Interview with J. V. Fesko on the Rule of LovePosted: July 6, 2009
One of my favorite parts, and just might be my favorite part of my job is being able to read manuscripts from time to time from RHB’s Director of Publishing, then being able to interview the author about the book, before it is even released!
Most recently RHB published J.V. Fesko’s new title, The Rule of Love. At first I honestly had not a clue what I was to expect, some love book? Maybe some book on how to love people? Or maybe a book on how to love your wife? All of those was what happen to be running through my mind. However I was altogether wrong… And right.
I received the PDF document from Jay, the Director of Publications at RHB in order to conduct an interview with J. V. Fesko for you, the readers to read in dealing with with this title.
I was wrong in that the book dealt with the Ten Commandments and not something dealing with Love its’ self.
I was right in that the book dealt with the aspects in how one loves in obeying the law that God has given the church. The book may at this point be my favorite RHB book in print. For those that either do book studies, have come from dispensationalism, fundamentalism back grounds, or have a small group, this book is a great study, chapter by chapter on each command of the Moral Law. To add to its’ content, each chapter ends its self with a number of questions to answer with your friends, small group, or your family.
From Westminster Seminary California,
“Dr. Fesko is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He was ordained as a church planter in 1998 and was installed as a pastor in 2003, thus serving in pastoral ministry for over ten years. He has also taught systematic theology for Reformed Theological Seminary for over eight years as a part-time professor. He has served on two committees appointed by the General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. His present research interests include the integration of biblical and systematic theology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Reformed theology. He is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, and the Evangelical Theological Society, and a friend of the Institute for Biblical Research.
He is the author of Diversity Within the Reformed Tradition: Supra- and Infralapsarianism in Calvin, Dort, and Westminster; Last Things First: Unlocking Genesis 1-3 with the Christ of Eschatology; Justification: Understanding the Classical Reformed Doctrine; and What is Justification by Faith Alone? He is a contributor toJustification: A Report from the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and is both a co-editor and contributor to The Law Is Not of Faith: Essays on Works and Grace in the Mosaic Covenant. His scholarly essays have appeared in Reformed Theological Review, Confessional Presbyterian, Themelios, Mid-America Journal of Theology,Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and Westminster Theological Journal.”
Q. You serve as the academic dean at Westminster Seminary California, and have written several academic works. Is this book written for the academy, or do you have something different in mind?
A. I have written this book with the person in the pew in mind. It is a brief non-technical introduction to the Ten Commandments that grew out of a sermon series I preached a number of years ago. I wrote the book with the layman in mind, something that a person could pick up and read a chapter in twenty minutes or so. My hope is that though it is simple and brief, that it gives the reader a glimpse of the profundity of God’s law.
Q. What is the significance of the title, The Rule of Love, and how does this relate to the Ten Commandments?
A. So often people do not associate obedience to the law with a love for God. Obedience is seen as a duty or obligation rather than something that is the fruit of love. Christ tells us, quoting the Old Testament, that to love God is the first and greatest commandment. However, we mustn’t forget that apart from Christ through the Holy Spirit, we are incapable of loving God. We must remember that God has first loved us so that we may love Him and others.
Q. We hear a lot of complaints about the removal of the Ten Commandments from courthouses and schools, but I do not sense much concern among Evangelicals about having a good understanding of the Law in their churches and homes. How can churches do a better job of teaching the Law and its proper uses?
A. All too often I think people are more concerned with what goes on in the world outside the church than they are with what occurs inside it. I suspect that people want copies of the Law posted in their local courthouse but seldom hear the Law read in their churches. Churches, and more specifically ministers, are called to teach and preach the whole counsel of God, which includes the Law. This means reading the Law during the worship service to convict the congregation of their sin, show their inability to love God, and how far they have fallen short of the glory of God. But then ministers must herald the good news of the gospel of the free forgiveness of sins by faith alone in Christ alone by God’s grace alone. In this the people of God know they are free from the condemnation of the Law. But as they are united to Christ, they can also know that God has written the Law upon their hearts and that they have been raised with Christ to walk in the newness of life. In reflecting upon the Law they can know that not only has Christ fulfilled its demands but that through the Spirit He enables them to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law by faith in Him.
Q. How can Christian parents do a better job of teaching their children about the Law and its proper uses?
A. It is vital that parents teach their children that the Law is far more than a list of prohibitions. The Law is so much more. The prohibition against coveting, for example, ultimately tells us that we must be generous with our possessions and give freely of what God has graciously given to us. However, parents must constantly point their children to Christ as the only one to whom they can flee not only for the forgiveness of their sins against the Law but also as the one who enables them to obey the Law of God. Lastly, if parents do not understand these things, then they will not model them for their children. In other words, sometimes children learn more from what their parents do rather than what they say.
