even when we misunderstand him, because he wants to have a relationship with us.

    So if I hear you correctly, then are you saying that the Ten Commandments do not reflect accurately, precisely and exactly the God who is–to us who live in the 20th century, who have the NT, and when Christ has already come to complete and fulfill the story of Israel?

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, was it a Freudian slip that you said you live in the 20th century?

      I sense that your way of thinking is primarily modern, and mine is postmodern. That’s why we often misunderstand each other.

      I do not think the Ten Commandments reflect exactly the God who is. They are a dim reflection. Jesus is the full revelation of God. That’s my belief based on Hebrews 1:1-3, Col 1:15-20, Col 2:17, the Sermon on the Mount and on the whole flow of the Bible itself.

      Having said that, I hold the Bible in high regard. Jesus, the apostles and the church have consistently testified to its divine inspiration, and I accept that testimony. I believe Scripture plays an absolutely critical role in the life of the church, and it’s one of the primary means by which we encounter and interact with God. I am dedicating huge portions of my life to pondering Scripture. I really want people to study Scripture better. But to do it well, I think we need to better understand how to interact with the Person (Jesus) to whom Scripture attests.

      Here’s an analogy. We really like Jim Danaher’s book. Suppose Jim were to physically come and pay us a visit and have dinner with us. Probably we would ask him to sign our copies of his book. Then based on what we know from the book, we would engage in lively personal conversations with him. Now wouldn’t it be odd if he came to dinner but we didn’t pay attention to him; instead of talking to the flesh-and-blood Jim, we sit at the table with him and bury our noses in his book and study it and act as though he isn’t there.

      The gospel announces to us: The Law-Giver has arrived. Once the Law-Giver has arrived, why would we focus so much on the letter he sent to us long before his arrival? To say that is not to diss the Ten Commandments. It’s to show proper sense and respect for the one who gave it.

  3. Ben you just made my day! Welcome to the 21st century :)

    “to us who live in the 20th century”…

    • I guess I can’t get away from living in the past (even if I am trying to live in the present)! I would have totally not realized this. That’s why I need to be exhorted (Heb 3:13).

  4. Joe, my sole and singular intent is to somehow get to Christ by the Spirit and through the Word/text, even if I do it poorly.

    My thought is that people are in different stages of their life journey. I think it necessarily needs to begin with law, boundaries, do’s and don’ts, rights and wrongs, good and bad, heaven and hell, reward and punishment, blessings and curses, pass and fail, etc. Sadly, most people remain here and go no farther. This is truly quite unfortunate.

    My firm belief is that the Law of Moses was a necessary (mediated) grace before one realizes the (embodied) grace of Christ (Jn 1:16-17). It is refreshing and captivating to me to read this 2011 new NIV translation that refers to the law of Moses as “grace already given.” Even the 1984 NIV says “one blessing after another,” which suggests that the Law was not and was never intended to be a curse.

    My thought is that Christians, myself definitely included, need Law, not to bind me and guilt trip me and beat me over the head until I am bloody and bruised, but to enhance my own comprehension and appreciation of Grace, which knows no limit and no end.

    When I present the Law, my intent is also not to coerce them to be bound by the Law, but to see the One above and greater than the Law.

    Your Danahar illustration is great. I would say we meditate on the Law not to be fixated or bound to the Law and by the Law, but to enable us to see the Law Giver clearly, who is surely greater and superior than the Law, for He is the real deal, the only deal, the climax, the finale, the goal, the destination, the telos.

    • Ben,

      I agree completely with your thoughts, emphasis mine :)

      “My firm belief is that the Law of Moses was a necessary (mediated) grace before one realizes the (embodied) grace of Christ”

      > The Law was a necessary step in God’s comprehensive salvation narrative, and I’m talking about the comsic redemption. This does not mean that the Law is always our first step in preaching the gospel or that the Law is the necessary “front door” to forgiveness from Christ.

      “the Law was not and was never intended to be a curse.”

      > The Law was not meant to be curse. And the Law is not a curse. Fixing our eyes on the law however is a cursed way of life now that Jesus is here. Before Jesus, the best way to find God was to meditate on the Jewish laws. We have a better way now and a blessed way.

      “I would say we meditate on the Law not to be fixated or bound to the Law and by the Law, but to enable us to see the Law Giver clearly, who is surely greater and superior than the Law, for He is the real deal, the only deal, the climax, the finale, the goal, the destination, the telos.”

      > This sounds good. But I don’t buy this logic nor see it taught in Scripture. Why would I meditate on the Law to see God more clearly? Shouldn’t I rather “meditate” on what is unseen, not what is seen? Shouldn’t I rather look at Jesus, trying to learn ways to listen to the Holy Spirit and discern what to do and say and how to obey the gospel? Shouldn’t I be looking intently into the “perffect law”, that is the law of love?

