BOOK REVIEW: Gentle and Lowly

I’ve been reading Gentle and Lowly: the heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers, by Dane Ortlund. I’ve heard this book praised by many people, not all from the same theological background either.

One of my hobbies in life is to analyze things that “everyone” likes. I enjoy being contrarian! I know that if many people like something, it’s probably wrong!

So, those are my upfront admissions! You know where I’m coming from.

The point of the book is that Jesus is a lot more loving than we think. He bases his points on Puritan writings, which I find slightly ironic. Puritans are Calvinists. Calvinists are the ones who have beaten wrath and judgment into our heads.

One of the reasons people don’t think God is as loving as the Bible says is because of Calvinism! Their stress on wrath and justice in the Gospel has diminished love. You can look at all the verses in the Bible that mention the Gospel and you will see love associated with it way more than wrath or justice. Yet Calvinism has majored on those and minored on love.

So, for a guy to use Calvinist writings to prove God is loving and not so wrathful is kind of odd. You will also notice he can’t quote a ton from most of them!

If Calvinism hadn’t taken over the Gospel, this book would not have been necessary.

At the same time, I also think people like the book because it emphasizes love and mercy. Both are fine things, but in so doing he does kind of make it sound like sin isn’t that big of a deal. I know that’s not the author’s point, I’m not accusing him of anything, I actually like most of the book as it is a needed corrective of the Calvinist wrath motif. But I do know people are hearing him that way.

“God loves to be merciful” sounds to most people like, “Should we sin that grace may abound? Absolutely yes, go for it!”

I think the two reasons people like this book are because for once a Calvinist emphasizes love, and his emphasis sounds like an ok to go sin.

Me, being a not-Calvinist, heard his Calvinism throughout the book. He never harped on it much, so it was not a hurdle to my enjoyment. Then I got to chapter 22! He let it all out in this chapter!

How much less could we comprehend what it meant for God to funnel the cumulative judgment for all the sinfulness of his people down onto one man. But reflecting on what we feel toward, say, the perpetrator of some unthinkable act of abuse toward an innocent victim gives us a taste of what God felt toward Christ as he, the last Adam, stood in for the sins of God’s people. The righteous human wrath we feel—the wrath we would be wrong not to feel—is a drop in the ocean of righteous divine wrath the Father unleashed.

After all, God punished Jesus not for the sin of just one person but many. What must it mean when Isaiah says of the servant that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6)? What was it for Christ to swallow down the cumulative twistedness, self-enthronement, natural God hatred, of the elect? What must it have been for the sum total of righteous divine wrath generated not just by one man’s sin but “the iniquity of us all” to come crashing down on a single soul?

So, there ya have it! Calvinistic wrath in all its glory.

God “unleashed” “divine wrath” on Jesus. It would be more than the wrath we would feel toward a child abuser. God views Jesus as worse than a child abuser is the idea. The “sum total of righteous divine wrath” “came crashing down on a single soul.”

There are no verses that say any of this. Yes, he includes Isaiah 53:6 that our iniquities were laid on Christ, no argument there. But the whole divine wrath on Jesus is a complete abstraction. The Bible nowhere says that God the Father had wrath toward His Son. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Isaiah 53 has several mentions of God being pleased with the Suffering Servant. There is no wrath. Why would God be upset with Jesus for doing the most loving, sacrificial work ever done to save us from our sin? It makes no sense.

Several times Ortlund says Jesus suffered hell. Again there is no place in the Bible where it says Jesus went to hell for us. The KJV uses “hell” sometimes instead of “the grave,” but other than that, there is nothing about Jesus going to hell. “Today you will be with me in paradise” is the only mention of where Jesus went after His death. Maybe he’s being metaphorical with the hell talk. That’s my best take, otherwise it’s all speculative.

During his explanation of suffering God’s wrath, Ortlund doesn’t quote many verses. There’s a reason for that! Here’s one snippet he throws in to give seeming biblical support:

And in venting that righteous wrath God was not striking a morally neutral tree. He was splintering the Lovely One. Beauty and Goodness Himself was being uglified and vilified. “Stricken, smitten by God” (Isaiah 53:4).

Isaiah 53:4 has more words in it that Ortlund leaves out:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

There are some key words in here he conveniently leaves out: “we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God.” See, that’s not saying Jesus was stricken and smitten by God; it means that’s how we viewed it. When Christ was on the cross He was being mocked. “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” This was their ultimate victory. They overcame and killed the one who claimed to be equal with God. Humanity’s view is that God was against this so called Messiah. Is God really for a guy who we just nailed to a cross? I don’t think so! God is clearly against this guy.

So, where does all this orgy of God’s wrath on Jesus come from? It comes from extrapolating a lot out of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ortlund talks about this passage for a few paragraphs. Allow me to quote his opening phrase about Jesus being forsaken:

“It’s speculation.” (pg. 200).

Yup, it is!

The whole God’s wrath on Jesus angle is speculation, because it says it nowhere in the Bible. If the point were clear, Ortlund would not have to speculate. But he does.

If you read the context of Psalm 22, which begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You will note that the forsakenness is dealing with physical death. As the chapter goes on you’ll see many prophecies that were fulfilled while Jesus was on the cross. You will also note that the Psalm ends with a clear understanding that he’s not forsaken by God. Yes, he’s forsaken to the point of physical suffering, but essentially he knows he’s ok. His feeling is not the full story.

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard (Psalm 22:24).

Jesus did suffer, but God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted. He wasn’t really forsaken. It looked like He was, we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, but in the end the Lord was with Him and heard His cries.

I guarantee you the thought of God when Christ was on the cross was not wrath against Jesus; it was sorrow. If our sin grieves the Holy Spirit, how much more must it have grieved God to see what was going on here?

In the end, this chapter refutes the entirety of the rest of Ortlund’s book. Ortlund tells me several times that God is my Father and the Father loves His sons. God only has love and mercy and compassion toward His kids. Except of course for His one Son who never did anything wrong; He blasted Him with His wrath! If God can be that upset with His one perfect Son, what chance do I have?

That’s exactly why Ortlund wrote this book, to balance out the wrathful extreme of Calvinist doctrine. I like that people like the book because he’s right when he’s right. He just can’t bring himself to admit that it’s Calvinism’s gospel that caused the problem in the first place!

Oh well. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

God was never wrathful about His Son this I know, for the Bible also tells me so.

Stick with the Bible. You’ll have a much better understanding of God.

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