Q. It seems there is a fine line between two equally devastating errors: legalism and antinomianism. What help does your book offer to navigate people between these two errors?
A. My aim was to show how essential a Christ-centered approach to the Law is. Apart from Christ, people often think that they can obey the Law—this leads to legalism. Apart from a right understanding of what Christ has done to free us from the curse of the Law, people often take a cheap view of grace—this leads to antinomianism, or lawless living. If we recognize our utter sinfulness and depravity, then we will never think our own pretended righteousness will withstand the scrutiny before the throne of judgment. Only Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to us by faith is sufficient. On the other hand, if we recognize all that Christ suffered in bearing the curse of the Law and that He has poured out the Spirit upon us so that we might walk in the newness of life, then we will turn away from lawless living.
Q. In Galatians 3, Paul argues that the law was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. How does your book particularly demonstrate this point?
A. One of the ways that I hope I bring this out is to show the plunging depths of how demanding the Law of God actually is. Though the Law is very short, it is very demanding ultimately because it is a reflection of the perfect righteousness and holiness of our covenant Lord. In seeing the great exactitude and absolute perfection that the Law demands, hopefully people will see how insufficient their own attempts at meeting God’s demands are and they will flee to Christ, our only hope in life and death.
Q. You emphasis the need to place the Ten Commandments in their redemptive, historical, and covenantal context. Could you briefly give a word on all three of these aspects?
A. It is important to understand the Ten Commandments in their original setting. What would an average Israelite have understood when he heard the Law read? At the same time, as we come to the Law, we have to realize that God never comes to His people apart from covenant. In this case, as we read the Law we must recognize that it is the chief element of the Mosaic covenant, a covenant to which we are not a part. Moses did not sprinkle blood upon us and we did not stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai and swear a self-maledictory covenant oath of obedience. We are a part of the new covenant—we have been sprinkled with the blood of Christ. It is our covenantal context that helps us to see the broader redemptive context—namely that Sinai was not the terminal goal of God’s revelation but that it is Christ. Apart from Christ, the law brings death. It is only through Christ, He who bore the curse of the Law and fulfilled it on our behalf imputed to us by faith alone, that we can look upon the Law as a friend. We must always take account our redemptive, historical, and covenantal contexts.
Q. In your chapter on the fourth commandment, you note that Sabbath observance is at an all time low. It seems many people in Evangelicalism see the Sabbath as no longer binding, and really as an unnecessary legalism. Pastorally, how have you counseled people who share or have run into this view?
A. Over the years I have tried to show people what it means to receive a foretaste of the eternal rest to come, of heaven itself. Each and every Lord’s Day (Sunday) we receive a foretaste of heaven, of the eternal rest that we will one day enjoy. On that day there will be no labor, no selfish pursuit of our own interests, but we will be consumed with a joyful and exuberant worship of our triune Lord. If we allow ourselves to be distracted by worldly things, then we will miss out on this tremendous blessing. Moreover, if we can take time off from work to celebrate holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and the like then why are we so adamant about refusing to do the same for the greatest event in all of world history, indeed in the entire cosmos? The new-world creating resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!
Q. If you had two to three sentences to give a “pitch-line” to sell your book, what would you tell someone?
A. I think Paul said it best, “The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15.56-57). But if I have to come up with my own original statement, I’d say: “Apart from Christ the Law is death. Only in Christ is the Law silenced and becomes our friend.”
In The Rule of Love, J. V. Fesko gives an introductory exposition of the Ten Commandments. Beginning with the importance of the prologue, and then addressing each Commandment in turn, he sets forth a balanced and biblical approach that places the law in proper perspective. Throughout the book, Fesko analyzes the historical context of God’s giving the law in order to help us accurately understand the moral demands God places upon humanity. Yet, Fesko does not stop there; he also discusses the covenantal and redemptive context in which the law was given. Thus, he shows that the law is not presented to us in order for us to present ourselves right before God. Rather, it demonstrates our failure to love God as we should and points us to Christ and His perfect obedience in all that God requires of us. Fesko also shows how Christ applies the commandments to His people by the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit. This is an excellent survey of the Ten Commandments that promises to bring about a more accurate understanding of the proper uses of the law, as well as engender profound gratitude for all that God is for us in Christ.