      > I tried doing what you say here. I took this kind of advice for many years. But by looking at the Law and the Prophets, spending thousands of hours meditating on the Law and the Prophets, I did not see the “real deal, the only deal, the climax, the finale, the goal, the destination, the telos.” It was only when I *stopped* looking so intently at the foreshadow that I found the “new wine”.

  5. Thanks, Brian. Eventually, everyone needs to grasp Grace (personally and communally) if they are to grasp Christ and the Gospel.

    Paul says that the Law is a guardian (Gal 3:24). Even though Christ is the end of the Law, he is to us still the “already, and not yet.”

    My thought is that the way you may have looked at the Law and the Prophets was strongly clouded by the anthropocentric influence of UBF. I know that I had to get out of such anthropocentrity to experience the liberation that comes even from the Law.

    • I suppose you are right Ben :( I just can’t let go of my “Tom Cruise of ubf” and “Hope of ubf” titles :)

  6. Joe Schafer

    Ran across a nice quote today that made me think of the many dilemmas we face in preaching and teaching as we encourage people to study and love Scripture while, at the same time, openly admit what so many in the present generation already know: that on many points the Bible is messy and difficult to understand.

    Austin Fischer writes:

    “…would you rather be convincing or honest? Is it more important to get people to agree with you or to honestly present the best of worthy options? While I have certainly tried to be convincing, I think the truth is best served when we are honest…”

  7. Joe Schafer

    A fascinating article on how the Orthodox Jewish community is currently wrestling with the Mosaic law on divorce. In effect, they seem to admitting that what Jesus said in Mark 10:5 is true. They are acknowledging that OT divorce law can be cruel to women, and that divorce is not a good thing. So they are formulating civil-law agreements for married couples to (a) make divorce less attractive for men, and (b) offer better protection for women in the event of divorce. It sounds like an interesting and creative effort. But they are getting pushback within the Orthodox community by those who don’t want to add anything to the law of Moses, because in their minds it is already perfect.

    A good example of how law and love are often at odds.

    • Thanks for sharing this Joe. That article is an excellent example of the kind of thing I’ve been wrestling with. If we are to Obey the Law, then we are required to modify the Law in order to “walk in justice”, or in the case of this article, to better protect women.

      This points to the one dichotomy that I fully accept: love vs. law. I really believe this is a true either/or situation. We either bind our lives to love and obey the gospel, or we bind our lives to the Law and obey the 613 mitzvot.

      And if we accept this dichotomy as true, I contend that we will understand grace in a much deeper, richer way.

  8. Hey Joe,
    when you say 2Tim 3:16 isn’t referring to the bible we have today, what is it referring to? I am curious

    • Andrew, I’m sure Joe will answer, but I’m completely confused as to where this question is coming from? I didn’t read any comment by Joe saying “2Tim 3:16 isn’t referring to the bible we have today”. Did I miss something?

    • Ah I see, maybe this? “(Neither of those verses actually refers to the Bibles that we have in our hands today, but that’s another story for another day.) – See more at:

    • Joe Schafer

      Hi Andrew.

      I believe that 2Tim 3:16 is referring to the canon of the Old Testament, because most of the New Testament hadn’t yet been written, and the parts that were written had not yet been widely accepted as Scripture in the same sense as the OT. Similarly, the OT passages that we imagine are urging us to study the Bible (such as Psalm 1) were written before the OT had been completed and canonized. Perhaps it is reasonable for evangelical Christians to read those verses and imagine that they apply to the Bible we have today. But if we do, we should be fully aware that what we are doing is anachronistic — projecting our present situation into the texts — and we should be honest with ourselves that we are doing it, and we should be aware that we are certainly not reading the texts from the authors’ points of view.

  9. Joe Schafer

    Andrew, when I write about these things, it’s possible that many people would condemn what I am doing as splitting hairs, useless arguing, “quarreling over words” (2Ti 2:14). Perhaps they see it as unimportant. That’s okay. But at this point in my own spiritual journey, I really need to clarify my relationship to the Bible, because the models of Scriptural authority handed down to me by my Bible teachers are not rich enough to allow me to understand the complexity of what I now see in the Old and New Testaments. I honor what Paul says about all Scripture being inspired (God breathed). But that doesn’t mean that everything that my Bible teachers said about inspiration must be taken at face value. I’m simply trying to do what the Bereans were commended for (Acts 17:11).

  10. Joe, I know, as you do, that some will criticize you for “undermining the veracity of the Bible.” But as I have stated often, I am enjoying these discussions and messy interactions.

