A Review of “Gentle and Lowly” by Dane Ortlund

There are a handful of books out there that have dramatically changed the way I read the Scriptures. It’s not always in the form of brand new knowledge, but rather in highlighting emphases or phrasing in the Scriptures that enhances understanding. Dane Ortlund has not necessarily dropped brand new information on readers in his book Gentle and Lowly. And yet I feel like this book has dramatically impacted me and will dramatically impact my pastoral care. Rather than providing us with new information, Ortlund helps us to get the right emphasis. Gentle and Lowly encourages us to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes regarding the heart of Christ.

We have a tendency to view God, and to view Christ in particular, through the lens of human tendencies and relationships. So, while we know that God loves and that Christ died for sinners, we tend to emphasize God’s justice and judgment at the expense of his love. So, we operate under the assumption that God is angry, disappointed, and frustrated with us. That our sin and repeated failures make him somewhat begrudging in his offers of mercy. But, Ortlund demonstrates, this is not what the Bible teaches us. “Once again, the Bible is one long attempt to deconstruct our natural vision of who God actually is” (149). He adds:

The message of this book is that we tend to project our natural expectations about who God is onto him instead of fighting to let the Bible surprise us into what God himself says. (155)

Instead of presenting a God that conforms to our expectations, the Scriptures emphasize God’s love, mercy, and compassion on sinners. Across 23 chapters, Ortlund expounds Scriptures and presents a robust theological framework for exploring the “heart of Christ” and of God towards sinners and sufferers.

The book is both thorough and yet very devotional in the way it is written. In multiple chapters I was moved to tears (see especially, “What Our Sin Evokes”). The chapters are concise and easy to read. While Ortlund interacts heavily with the Puritans he always explains his quotations well and makes these old English writers accessible to modern readers. The Scriptures are his authority in this book, but the Puritans provide some helpful explanations of those Scriptures.

The book served me particularly in refreshing my soul and my mind on truths that I know, but which are so easy to forget or displace. Ortlund’s focus on the emphasis of Scripture regarding God’s character and orientation helps us as Christians, counselors, pastors, and teachers to evaluate what we are emphasizing in our representations of Christ and of God. The book is beautifully written and powerfully affecting. It has easily broken into my top ten favorite books of all time! I highly recommend this work to all! You will be immensely blessed, Christian, if you read this book. You will understand Christ and the gospel in fresh and encouraging ways; you will be challenged to evaluate your own presentation of Christ and your own thinking of God; and you will be more able to help others who struggle with the assurance of God’s love by reading this book!

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