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A review of Dane Ortland's book 'Gentle and Lowly'

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A review of Dane Ortland's book 'Gentle and Lowly'
Book Review by Mike Pilavachi and Andy Croft

Every now and again, (usually in intervals of around forty years!) a Christian book is published that has a lasting impact on the church of Jesus. We believe Gentle and Lowly is one such book. We both love reading Christian books and have benefited from hundreds of them between us. This is probably the most profound and timely book either of us has ever read.

Gentle and Lowly is that rare combination: careful, deep theology which is a faithful exposition of the biblical texts as well as a wonderful tour de force of the great theologians, from Augustine and Calvin through Edwards, Spurgeon, Goodwin, Bunyan and the other great puritan theologians, to name but a few. It is beautifully written; theology verging on poetry. This is a book that at the same time feeds the mind and warms the heart.

Above all, it is a book all about Jesus. Not only about what He did, but much more, who He is. It introduces us afresh to the heart of Jesus, to that which animates Him most deeply. In the words of Jesus Himself, He is ‘gentle and lowly of heart.’ Or to quote Ortlund, ‘For all his resplendent glory and dazzling holiness, his supreme uniqueness and otherness, no one in human history has ever been more approachable than Jesus Christ.’

Many of us know of Jesus’ actions on our behalf but we struggle to grasp the warmth of this love towards us. Ortlund begins, ‘This book is written for the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty… For those of us who know God loves us but suspect we have deeply disappointed him.’ He goes on to point out that our natural tendency is to think of God as having a severe or at best indifferent attitude towards us. So often we project our own limited capacity for love onto God, and as Calvin notes, ‘There is nothing that troubles our consciences more than when we think that God is like ourselves.’ This really matters! Until we grasp how much we are loved we will struggle to rest easy in God’s presence.

The solution is not to spend more time looking inward but to look outward to Jesus. Ortlund takes us by the hand and in chapter after chapter displays that God’s capacity for kindness, compassion and mercy is off the scale. He is like no one we have ever encountered before. He delights to forgive, He rejoices when we ask for help, He is drawn to us when we are at our most ugly and pitiful. Imagine being confident that on your worst day and at your most ashamed moments you are nevertheless loved beyond all measure. What difference might that make? Ortlund shows us persuasively and persistently that we meet a God like this in the person of Jesus Christ. ‘Our hearts gasp to catch up with this. It is not how the world around us works. It is not how our own hearts work. But we bow in humble submission, letting God set the terms by which he will love us.’

This is a book that makes you want to sing. Truly, good theology leads to doxology. Truth that sets you free to worship. And how this is needed! At a time when we are saturated with leadership books about techniques and strategies, and Christian self-help books centred on our problems, struggles and hang-ups, Gentle and Lowly places the Lord Jesus where He belongs, at the centre of the stage. We are convinced that as we gaze upon Jesus and behold His beauty and glory we will be changed into His likeness. Ortlund magnificently turns our gaze from ourselves and back where it should be, onto Jesus Christ. ‘Looking inside ourselves, we can anticipate only harshness from heaven. Looking out to Christ, we can anticipate only gentleness.’

Ortlund is a conservative evangelical. We would be regarded as ‘swinging on the chandeliers’ charismatics. He has reminded us in the most engaging way possible that both truth and experience must be rooted in the revelation of who Jesus is if they are to have any value.

We cannot commend this brilliant book highly enough. Sell everything and buy it and then study it alone, in your small group and with your whole church.

 

 

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