Here is a tragic reality about books: many of them don’t deserve to be read once. This problem is particularly pronounced among the landscape of contemporary publishing, where you will regularly encounter books better suited for blogs in a sea of unoriginal and unhelpful redundancy.
Christian publishing is not immune from this reality. You could fill libraries with books published on an annual basis that are simply not worth the attention and time. But every once in a while, a title hits the shelves that not only demands to be read, but immediately becomes one you know you will return to often.
Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers is that kind of book.
A Contemporary Classic
Gentle and Lowly enters into the rare category of contemporary classics. It takes readers to a place we so often speak about, yet rarely consider—the person of Jesus.
It may seem strange to say we rarely consider the person of Jesus, but it’s true. We tend to direct our attention most often toward his work or his words. But Ortlund’s goal is a bit different. He intends to take us to Jesus’s heart.
Alongside books like Delighting in the Trinity, Liturgy of the Ordinary, and Reason for God, Ortlund’s word immediately stands out as a unique contribution amidst its peers. It is simultaneously deep and accessible, clearly written and elegant, easy to pick up and put down, and enjoyable to read slowly.
Let me state it plainly: Gentle and Lowly is not merely a good book you should consider reading—it is a great book that you need to read.
When asked to review this book, I was initially reluctant because, and I say this with no sense of false praise, it felt like I had been tasked with explaining the beauty of a fine painting. Have you ever tried to explain to someone why you love a song? It’s terribly difficult. What’s the best way to do it? By simply playing the song and hoping it catches the listener’s ear as well.
So, let me play a song for you.
Every chapter of this book left me feeling two things: a remarkable desire to draw near to Jesus and a certainty that he was already near.
Because of the majesty of Jesus’s words and works, it is good and right for us to behold them in wonder. As Christians, our eyes should glimmer with the wondrous works of the Son of God. But it’s tempting to miss the engine of this wonder, which is the very heart of God exemplified and embodied in Christ Jesus.
Ortlund determines to fix our eyes upon God’s heart. He takes the cue for both his book’s title and theme from Matthew 11:28–30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (emphasis added).
From this passage, Ortlund weaves together select scriptures throughout the Bible with the writings of Puritan theologian Thomas Goodwin, all to enforce his central thesis: “If we are asked to say only one thing about who Jesus is, we should be honoring Jesus’s own teaching if our answer is, gentle and lowly.”
Now, what does this mean for the Christian? In many ways that is the project of the whole book, to demonstrate that because Jesus is gentle and lowly we can live as freely beloved. His character invites us to move toward him even when we are mired in the muck of our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. Because he is gentle and lowly we can come to him even when we are not, even when we are bothered and arrogant.
Truly, the most wonderful part of the book is the way that Ortlund introduces readers to Jesus as a person he knows while simultaneously drawing them into that same depth of relationship with Christ. That’s the key contribution Gentle and Lowly makes to the many different writings on Jesus. It is at the same time doctrinal and devotional. It uniquely engages with Jesus not as concept or idea, but as a real person who embodies the heart of God.
Trust me when I say I toned down my praise for this book. There are countless bad books, many good books, and a few great books. Gentle and Lowly is a great book. I hope you read it and that it captures your imagination as it did mine.
Cover image by Fatih Özdemir.
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