A faithful Christian book rarely hit the shelves and has as much success as Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly. Being a missionary in Romania, it can often be hard to get resources here. Financial strains often combine with long waiting times for things to arrive from other countries. When Ortlund’s book was released, it made a multitude of Christians happy. Yet, here I was, unable to read my copy because a combination of Brexit and Covid-19 had prevented me from taking my delivery of books from the UK. Last month, however, my delivery finally arrived, and I could finally read this treasure. Further motivation was on my heart since my wife has been attending a Bible study where the women are studying this book together. Its immense popularity, compelling title, and cover, and the study that my wife was taking part in all came together to make me quickly pick up this book and read it.
And I had no regrets. The reading is light and straightforward. Ortlund has a clear pastoral heart that he directs throughout his book, and he knows what he says. I put the book down, thankful for what I had read. Some learned theologians might say that “it is nothing new,” and I agree. But what is new in this world? When old truth is brought into a fresh perspective, you end up with a refreshing and vibrant book, such as Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly.
If it is not obvious already, let me say once more: I am very much a fan of what Ortlund has produced in his latest work. Already, Crossway is preparing to produce a follow-up work titled: Deeper (detailing sanctification), for which I have the same anticipation of greatness.
Throughout Ortlund’s work, you will be treated to fluid writing, written from a pastoral heart. So often, we get focused on proclaiming and defending important truths; however, Ortlund’s work is a simple treatise on something that none of us should disagree on Jesus Christ, the gentle and lowly Shepherd of our souls. If you are struggling in this life, feeling like the tide is rising and your breath is running short, then be encouraged to read about this Good Shepherd’s care for your soul.
While this is a positive review, I think two things should be addressed, which other people have not picked up on so much. The first is the repetitive style of the book. This is not a big deal as we can never hear that Jesus is gentle and lowly enough, for those very words on their own are music to our thirsty and beaten souls. If you, however, like to get into the meat of good writing, then you may struggle a little with Ortlund’s writing style.
The second matter, however, is a little more serious. Ortlund seems to hold a certain view on the Immutability of God. This doctrine teaches that God is unchangeable, that all of His attributes are spread across His being, and He is all that He is (note verses that say God is love, light, etc…) Some theologians, however, believe that immutability means that God changes His emotional disposition in relation to His people. For example, when a sinner repents, then God changes His disposition to that individual. Or that God is “moved” when we worship Him. I, however, believe that nothing in God changes, ever. When a non-believer repents and comes to faith, it is not God who changes but the sinner.
The sinner relates to God in a new way and changes from a former disposition to a new way of life. Nothing in God changes in that process, only the repentant sinner.
Ortlund says that: “His [Jesus] joy and ours rise and fall together.”[i] This indicates that Ortlund believes that God’s “emotional state” can change, depending on circumstances. If this were true, then this would mean that God is changeable. It is unclear if Ortlund meant to bring out this theology in his book or if it is simply a prosaic way of showing that Jesus relates to us, loves us, and wants to bring all-around good to those of us who love Him. Either way, this does not detract from the overall wonderful content of Ortlund’s book. I do not wish this small matter to be something that ruins people’s joy in this book. Still, it needs to be addressed if anybody adopts a view of God that removes His immutability; it would be devastating for evangelicals.
Moving back into his overwhelmingly positive content, I can say that I am incredibly thankful for how Ortlund tied all the threads of Christ’s care for His sheep together. He begins by reflecting on the heart of Christ and how He operates. This takes up a fair amount of space, leading into how Christ has sent His Spirit into the world to work with us. Pulling all of the work of God into perspective, Ortlund has done a remarkable job of showing how the whole of God loves the sinner and brings Him into a saving relationship, leading to eternal bliss.
Have you read this book? If not, I say that you finish reading this review and get to your nearest faithful Christian bookshop and grab the nearest copy. You will not regret doing so, and your soul will drink into the gentle nature of your Savior, who refused to let you burn out when you were a smoking flax.
[i] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Crossway. Wheaton: IL. (2020). 38