    I have thought that 2 Tim 3:16 refers primarily to the OT, since the NT was still being written and would not be canonized for a few more hundred years. Yet, I would reason that God, who sees the end at the beginning, would preserve his God-breathed Word to all believers and seekers in all generations, and revive our hearts and spirit through His Spirit and His Word, until it is not just text and words in a book, but the living presence of God in our hearts.

    My thoughts are that we do need to think critically about many things, including this present discussion on Law and Grace, which is an ongoing continuing discourse for the last 2,000 years.

    Yet in a church at large, say at West Loop, most people do not have issues and concerns that are raised here. If they are raised, then I think that our interactions have broadened my heart and mind. If they are not raised, then I can only do what I can, based on the books and resources that I have and can digest (including our online discussions), to present as simply as possible what I believe the OT text says (including eisogesis), and hopefully be able to preach the gospel of grace through Christ in the process.

    Here’s a question: If a toddler (or a Forest Gump type person) who comes to church asks you, “Should I obey the Ten Commandments?” I’m sure this current dialogue would not be pertinent nor included in however we choose to answer that question, right?

    My short answer would be, “Yes, and that Jesus still loves you and forgives you for the Commandments that you break.”

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I appreciate what you’re saying. If someone is truly in the first stages of faith, with little or no background in what the Bible even says, then that person might not care at all about any of this.

      But I take strong exception to your use of “toddler” and “Forest Gump type person” to describe the people who come to church. Actual toddlers and actual children need age-appropriate material. But no one should be treated in a condescending manner.

      If an adult with no mental impairment asked me “Should I obey the Ten Commandments,” I would have to nuance my answer. I would not give an unqualified “Yes” because we all (unless we are Orthodox Jews or Seventh-Day Adventists) break the sabbath law every week. I wouldn’t launch into a long spiel about theology or inerrancy. I would say that the Ten Commandments are an accurate guide for the kind of behavior that God wants from us. I would say that Jesus summarized them as “Love God” and “Love your neighbor.” I would say that not murdering, not committing adultery, not stealing, not lying, etc. are the basic norms of decency that we should all follow. I would say that the Ten Commandments are like guard rails that keep cars from driving off the edge of the highway; if you are a good driver, you should never actually hit the guard rails. And I would say, “Why do you ask? Are there any commandments there that you would like to break?”

      Ben, you know your congregation far better than I do, and I wouldn’t presume to tell you that your sermons need to be smartened up or dumbed down. But in my experience with a certain organization whose initials are U, B and F, I have abundant written testimony by current and former members that they got very tired of being condescended to. People don’t mind being instructed in basics from time to time. But they are intelligent and catch on pretty quick. University students resent being addressed as if they are middle schoolers. Ideally, Sunday worship service should gather the diverse congregation and there should be something for everyone; gearing it solely to young people or seekers or solely to church leaders is a bad idea. There needs to be enough variety that, over the course of the year, everyone is challenged by some of the preaching and no one is left behind. And adult discipleship programs ought to treat people, well, as adults. What that looks like will have to vary from one community to the next. But in general, I don’t like it when a church always aims for the lowest common denominator week after week. I have been in those environments and they make me feel alienated, and in some cases they implicitly hold up immaturity as an ideal.

  11. I never thought about it like that, and yes I remember you talking about psalms in a previous post/comment and it made me rethink what the law was, which the psalmist delighted on. I also appreciate the different views you have and how it has broadened my understanding of scripture and God. I do not discount your view on 2 timothy 3:16 referring to the old testament, although I do lean more towards it referring to all of scripture as Ben pointed out.
    Joe have you read karl barth’s work?

    • Joe Schafer

      Andrew, no, I haven’t read Barth. I have only read some brief summaries of his work.

      I believe that most scholars would say that in 2Ti 3:16, Paul is referring to the OT. Then they commonly refer to 2Pe 3:16 as proof that Paul’s letters and other unspecified apostolic writings were also treated as Scripture by the early church. I don’t get the sense from Paul’s letters that he was consciously thinking “I am writing new Scripture.” But he was obviously writing with deep conviction and authority, and the early church regarded his writings (at least the letters of his that made it into the NT) as authoritative.

      Here’s an interesting problem to think about. In the first century, there were lots of apocryphal books in circulation that never made it into the canon of Scripture. One of those is the Book of Enoch. To my knowledge, no one believes that the book was actually written by the Enoch mentioned in Genesis, and no one today regards it as authoritative. It is an obvious example of what scholars call “pseudepigraphy” (attributing a writing to a famous person from an earlier period) which was fairly common in those times. Interestingly, the author of the book of Jude actually quotes the book of Enoch in Jude 1:14-15. This is troubling to some people who hold strict inerrantist views, and they don’t like to talk about it, because it blurs the lines between Scripture and non-Scripture.

