Phoebe reviews 'Deeper' by Dane Ortlund
Phoebe shares her thoughts on Deeper by Dane Ortlund.
Deeper by Dane Ortlund explores the question of how to go deeper and mature in the Christian life, which Ortlund defines as seeing, knowing, a enjoying Christ more deeply throughout our walk with Him. Ortlund summarises his book in saying that ‘The nine chapters of this book are not sequential steps in growing; they are different facets of the one diamond of growth’ (Conclusion, p. 172), nor are they new techniques for going deeper in faith.
Ortlund’s central idea to his book is the fact that Christians don’t need to find new techniques or concepts for going deeper with Christ. Rather, they already have all that they need, they just need to go deeper into the riches which they have in Christ.
Ortlund uses nine chapters to show this which are each titled by a different, recognisable aspect of Christian life, for example, suffering (‘Pain’), justification (‘Acquittal’), and the love of Jesus (‘Embrace’), amongst others. Each chapter is centred on and rooted in Jesus, showing that our growth only comes from looking upon Him and dwelling on who He is and what He has done.
For me, this book was really helpful in simplifying what I am tempted to feel is an insurmountable or undefinable task, that is, knowing God more and being more like Him throughout life (or ‘sanctification’ if you’d like a big word). Ortlund’s central point is Christ himself, which helped me to take the focus off myself and to put it where it should be: all that Christ has done, is doing, and will do, enabling me to recognise how much I have been given as a believer in Him. As objective things outside of me, the focus for my growth is no longer on how much I sin in a day or whether I have solved certain doubts or not, but it is on the glorious person of Jesus Christ. It was and is a huge comfort, like watering the roots of the tree rather than trying to yank an apple out of the branch – enjoying and growing in knowledge of whom I’m rooted in, Christ Himself, instead of focusing on how ‘good’ I am in the day. Of course, the fruit matters, but if the gardener waters and takes care of the roots, the fruit will naturally come.
And so, Deeper helped me to do just that. Each chapter is carefully constructed and gives the reader a thorough understanding of its topic, grounding it in the Gospel. A favourite example of this is the chapter on justification and sanctification specifically, ‘Acquittal’, which I can summarise with Ortlund’s own exhortation: ‘Live your life out of the fullness of a justified existence’ (Chapter 5, p. 103); the way on as a Christian in knowing God better and becoming more like him is the way in, i.e., the Gospel. This chapter and others like it cut through my supposed familiarity with such core aspects of Christian living and both refreshed and deepened what I knew about each topic.
It is easy if you’ve been a Christian for a few years to ‘get used to’ the Gospel and the wonders of it, to reduce Jesus down to a predictable and comfortable version of Him. Deeper was extremely helpful in shocking me back into just how amazing the Gospel is, and how much I need it not just when I was converted (whether that was/is a process for you or a definable moment) but each and every day.
Especially in Oxford, the approval of others clings to us as an ever-moving goal post to aim at, and I struggle with it a lot. In each chapter, Ortlund took my gaze away from myself and how I appear to others, what I can say about myself and how I can vindicate myself, and onto Jesus Christ, He who has already justified me freely through His work, not my own. The anxiety of performance and what others think of me are knocked clean off their pedestals in my heart by the Gospel of grace, because I have received all the approval I need in Jesus. More specifically, it can be easy in Christian settings to try and look like a ‘good’ Christian, someone who attends every event and puts on a good face for their Christian friends, whilst hiding doubts and sinful habits that just don’t want to go away. The chapter ‘Honesty’ is extremely helpful in exposing this tendency we have as Christians and digs up the root of why we construct a Pharisaic façade, even if it’s to encourage our friends with our progress towards Christlikeness. Ortlund says it comes from a lack of understanding of the Gospel itself and realising this was powerful for me in showing just how central the Gospel is to my identity and daily life, in Christian circles and everywhere else. Ortlund shows in this chapter that it means that we have the freedom to be honest with one another about the sins we daily struggle with, because we know we have been justified through Jesus’ righteousness.
This all might sound quite theological, but in Deeper, Ortlund is an expert in pulling your heart out of its hiding place to face the wondrous reality of God’s love in the Gospel (see the chapter ‘Embrace’ for some wow-factor on God’s amazing love for us specifically). In Oxford, applying these truths to our daily lives is powerful, liberating, and it stands out to others. Of course, I don’t get it every day.
Often, I forget, which shows me that I need constant reminders of just how awesome the Gospel is, which will naturally ripple out to those around me. That’s where spending time with God in His Word to be reminded of His goodness comes in, as well as rereading this great book!
As I read the Conclusion to Deeper a few days ago, I had the song ‘Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus’ stuck in my head from start to finish. If this book had to be summarised in song, I’d pick this one.
‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.’
Ortlund finishes his work with an excellent quote from Robert Murray McCheyne which I must also cite to finish.
‘Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and for all sinners, even the chief! Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Feel his all-seeing eye settled on you in love, repose in his almighty arms… Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him. Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.’
(Robert Murray McCheyne in an 1840 letter, in Andrew A. Bonar. Memoirs and Remains of the Rev. Robert Murrary McCheyne)
Phoebe is a second year studying at Trinity College