Why we need the tenderness of our Savior

An Interview with Dane Ortlund about “Gentle and Lowly”

January 6, 2021

Editor’s Note: This interview is part of a series engaging the authors of new or notable books. Because discipleship and spiritual formation go hand in hand, the goal of this series is to introduce you to beneficial and enriching works in order to better equip you to love God with your mind as well as your heart and strength. Find the entire series here.

Christianity isn’t complicated, but it is difficult. If anything, the last year has made us realize in a special way just how broken our world truly is. But whether we’re facing a pandemic or a relative paradise, every Christian needs Jesus—not just for “salvation,” but for life. And apart from the Scriptures, Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, is among the very best places you can look to connect with Jesus in a fresh and meaningful way. We recently had the opportunity to interview Dane about the book. As you read his answers below, you’ll see why Dane’s book is worthy of your time.

In the opening page of your book you write that “this is a book about the heart of Christ” and then go on to say who it’s written for, “the discouraged, the frustrated, the weary, the disenchanted, the cynical, the empty” (13). For the person who finds that these words accurately describe them, why is a deeper understanding of the heart of Christ the balm that will soothe these ills? 

Because our deep soul wounds are beneath the reach of snappy formulas or quick fixes or even theological truth. We need a Person—the Lord Jesus himself, the Greatheart. We don’t climb our way up into his love, we collapse our way down into it. That’s where he lives. 

When describing Jesus as gentle, you say that he “is not trigger-happy. Not harsh, reactionary, easily exasperated. He is the most understanding person in the universe. The posture most natural to him is not a pointed finger but open arms” (19). Why do we have such a hard time believing this and, moreover, what would believing it do for a Christian’s assurance?

We have a hard time believing this because we form Christ in our image. We don’t realize how easily we view him as a bigger, nicer version of us. But he’s on another plane entirely. He doesn’t tolerate our weaknesses; he is drawn in by them. For his own brothers, their failures cause his embrace to tighten, not loosen.

You lean a lot on the Puritans in your book. Why do you think Christians should spend more time reading Puritan works?

The Puritans understood two things at a deep level: the Bible, and fallen human hearts. And their writings take the Bible in one hand and our timid hearts in the other and build bridges between the two so that solace can flow from the Scripture into our own hearts. In other words, the Puritans were neither pure theoreticians nor pure practitioners, but a remarkable blend of both.

Many Christians may imagine Jesus as a sort of begrudging Savior, put out by our unceasing sins and shortcomings. But you say that “it is the very fallenness which he came to undo that is most irresistibly attractive to him” (30). You go further to say, upon seeing the fallenness of the world, Jesus’ “most natural instinct is to move toward sin and suffering, not away from it” (30). And not only that, but it makes him happy to give grace and pardon sin (36). Is Jesus really a happy Savior?

The key here is to remember we are members of Christ’s body, a point the New Testament makes time and again. So think of your own body. When you slice your finger open, you care for it, bandage it, nurse it back to health, and do whatever is needed for its healing. You don’t grow impatient with it. You don’t cut it off and cast it away. In a similar way, we are members of Christ’s own body. When we are sinning or suffering, he doesn’t cut us off—he cares for us all the more insistently. He’s healing his own body. 

Apart from the Scriptures, Dane Ortlund’s book, Gentle and Lowly, is among the very best places you can look to connect with Jesus in a fresh and meaningful way.

Many Christians undoubtedly assume that our ongoing sin disqualifies us from fellowship with God, but you seem to suggest that in our “crevices of sin,” as you call it, “Christ is most strongly drawn to us there” (83). Could you explain a little about what that means? And assuming this is true, how should that transform the act of confession and repentance for us if we’ve fallen into sin?

We naturally believe that the better we are performing spiritually, the stronger Christ’s love; and the worse we are performing, the more diluted his love. But the Gospels are very clear that it is in our ugliest and most entrenched strongholds of sin that God and Christ love us the most. This empties confession of its power and terror, because the only love that counts and the only love that satisfies, God’s, is certain, whatever happens on a horizontal level as we are honest about our sins with other humans. 

On the topic of Christ’s intercession, you quote Louis Berkhoff in chapter 8, saying “that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life” (84). I’m sure many feel negligent in their prayer life, so how should Christ’s intercession encourage us to pray? Why should we pray if he’s already doing it for us? 

By joining in prayer to the Father, we are going with the flow of Christ’s own prayers for us. We are entering in to the very fellowship of the Trinity. Moreover, Christ’s intercessory work reflects the truth that as those united to him, we have the Father’s ear as much as Christ himself does. Christ’s intercession gives hope and power and fuel for our own prayers.

You devote a chapter of your book to the idea that Jesus is a tender friend. How can Christians cultivate a deeper friendship with Jesus?

Let him be a person. Not a force, not an idea, not a philosophy, not a formula. Even “the gospel,” glorious as this good news is, is not itself a person but a message. But if Christ is a person, he is someone with whom we can cultivate a deep friendship. Don’t let his divinity and highness let you diminish his humanity and lowness.

As you close the book, you address what I imagine may be the most common question people ask after reading which is, “what are we to do with this?” (215). Your answer is simple: nothing. You encourage us to enjoy Jesus and his heart by simply opening ourselves up to him and going to him. In closing, can you give a word of encouragement on how doing this has transformed your own life?

In all my own struggles and in all my fathering and in all my ministry and in all my preaching, my main goal is to help people’s hearts calm down into fresh relief and wonder at the Savior’s befriending Love. There is plenty of time and opportunity to reprove and exhort, through and according to Scripture. But this entire world is deeply controlled by Law, by demand, by scrutinizing. I am only changed as I am surprised. And the deepest surprise in this relentless world is the tender heart of the Son of God.

You can order Gentle and Lowly here.

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Josh Wester

Joshua B. Wester is the lead pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24