    • Hey Joe,
      it seems to me that every author writing a book of the Bible did not know at the time that it would become scripture and the Bible we hold today. So I think the same argument can be made for the old testament authors as you referred to apostle Paul’s writings.
      I like your reference to Enoch in Jude. Can something be authoritative yet not be included into the canon? Perhaps there are other requirements needed in order to be considered part of the biblical canon?

    • Joe Schafer

      Andrew, I could be wrong about this, but I get the impression that the authors of the OT books were intentionally compiling an authoritative, written account of their nation as they grappled with questions about their national identity.

      And the authors of the gospels and Acts were intentionally writing down the history of Jesus and the early church to pass it on to the church and to future generations. (See the opening verses of Luke and Acts.)

      But the epistles seem to have a different look and feel. Many of them were written to specific churches and specific individuals. The books that made it into the canon were included because of widespread agreement by the church Fathers that they were trustworthy and authoritative, and they were already in widespread use by churches throughout the world. Some books that were questionable and dodgy were thrown out.

    • Very interesting Joe. With this understanding of the epistles do you agree with what Paul has to say regarding females and ecclesiology or do you interpret it as a product of his time and culture.

    • Joe Schafer

      Andrew, I think that the epistles give us many wonderful glimpses of God’s ultimate kingdom vision. The specific advice that Paul gave to those churches and individuals helped them to move toward that kingdom vision. It met them where they were at, challenged them in that context, and set them on a trajectory toward the kingdom.

      In my opinion, part of the ultimate kingdom vision is a radical equality of rich and poor, slave and free, young and old, Jew and Gentile. Paul’s writings met his listeners where they were at. They lived in a society where slavery was common, where women were treated like property, and so on. The advice that Paul gave was realistic. He recognized that the gospel was not going to change things overnight. For example, slavery was not going to vanish anytime soon. Given that reality, Paul’s advice set them on a trajectory toward that ultimate kingdom vision.

      As we read the epistles, our task is to glimpse the ultimate kingdom vision, to allow ourselves to be creatively challenged by it in our present contexts, and to set ourselves on a trajectory toward the kingdom as well.

      Does that make sense?

    • Joe Schafer

      Basically, what I’m saying is this. When we see in the epistles a specific command like “Women should cover their heads,” we needn’t ask whether Paul’s command is universal (for all people of all times) or local (just for those people). Those are not the right questions. The right questions are: “Why did Paul give that advice?” “What was the long-range kingdom vision he was trying to instill?” (In many cases, Paul lays out that vision in one or more passages before he gives advice.) “How can we, in our present context, think and act consistently with that vision?”

    • So would you say an egalitarian view is more in line with the ultimate kingdom vision? I lean more towards this view, but how do we know that we are not projecting our own views on gender equality into the vision of God’s ultimate kingdom? The complementarians could say that scripture clearly supports their view.

    • Joe Schafer

      Andrew, it is my opinion that equality in the human family is an ultimate kingdom value. I could offer supporting verses such as Gal 3:28. But I think a better approach is to look at the whole sweep of Scripture and the big themes of the gospel. In the gospel accounts, I see women honored and participating in Jesus’ ministry alongside men in ways that were unusual for those times. For example, women were the first witnesses and heralds of the resurrection.

      Another big kingdom theme is unity-in-diversity. This theme is shot through the whole New Testament. Some would say that men and women are equal but different (I agree, of course; they are different). And they would say that part of that difference is that women ought to adopt a submissive stance, because family and society function better that way. But wherever I see a functional hierarchy of persons in Scripture, I see it as a consequence of human beings’ fallen state, just as slavery is a consequence of the fall.

      My bigger point is this. When trying to think through tough issues like this one, I believe it helps to focus on big themes of the Bible, rather than lining up verses on one side versus the other and counting which side has more.

    • Joe Schafer

      Here’s a good sermon that tries to explain the dynamics of the male-female marriage relationship from this kingdom-values perspective.

      I find this way of thinking very compelling.

  12. Thanks, Joe, again I do not disagree with what you wrote, about the need for diversity and variety, and definitely I am ABSOLUTELY against being condescending toward anyone, and incensed about being condescended upon, whether it is I or anyone else. When I wrote “toddlers and Forest Gump” I simply meant that some people are not cerebrally or intellectually inclined. I do not mean they are dumb or that I don’t treat them as adults, and I certainly do not “dumb down” what I say. But if a 5 year old kid asks me about the Ten Commandments, I could or would very conceivably answer the way you did.

