Gospel-centeredness: Coherent or Just Cool
The gospel is all the rage these days in Christian circles. It’s trendy to frequently drop the phrase ‘gospel-centeredness’ in our conversations as we sip on our skinny no-foam latte while peering over our cool glasses that we don’t really need to wear. There are many great books surfacing on the gospel and its efficacy in the lives of believers, stimulating fruitful conversations on the blogosphere regarding the gospel and sanctification.
While the average Christian understands the bare facts of the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ for sin, many of us do not know how to articulate the implications of the gospel of grace for our own lives. Dane Ortlund’s, Defiant Grace: The Surprising Message and Mission of Jesus, written for “fellow everyday believers” may be the means of refreshing grace that they are seeking. Ortlund states boldly:
“It’s time to enjoy grace anew—not the decaffeinated grace that pats us on the hand, ignores our deepest rebellions and doesn’t change us, but the high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed” (p. 13).
Ortlund’s creative and seemingly effortless use of vivid, metaphorical language in and of itself, makes the book a pleasurable read.
Surprised by Grace
Ortlund presumes that our understanding of who Jesus is needs repeated tweaking, so he takes us on a journey through the four gospels in search of the surprising message and mission of Jesus. His premise is that Jesus is surprising and grace is shocking. The surprises he shares may seem scandalous and counterintuitive to our law-addicted hearts, so Ortlund anchors his summary statements for each gospel narrative in portions of Scripture from that same gospel. He adeptly uses these anchors to give evidence for the unanticipated, astounding message or mission of Jesus as well as show its thematic continuity within the book as a whole.
Chapter 1 begins with Matthew where we see the surprise of disobedient obedience. The main point of this chapter answers the question of qualification for the Kingdom of God. Using Matthew 18-20, Ortlund shows that Peter, the Pharisees, and the rich young ruler all ask the same question that many others have asked through the ages, “What is the least that I must do to get God off my back?”
Treating obedience as something that earns points and qualifies us for the Kingdom, we deny the “inadequacy of our own moral resources (as a result of our sin) and the adequacy of God’s divine provision (on account of Christ’s work).” As a result of these false beliefs, our rule-keeping can be evil, our obedience disobedience. In the end, only those who realize their disqualification, manifested in rule-breaking and rule-keeping, are truly qualified to receive Christ’s grace.
In Mark, we see the surprise of the King undergoing the fate of a criminal, underscoring triumphant brokenness. Christ the King came to die. Masterfully using Jesus’ dealings with James and John and blind Bartimaeus from Mark 8-10, Ortlund unpacks our spiritual and moral blindness, evidenced in our natural, prideful grasping for glory in ourselves. We, like blind Bartimaeus, need mercy from the King who died the death of a criminal to secure mercy and glory for those who admit their blindness and cling to Christ.
In Luke, we see the surprise of the insiders becoming outsiders and the outsiders becoming insiders as Jesus reveals the stunning reality of those included in his community. Luke highlights the radical social inversion of the gospel call: Jesus came for sinners and social outcasts. Those who believed themselves to be on the outside were welcomed, and those who believed themselves to be on the inside were excluded.
“Hell is filled with people who believe they deserve to be outside hell and inside heaven. Heaven is filled with people who believe they deserve to be outside heaven and inside hell. Such grace defies our sense of fair play” (p. 92).
Those invited into community with Christ are those who grasp the truth that the ultimate insider became the outcast to secure inclusion for outsiders to be brought in.
In John, we see the surprise of the Creator of the universe becoming one of His own creatures, emphasizing the shocking identity of Jesus. Through consideration of the magnitude of the incarnation account in John 1, Ortlund draws attention to the uniqueness of Christianity in the weighty reality that the transcendent, holy God came to us, as us.
Scandalous to the deeply held beliefs of both Jews and Greeks regarding the nature of God is this notion that God became man. “This is the surprise of John. The Creator became a creature so that we creatures can be restored to our Creator. Such grace defies our categories” (p. 105).
Wonder to Worship
By the end of the book, the reader is left freshly stunned by Jesus and His radical grace, marveling at His counter-intuitive message, amazed at His counter-cultural mission. These surprising realities make quick application for the reader, forcing us to think about the motivations of our obedience and giving insight into the desires of our heart and our need for mercy.
They navigate us towards the broken and marginalized, reminding us of the beauty and grandeur of the welcome and acceptance of gospel grace. Dane Ortlund invites and impels worship of the Giver of grace, gratitude because of the receiving of it, and a deep desire to be transformed into the image of this One who would come to give such radical, defiant grace! The only weakness found in Ortlund’s book is its brevity. The 119 pages whet the appetite for grace and leaves you wanting more!