Dane Ortlund is the Senior Editor in Bible Division at Crossway. He holds an M.Div. and Th.M. from Covenant Theological Seminary and a Ph.D. in New Testament from Wheaton College Graduate School. He blogs regularly at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology and is featured at The Gospel Coalition and the Resurgence. He has also written a book titled A New Inner Relish: Christian Motivation in the Thought of Jonathan Edwards. Dane will be teaching at the Immanuel Theology Group put on by Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee, where his dad, Ray Ortlund, serves as lead pastor. The following interview with Dane revolves around the theme “The Gospel in All of the Bible” which he will take up at the Immanuel Theology Group on August 13 of this year.
1. What is the gospel of Jesus?
The gospel is the startling proclamation that anyone can be right with God—acquitted, forgiven, restored, adopted—through trusting faith in Jesus, who lived the life we cannot live and died the death we deserve to die.
If I had to pick one place in Scripture where the gospel is laid out, I’d go with 1 Corinthians 15: “Christ died for our sins . . . was buried, and was raised” (vv. 3-4). The opening verses of Romans 1 give another helpful summary of the gospel message, though there in more story-like terms.
2. Why is it important to see the gospel of Jesus in all of Scripture?
For at least two reasons, one about the Bible and one about us.
First, the gospel is the main message of the Bible. When the last verse of the Bible says “the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all” (Rev. 22:21), that is an effective summary of the entire Bible—the grace of God in the Son of God for the people of God.
The gospel is the startling proclamation that anyone can be right with God.
Second, about us. We will be healthy, obedient Christians to the degree that we understand the Bible in all its many contours and flavors, including understanding the Bible’s main message. For example, if we view the Bible as mainly instruction, we will become either depressed when we fail to follow it or proud when we succeed. Both are self-focused. Neither is healthy. When we view the Bible as mainly—not only, but mainly—a message of grace, we will be freed from the emotional cowering before God that is so natural to us and will find fresh freedom to love God with real love, love that pours itself out in sacrifice and obedience to him.
3. Since this is so important, can you give a short summary of the gospel in the following books of the Bible:
- Where is the gospel in Proverbs?
Proverbs and James are the two easiest books to screw up. They are both heavy on advice/imperatives/instruction/exhortation. Divorced from God’s electing love in the gospel, Proverbs (or James, or any of the imperatives of the Bible) breeds self-despairing failure or self-exalting arrogance. Left in neutral, our hearts tend to slide into law-oxygenated living (tense, stuffy, despairing, burdened, relationally alienating) and away from grace-oxygenated living (relaxed, happy, calm, self-forgetful, liberated, relationally healing).
So—what is Proverbs? Wise help from an outside voice. Not all that different from the gospel! Proverbs is God coming to us and saying: ‘I love you so much, dear ones—here, let me help you live as the truly human being I wish you to be…’
There is no magic formula to ‘find’ the gospel in Proverbs. Rather, if we read Proverbs as wise words from a father who loves his children too much to let them ruin their lives through ignorant folly, we will receive it as God means us to, and be strengthened in a way that is grace-flavored.
And remember, from a macro-perspective, Jesus is the ultimate wise man. Paul said that Jesus ‘became for us wisdom’ (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus is the wise man, and we fools, united to him by faith, share in that wisdom.
- Where is the gospel in Leviticus?
All over the place. Leviticus is an elaborate accounting of the sacrificial system that God mercifully instituted for Israel, to atone for their sins. It is virtually impossible to plunk down into a random place in Leviticus and not see God’s gracious provision of a way out for filthy people.
And Jesus himself brought that entire sacrificial system to fulfillment. The New Testament tells us Jesus was not only the priest who offered the sacrifice, he was also the sacrifice itself, the lamb—and he was even the temple in which the priest offered the sacrifice. As we read Leviticus as Christians, then, we can be ever mindful of what all those bloody sacrifices were anticipating.
From another angle: in Leviticus we see time and again that when the unclean touches the clean, both become unclean (see also Hag. 2:13). Jesus showed up and reversed this. He frequently touched lepers and others who were ‘unclean’ and in doing so both became clean (e.g., Mark 1:40-42). With Jesus we no longer see ourselves as basically clean in danger of defilement, but basically defiled in need of cleansing. And we can have it freely, because the one person who ever lived who was truly ‘clean’ went to a cross and was condemned as an ‘unclean’ person so that we unclean sinners can be freely treated as clean.