    What clearly does not and has not helped is the way UBF has studied the Bible. All UBF leaders and staff are expected to or are supposed to study the Bible by learning from the same few “top senior designated leaders,” even after you have served as a UBF leader for decades. Our leaders are good people, I believe. But it has simply just been very very hard for me to study or read or listen to the same thing from the same people using the same format of answering similar type questions over and over and over and over again. I don’t think I can ever do that ever again.

    You might disagree with this, but in my opinion I perceive that a big problem in UBF is also her implicit or even explicit legalism and whose primary modus operandi is loyalty, faithfulness, unquestioning obedience to leaders, prayer topics and directives. The invariable end result of this are legalism, traditionalism, formalism, uniformity, unanimity, cloning, rigid inflexibility, and intolerance to anything that is not according to “core values,” etc. This invariably results in grace, mercy and love being minimized or not well or clearly communicated.

    Thus, in my teaching and preaching, in my life and influence, my heart’s desire is that grace, love, and mercy be the predominant emphasis and communication, until our legalism, moralism, traditionalism, elitism, and self-righteousness are banished and eliminated by God’s help.

  13. Together with grace, mercy and love, I love the themes of freedom and rest, which are themes that I felt were glossed over, or shallowly dealt with for fear that “sheep” and “juniors” will abuse their freedom and become lazy!

  14. Joe Schafer

    Ben, there are two distinct issues here.

    UBF’s preaching and teaching methods rest on a Confucian educational model. They are fundamentally nonTrinitarian. They are designed to transmit a tradition from one generation to the next, not to create a community in which truth can be newly and actively discerned.

    I’d like to set aside the discussion of UBF’s problems, because the leaders have made it clear to us that they really don’t care what we think. The pressing question for me is: What kind of preaching and discipleship will truly equip us and the next generation to be mature and discerning, able to handle the challenges of witnessing and living out our faith in these postmodern times? Telling postmodern people that they need to revert to modernism so that they can understand the gospel on the previous generation’s terms isn’t going to work. We need to faithfully understand and communicate the gospel in postmodern contexts without technical jargon, so that a diverse audience can understand. I think the church is only beginning to grapple with this.

  15. Joe, probably because I’m modern and not post-modern (like my 4 kids), and because I’ve never been able to grapple or articulate clearly or distinguish in my own mind the difference between modern and post-modern, then this statement of yours doesn’t quite register in my mind: “Telling postmodern people that they need to revert to modernism so that they can understand the gospel on the previous generation’s terms isn’t going to work.”

    • Joe Schafer

      When I hear Christians denounce the current generation in sweeping generalizations (“They think everything is relative”, “They reject absolute truth”, and so on), and when they treat postmodern culture as an enemy to be defeated rather than a foreign culture to be empathetically understood and welcomed, that’s basically what they are saying. That postmoderns need to become moderns before becoming Christian. It’s like saying that Gentiles need to become Jews before they become Christian.

  16. Joe, Are you perhaps saying that I am presenting the gospel in a modern context to a post-modern audience?

    • Joe Schafer

      I think that to a great extent we all are. But not all of the audience is postmodern. There are still large pockets of modern (and some premodern) thought, especially outside North America and within some immigrant communities in the United States.

  17. Joe, I agree that categorically and broadly denouncing postmodern people as relativistc people who reject absolute truth is totally unhelpful, if not unloving and un-Christlike. It is like legalistic Pharisees asking prostitutes to be moralistic like them before becoming a child of God. It’s like British missionaries expecting Indian and African converts to be “civilized” like them before becoming Christians.

    My predominant thought is still that if God enables me to communicate God’s grace without judgmental condemnation or disapproval of them (anyone), I believe that they will be open to consider the gospel of God’s love and grace (Jn 3:16; Ac 20:24).

    • Joe Schafer

      Yes. It’s not merely unloving; it’s also a caricature.

    • God’s love and grace is what all people want and need, except perhaps the “superior” Pharisees, who want to be judged based on their own merits, morality and religious tradition.

  18. Joe Schafer

    Ben, here’s a generational difference that may be worth considering.

    Postmoderns have a deep appreciation for the fact that different cultures see things differently. They dislike ethnocentrism and want to learn from cultures other than their own. They have an instinctive openness and appreciation for diversity.

    My old way of preaching was like this. Read a passage from the Bible. Try to immediately extract from it some timeless principles that we can apply to our lives. Don’t explicitly acknowledge that the Scripture was written by and for ancient people whose ways of thinking were very different from ours. Gloss over those differences because I don’t want to give anyone the idea that maybe some of the things I proclaimed as universal might not be as universal as I claimed.

