***My review of the first ten chapters.
The first thing I tend to look at when I choose books is who endorses it. If there are endorsements by solid people then I know its most likely a solid book, and the same for the other way, if it is endorsed by false teachers or not-so-solid folks, then I know that the book is probably not solid. When I looked through the endorsements at the beginning of Gentle and Lowly, there were a few from solid folks, but there were also a few from questionable and no-longer solid folks. So, that in itself was a red flag for me.
One thing that I did appreciate, first off, was that the author drew from and quoted from several solid resources throughout the whole book. Lots of Puritans, JI Packer, Martin Lloyd-Jones, and more. If your resources are solid, then most likely you will end up with something theologically sound.
Before we go much further, I think it’s important to note that the author is talking specifically to believers. I mention this because there is a difference in the way you talk to, and what you talk about with, believers vs unbelievers. For example, in Chapter 5, the author states that Jesus deals gently with us. He is speaking of believers. Jesus would deal gently with an elect child of God with a regenerated heart, but not so much with a totally depraved person who denies Him.
The book is fully titled: Gentle and Lowly, The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers.
I would say that the book is more focused on the love of Christ, rather than the wrath of God. This, in and of itself, is not bad. The doctrine of the love of Christ is a beautiful thing. When speaking to believers specifically, its okay to just talk about His amazing and beautiful love. I personally feel that the reformed camp (of which, I do consider myself a part of), as a whole, is more focused on His wrath. They do so because it’s important, and because there are so many false churches (like the NAR) that only focus on God’s love. However, the focus on God’s wrath, by the reformed camp, is almost done in an overcompensating way – to the point that wrath is only talked about most of the time. Like Dane Ortlund (the author) mentions in Chapter 2, people get drawn to talking about one side or the other. “Just as we so easily live with a diminished view of the punitive judgement of God that will sweep over those out of Christ, so we easily live with a diminished view of the compassionate heart of God sweeping over those in Christ.” (pg 75-76). We can tend to forget that His wrath and His love are not at odds with each other. They go together and work together harmoniously. We can talk about them together and separately, but we can’t ever downplay the importance of the other one or even deny that the other exists.
And – we can’t be heretical when talking about either one.
This is where the second red flag pops up for me about this book.
Starting in Chapter 2, Ortlund makes the claim that our sin is what makes us attractive. In Chapter 3, he writes that Christ is joyed with our failures. Then in Chapter 7, he states “your sins evoke His heart, compassion, and pity”. All of this, he says, is part of why Christ loves us.
This is inaccurate. Christ hates sin, and it saddens Him when children of God fall into sin. There would be no reason to repent if our sin had His compassion. Our sins draw the discipline of Christ. They are not what makes us attractive because sin is against His holy nature. It is a danger to our walk with Christ if we do not repent of our sins.
To the author’s credit, he does go on to mention that Christ hates sin, that the Gospel calls us to leave our sin, and the need to repent.
Albeit, with his wording, he seems almost contradictory with these statements.
I think Ortlund is trying to tell us, as believers, we can and should still go to Christ because He will be there, ready to forgive. Even though our sins may seem “too sinful”. When we are converted, our sins start feeling far more sinful than what they did when we were unbelievers. This is because the Holy Spirit is inside us and sanctifying us. This is good, but it can also make us feel defeated – that there is no way the Lord could ever forgive us because we are “just too bad”. But the wonderful thing is that we can take comfort in the fact that not only has He already forgiven us for numerous sins, but that He is faithful and just and ready to forgive us when we inevitably sin in the future. We just need to humble ourselves, confess our sins, and ask for His forgiveness.
But my problem is that is not how the author words it.
This wasn’t the only time the author’s choice of words caused me to stop.
On page 99, Ortlund suggests to the reader that they should “romance the heart of Jesus.” Now again, to give the author some credit, he does go on to explain what he means by this statement and when I relayed the phrase above to my husband, he said that he understood what the author meant. So, it very well could be my own bias against language like that. I get really annoyed and cringe when I hear the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend” or any other unbiblical “romantic relationship with Jesus” type talk. However, the author goes on to say, “All I mean is: ponder Him through His heart.” When stated that way, its not bad.
But again, the words the author chooses is questionable.
The book (or at this point in my reading, the first ten chapters) has some amazing insights to help the believer rest and focus on Christ’s love for us. We can almost feel defeated if all we focus on is God’s wrath. I do agree with RC Sproul that “A god who is all love, all grace, all mercy, no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, and no wrath is an idol.” But I would also have to add that a god who is all wrath and no love doesn’t exist. God loves us, that is why He sent Jesus to die on the cross to atone for our sins in the first place. It is comforting, especially in the times that we have recently gone through, or any time when we feel far from God, to be reminded of His unfailing love for us.
However, with the author’s blatant heretical statements that Christ is attracted to our sin, and his confusing choice of wording in other areas, I can’t say for certain that I would recommend this book. But, since I have only read the first ten chapters, I would urge caution when reading.
Caution and comparing all things to Scripture is what we should be doing anyway. Every book, sermon, or resource, no matter who it comes from.
Part two will come….at some point…..if needed.
But if I am being completely honest, I am finding it hard to get past the author’s repeated statement that our sin is what makes us attractive, so I’m not sure if I will finish it.
While a book or resource can be good in a lot of ways, should we just ignore the one or two heretical statements it makes?