- Where is the gospel in Ecclesiastes?
Ecclesiastes insists that the good things of life—food, work, sex, wealth, honor—cannot serve as the ultimate things in life, and that if we make this mistake (as Solomon did) we will come to the end of life exhausted, frustrated, and disillusioned. Only God satisfies. And we human beings are so screwy that we will not believe God supremely satisfies unless God gets up in our face, through the voice of someone who actually had it all (Solomon), and tells us so.
As you look out on a congregation filled with broken marriages, hardened teens, bitterness, immorality, dishonesty, laziness, apathy, ask yourself: what has it been that has enabled you to conquer sin in your own life?
When Ecclesiastes speaks time and again of ‘fearing’ God, it does not mean being frightened of him but making him supremely central in your life so that everything funnels into that great loyalty. In telling us to fear God, we are given the key to contentment, to joy, to a meaningful life ‘under the sun.’ This is God’s kindness to us, is it not?
From another perspective: Jesus really had it all, even more than Solomon. He had unbounded wealth, honor, etc., in heaven. He had everything Solomon chased after. To an infinite degree. And he emptied himself and gave it all up and came to earth and suffered and died. Why? So that you and I, wayward sinners, can have real wealth, real riches, real honor, in the new earth, forever.
4. What are some tools/practical tips you’d give to a person to help them see the gospel in their daily devotions?
1. Reflect deeply, in an unhurried way, on your own sin. Not misanthropic introspection, but healthy self-assessment, in the spirit of 2 Cor. 13:5. One reason the gospel does not feel real to us is that our sin does not feel real to us.
2. Get married, then have kids, adopting if need be. Nothing exposes your sins and need of the gospel like living with other people who see what you’re like when you’re not out in public, wearing various masks, trying your hardest to come across a certain way.
3. Discipline yourself to read Scripture every day. It’s hard to get in a spiritual rhythm of communing with the God of all grace if you only have fellowship with him sporadically.
4. Sing. Print out your favorite hymns and worship songs and sing amid your Bible reading. We are whole people, not brains only.
5. Belong to a church that loves the gospel and preaches the gospel so that you can learn from a wise pastor how to see the gospel all over the Bible.
6. Read every passage mindful of what Jesus himself says in John 5:39-46 and Luke 24:25-27, 44-47, and what Paul says in 2 Cor. 1:19-20. If that’s how Jesus and Paul read their Bibles, shouldn’t we?
7. Read books by Jerry Bridges, Bryan Chapell, C.J. Mahaney, and Mark Driscoll.
5. What are some tools/practical tips you’d give to a pastor to help them study and preach in such a way that they tether the gospel to every sermon?
1. At Covenant Seminary, Bryan Chapell taught us to ask of every passage you read: What do I learn here about (1) the God who provides redemption, or (2) people who need redemption? Every passage contributes something toward at least one of those two questions. These questions prevent us from reading the Bible in a moralistic, ‘be-like-David-cuz-he-was-so-brave’ kind of way.
2. If you do not feel yourself—not just know yourself, but feel yourself—to be a great sinner in need of a great Savior, then you will not be eager to preach such a Savior’s gospel.
3. Read stuff by Zack Eswine, Edmund Clowney, Tim Keller, Dennis Johnson, Graeme Goldsworthy, and T. Desmond Alexander. Follow the guys who blog at The Gospel Coalition. Get commentaries by Derek Kidner, Dale Ralph Davis, Don Carson, Doug Moo, and Peter O’Brien.
4. As you look out on a congregation filled with broken marriages, hardened teens, bitterness, immorality, dishonesty, laziness, apathy, ask yourself: what has it been that has enabled you to conquer sin in your own life? Not behavior alteration, but true transformation, way down deep at the core of who you are? Is not the answer—in a word—love? Grace? Kindness? And if so, then what can we expect will change our people? There is certainly a place for exhortation. The Bible makes that inescapable. Let’s preach the whole counsel of God. But must we not tell people, not only unbelievers but also believers, of God’s undeserved kindness to sinners in the gospel? Isn’t this what not only saves unbelievers but also changes believers? Didn’t Paul, in the very place where he spoke of preaching ‘the whole counsel of God,’ sum this up as ‘the gospel of the grace of God’? (Acts 20:24, 27).
Thank you Dane for not only taking the time to answer each question, but the way in which you answered each question so that they drip with the grace of Jesus!