    My new way of preaching: Read a passage from the Bible. Try to get inside the mindset of the person who wrote it and the culture of the immediate audience. Explicitly talk about how their ways of thinking were quite different from ours. When the audience hears this, they instinctively begin to search their hearts and question some of their deeply held assumptions which they never questioned before. This brings them to a liminal state where they are curious and open to new perspectives. Find in the Bible passage the point(s) at which the ancient culture’s status quo was challenged with God’s radical, eternal message of the kingdom gospel. Armed with that understanding, try to identify a similar way in which our own present-day culture’s status quo is being challenged by God’s radical, eternal message of the kingdom gospel.

    The old way was thoroughly modern. The new way is more postmodern.

    Does this make sense?

    • Yes, I think it does make sense. I guess you frame your argument from the context of modern and post-modern.

      But perhaps I would frame the context by stating the author’s intent and what his original audience understood the author as saying.

      Sorry to use bad UBF illustrations, but when I began to consider what Moses’ original Israelite audience understood regarding what he wrote, it was then pretty darn obvious that we Christians should not extrapolate what we want it to mean or say today.

      So Gen 12:1-3 clearly was not intended that we put ourselves in Abraham’s shoes and project that to what God is saying to me and to my “sheep” today. Similarly with Gen 22:2, no one among the Israelites understood that to mean that they should “offer their Isaac to God.” Also, Gen 24:3-4 clearly does not mean that if is our God given responsibility to be like Abraham’s servant to go and find a wife for our sheep who must absolutely “marry by faith.” Of course, the illustrations would be countless, and not just in UBF contexts.

      How might this differ from your explanation of modern and post-modern context?

    • Joe Schafer

      The difference, I think, is this. In the approach I sketched, I intentionally try to leverage the postmodern values of cultural openness and love for diversity. Because they are kingdom values.

    • Joe Schafer

      Another difference: You spend a lot of energy trying to dispel false notions, saying what the passage is not intended to do.

      In the UBF context, you might need to do that, because misconceptions abound.

      But after a week or two of this, your audience will catch on that they shouldn’t mishandle the Old Testament that way. And perhaps they will want you to transition to a more positive style.

  19. Ben,

    You asked: “Here’s a question: If a toddler (or a Forest Gump type person) who comes to church asks you, “Should I obey the Ten Commandments?” I’m sure this current dialogue would not be pertinent nor included in however we choose to answer that question, right?”

    I love Joe’s answer. Here is my answer, which you probably could have guessed.

    If anyone asks me “Should I obey the Ten Commandments?”, I would answer that the short answer is no. But there is a “yes” answer too. First we need to undestand the “no” reasons before we can undersand the “yes” reasons.

    I would then point out that this is a question stemming form an incorrect and incomplete view of God and the Law. This question is just like the “should I pay taxes to Caesar question”. We can only answer “yes and no” to such questions, and offer some clarifying explanation.

    I would then point them to the clear bible message that the Law and the Prophets were fulfilled, how the 10 Commandments were a foreshadow, how Christ-followers do not have the Law as our supervisor and how we are slaves to Christ, bound to the Spirit, bound to obey the law of love, and that the 10 words need to be considered along with Jesus’ 27 words in the Sermon on the Mount.

    I would not tell them they must obey the 10 Commandments for they would then be bound to the Law. And looking back that is one of the very first questions I asked my ubf shepherds. They all said Yes you must obey the 10 Commandments. And thus sparked years of bondage to striving to obey the Law. This is the underpinning of the ubf heritage system– bondage to the Law.

    I would also be sure to never say “Jesus obeyed the Law for you so you don’t have to”. I don’t believe that in any sense.

    I would choose to answer “no”, followed by “yes” (if the person understands the “no” answer) to your question Ben, in order to kick off discussions about what it meant for Jesus to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and to point people to obey the gospel and discover the new wine of Jesus.

    I would be highly concerned about not puttin the yoke of the law on anyone and I would be seekig to lead them to the yoke of grace which is easy, light and joyful.

    • Joe Schafer

      good answer

    • Ben, why would these discussions about the first and most fundamental issues of Christianity not be relevant to a new person coming to church?

    • Joe Schafer

      If someone asked Jesus, “Do I have to obey the Ten Commandments?” I have a hunch that Jesus wouldn’t give a logical discourse. More likely, he would respond with a super-insightful question and/or a colorful parable, so that the person would have to go off and think about it for a good long time.

    • Yes Joe, perhaps like Luke 18:18-30 :)

    • In case someone didn’t notice, Jesus’ story is the basis for my thoughts on the Law. In Luke 18:18-30 Jesus says that even if we keep all the commandments, we may have no clue about the kingdom of God or what it means to follow Him. That is what I’m trying to say here.

  20. Brian, putting the yoke of the law on anyone is a curse, and which I hope to break and smash to pieces in my context and local church community.

