Friday, May 16, 2008


Thorwald Lorenzen, Toward a Culture of Freedom: Reflections on the Ten Commandments Today (Cascade Books, 2008).

Thorwald Lorenzen, currently Professor of Theology at Charles Sturt University, is one of Australia’s most gifted theologians. His other books include Resurrection and Discipleship: Interpretive Models, Biblical Reflections and Theological Consequences (1995, 2003), and Resurrection-Discipleship-Justice: Affirming the Resurrection of Jesus Christ Today (2003).

He brings two special strengths to his work as a theologian: he is a pastor (most recently, Canberra Baptist Church in Australia’s capital city) and his cross-cultural background (he has taught in Europe and Australia, and is fluent in German and English, as well as the Biblical languages).

This volume on the Torah’s ‘Ten Words’ reads like something produced in a theologian’s study, but honed in real-life situations. So the chapters begin with a few pages of theological comments but then apply the ethical principles of the Judeo-Christian commandments to life, and to contemporary global questions. The book is a marvellous resource for preaching on the Decalogue.

Thorwald Lorenzen is a progressive theologian (as I read him), but who takes the biblical text seriously. So the conservatives – except for some in Eastern Europe who ‘wrote him off’ for not sharing their views about a personal Devil – will generally benefit if they have an open mind about how a competent biblical exegete unpacks the text. And the progressives will connect, for example, with his refusal to use masculine – or any - pronouns for God; Deuteronomy was written in the 7th century BCE etc.

The ‘ten words’, writes Lorenzen, are not restrictive, seeking to spoil humans’ fun. Rather they are liberating, aimed at our enjoyment of life. ‘The ten words are guidelines in our quest to affirm life.’ They’re not intended to be laws or dogmas (note that in the four Gospels Jesus did not quote all of the commandments).

It’s packed full of marvellous insights. How about this, for example: ‘A generation that ignores the wisdom and errors, achievements and failures of its predecessors is ill-prepared to face the future. Would the revolutions of Germany’s youth in the 1960s and of America’s youth in the 1970s have happened if their parents had talked about their war experiences and the associated horror and guilt and doubts?’ (p. 86). Ever thought of that?

Another profundity: ‘Each of us has, or rather is, a conscience. Conscience is the centre of our personhood. It makes us who we are. It shapes our identity. It is worth understanding and caring for’ (p. 20).

And throughout Thorwald writes as a prophet. Try this, for example: ‘When some reformers in the sixteenth century took down the pictures and removed the statues from the churches, they wanted to make room for the living voice of the gospel. They wanted to celebrate Jesus as the one word that we need to hear, trust and obey in life and in death. But soon others, lesser minds and lesser hearts, came along and put a book where the pictures had been. So for many Christians the living voice of the gospel has been frozen into a book, the Bible. And around the world there are many Christians who spend more time and energy fighting about the Bible than in worshipping and obeying the Christ to whom the Bible points’ (p. 52).

Challenging stuff. If you’re a pastor, ‘Preach it, sister/brother!’

Rowland Croucher

May 2008


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