    My thought is that it is not so much based on whether you say “yes” or “no.” When I say “Yes” to obeying Jesus’ commands (say, Love God, love others), I am not saying this to bind them to imperatives and guilt trip them, but to encourage them to seek intimacy with God through a life of “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5), with faith being primary and predominant, and obedience as following our intimacy and relationship with God through faith in Christ and by the Spirit.

    I believe it is the spirit (and faith and intimacy and Presence of God) in which we say things that touch and impact and influence people/others.

    The problem that I (and perhaps you too) have experienced is that our UBF experience is that it tends to bind people to UBF’s values, which is like being a slave bound legalistically to tradition and to the Law, which really kills in the long (and even short) run, and does not give nor promote a liberated life of freedom in Christ and freedom of the Spirit.

    • Fair enough Ben. But you will never ever “break and smash to pieces” the Law. The Law is like Thor’s hammer. You can’t lift it. I cannot lift it. Hulk cannot budge it even an inch.

      The yoke of the Law can only be dissolved by Jesus’ divine intervention which seems to coincide with our surrender to grace, whereby the Law dissappears from our minds and love replaces the Law as our “striving focus”. I really believe we must be able to surrender fully by having faith that we can turn our backs on the 10 commandments and face Jesus without hiding behind any pretense of obeying the Law and our own righteousness.

      Romans 1:5 was always the ubf shepherds answer to this issue. I heartily reject bringing in Romans 1:5 into this discussion because now we have bound a person to the Law and the Law to faith. Now the person is trapped, doesn’t know why and we think they are going to find their way into a life of freedom. That almost never will happen with this approach. And this is one big reason why so many fundamental/Evangelical churches are losing people’s attention, in my opinion.

      The ubf stuff is just “icing on the cake”. ubf shepherds typcially start off teaching this word sustitution formula when presenting the gospel (which is similar to how most fundamentalist/Evangelicals present the gospel)

      blessing=obedience to the Law
      Obedience=obedience that comes from faith
      faith=believing what we don’t see
      what we don’t see=God who is invisible
      God who is invisible=Jesus on earth
      Jesus on earth=obey my teaching
      Jesus’ teaching=feed my sheep
      Feed my sheep=be a 1:1 bible teacher for college students
      be a 1:1 bible teacher=God’s calling
      God’s calling is irrevocable=you must stay in ubf for eternity

  21. Brian, my “formula” might go something like this (I’m making it up as I go!):

    * Start with God’s majestic, mysterious beauty, love, grace, mercy, compassion, kindness, patience, which by God’s Spirit and help I may embody and exemplify (albeit poorly and imperfectly).
    * God love, mercy, grace expressed through Christ (the gospel): incarnation, birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, which saves us from our sins.
    * God’s ever present initiative in seeking us, reaching out to us, loving us.
    * Dwell constantly in remembering the above.
    * When we are overwhelmed with the love of God, the things of the world and the power of sin will grow strangely dim.
    * Repentance and faith stems from the above. Repentance being primarily if not entirely turning to God in Christ by the Spirit.
    * Jesus’ new command of love: Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemy.
    * Work out the details and the specifics in your own life, family, vocation, and situation.

    Any critiques to the above?

    • Now that answer I like :)

      What I’m trying to say is that I heard this challenge from Jesus and from several places in the Holy Scriptures:

      God says: I gave you the Law and the Prophets. What if I take them away, fulfilling their purpose in my Son? Jesus says if we keep all the commandments we might hear “Go sell everything you have, then come, follow me.” Christianity is as you say above Ben, it is all about following Jesus, letting Jesus be our Supervisor. Every relgion including Christianity is about obeying some law. But following Jesus is about obeying the gospel.

      So I’ve asked myself often lately, “How would I come before God knowing that the Law is not my Judge? What can I stand on before God if the Law is not my supervisor as to how I lived my life?”

      I find that I was the Pharisee (and prone to Phariseeism still) who wrapped myself in a cloak of my own righteousness based on my version of the Law. Only when I dropped this cloak and fell before my Messiah with my vulnerable, transparent self did I find the new wine Jesus spoke of.

      The Law is indeed brilliant. But that brilliance is to be found in a deeper wisdom about why God gave us the Law and why God took our eyes away from the Law, all the while never violating Justice nor Love nor Holiness.

  22. Joe, “But after a week or two of (dispelling false notions), your audience will catch on that they shouldn’t mishandle the Old Testament that way. And perhaps they will want you to transition to a more positive style.” – See more at:

    My own experience is that it has taken 5 years (and counting) to “dispel false notions,” and still some false notions prevail. It’s like having left Egypt, yet the Egypt is still in you. As Brian says, he might need 24 years for full and complete detox!

    But yes, the positive aspect, as a broad generalization, is that God, in his love and grace and patience (despite our failure and sin), was steadily and steadfastly faithful in bringing to fruition his promise and his plan of redemption, through Abraham, Isaac, David and down through Christ.

    • Joe Schafer

      If you have been continuously hammering away at certain bad practices and incorrect views of the Bible for 5+ years, and they still remain prevalent, at what point should you change the strategy?

    • Actually, I “hammer away” primarily here, but hardly ever need to address them at WL as I do here. My emphasis, as best I can, is to point to Christ (Jn 5:39), to Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:2), to substitution (2 Cor 5:21), to the gospel of grace (Ac 20:24), and to the whole counsel of God (Ac 20:27), despite my limited experience at this.

    • In terms of strategy, I strongly recommend using Steve Hassan’s latest book to come up with a strategy: Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults, and Beliefs. Steve exited from the Moon organization and since ubf is a “mini-Moon” group Steve has much to say to us. There are so many parallels between the two groups it is utterly fascinating.

      I recently bought Steve’s book and connected with him on Facebook. His thoughts are “spot on” useful and relevant to our ubf context. All of us really should read it if there is any hope of understanding each other or reconciliation in any sense between ex-ubf and ubf.

    • This is from the intro on Amazon:

      “Step-by-step, Hassan shows you how to: evaluate the situation; interact with dual identities; develop communication strategies using phone calls, letter writing and visits; understand and utilize cult beliefs and tactics; use reality-testing and other techniques to promote freedom of mind.”

  23. So to sum up, if we want to present the gospel from a legal viewpoint, I prefer this: The Gospel

    • I watched this and showed it to our small group. I remember a critique being that Ludy mentioned the need to “surrender your life to Jesus” as a needed step in experiencing the grace of God.

  24. Joe Schafer

    Ben, I was just reading this article on Anabaptists and a short passage near the end caught my eye:

    “…the focus was on discipleship not sacraments or the inner enjoyment of justification. The church was not an institution or a place for Word-proclamation in emphasis but instead a brotherhood of love.”

    What follows is not meant to be a criticism, but an observation that helps me to understand where you and I may be coming from.

    In your preaching, the subjective personal experience of faith that you emphasize is that first one: “the inner enjoyment of justification.” Your gospel theology hones in on that. And your view of church seems to be primarily (not solely) “a place for Word-proclamation” so that the gospel may be deeply understood.

    Much of my spiritual journey over the past few years has been toward the subjective gospel experience in terms of sacrament (broadly defined) and Christian community. Sacrament and community are two key features of discipleship that, in evangelical circles, have been overlooked and underrated. I like to root for the underdog. In my sermons, I have been struggling to articulate this. Sometimes it comes across as criticism of Scripture and traditional Bible study. Sometimes it comes across as criticism of penal substitution. But what I’m really trying to get at is this: an understanding of the gospel that recovers the importance of those underdogs.

    • It seems like there will be more and more articles like this that question the veracity of the Bible: I’m sure Christian scholars will have different responses to such articles.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, I don’t see that article as questioning the veracity of the Bible. My faith is not threatened by it, nor is my respect for Scripture. That evidence merely threatens some of the traditional evangelical “entailments” (a nice word used by Michael Graves) of divine inspiration. If people’s faith is built on those entailments rather than on the historical message of Jesus himself, then I would say that their foundation is shaky.

  25. Excellently put, Joe! Your assessment is spot on with regards to my emphasis on “Word-proclamation” and especially one that leads to “the inner enjoyment of justification,” perhaps because I felt that I (and so many others) were losing it after decades of focusing and (over)emphasizing “mission” and “discipleship training,” which I still value, but no longer place forefront and center. So I desire that justification’s “underdog” status be fully recovered and rejuvenated.

    To be honest, I have personally had difficulty enjoying/finding subjective emotional meaning in sacrament and liturgy, which I tend to experience it as being technical, formulaic, repetitious, and even “boring and predictable” (sorry!) without much “inner subjective gospel experience,” though I understand its importance cerebrally, intellectually and historically.

    To be sure, I strongly desire that community be treasured, valued and promoted, not through imperatives, but through a willingness spurred on by the gospel. I’m sure I do not know how to do it well, but I have been promoting and encouraging everyone at WL to “create safe places/third spaces,” where anyone from anywhere may feel welcomed, heard and embraced (instead of critiqued, evaluated, judged, and imposed upon based on preset agendas).

    btw, Joe, I do enjoy (and even agree with) your criticisms, even if I do not know how to incorporate them into my communication, presentation, teaching, preaching and experience.

    • Joe Schafer

      Ben, when I appear to criticize your sermons, usually I am criticizing myself. Because I don’t yet know how to incorporate the ideas into my own sermons. I am often just thinking out loud.