Deeper is a rare book. It is applied theology. It is doctrine pressed on the heart. It is a book that enacts an approach to change rather than simply arguing for that approach.
Dane C. Ortlund. Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Crossway, 2021. 192 pages, hardback. $21.99.
Dane C. Ortlund is the author of the widely-acclaimed book Gentle & Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners & Sufferers (Crossway, 2020), which has won awards, drawn the ire of certain readers, and was given away for free to every church who wanted it.
Ortlund’s new book is titled Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. The book is also published by Crossway and is the second installment in a series edited by Michael Reeves titled Union (the first installment was Rejoice & Tremble: The Surprising Good News of the Fear of the Lord by Michael Reeves). One thing this means is that Ortlund’s book comes with a companion “concise” volume (How Does God Change Us?), which attempts to convey the same subject matter in a 96-page booklet.
Deeper is a book about sanctification (85), or how Christians grow. (15) While that seems pretty straightforward, Ortlund wants to distinguish his approach in this book from that of others. He groups other approaches to growth into three models—those who think change happens through outward improvement, through intellectual addition, or through felt experience. Elsewhere he tags those competing approaches as purer behavior, sharper doctrine, or richer emotions. (17) In contrast, his “argument is that all three of these elements are included in healthy Christian development…” but “growing in Christ is not centrally improving or adding or experiencing but deepening.” (16) He further explains how his view differs from others: “Implicit in the notion of deepening is that you already have what you need. Christian growth is bringing what you do and say and even feel into line with what, in fact, you already are.” (16)
I will admit that I read over that distinction without much thought. It wasn’t until the conclusion of the book that I realized how profound Ortlund’s point was. Almost nothing in the book is about adding. There is no “sanctification by addition” to be found in these pages. Instead, Ortlund continually brings us back to what is already true of us and presses it upon us more firmly. As he says in the introduction:
We’re not after behavior modification in this book. I’m not going to talk to you about setting your alarm earlier or cutting carbs. We’re not even going to reflect on tithing or church attendance or journaling or small groups or taking the sacraments or reading the Puritans. All of that can be done out of rottenness of heart. (18, my emphasis).
Rather than another book telling us what else we should do (after we read the book), Deeper is a book that actually does something to us. The only two chapters that tell us to do something (“Honesty” and “Breathing”) actually spend most of their words shaping the heart posture of someone who would want to do those things. Deeper is a book about heart change (i.e., “real change” in the subtitle). And rather than spending 192 pages arguing for a specific heart-change approach to sanctification, Ortlund spends 192 pages trying to bring a heart-change in the reader.
The outline of the book is as follows with a quote that I think sums up the point of each chapter:
Chapter 1, Jesus: “One common reason we fail to leave sin behind is that we have a domesticated view of Jesus.” (21)
Chapter 2, Despair: “If you are not growing in Christ, one reason may be that you have drifted out of the salutary and healthy discipline of self-despair.” (38)
Chapter 3, Union: “Only in the relaxed safety of your eternally secured union with Christ can true growth blossom.” (57)
Chapter 4, Embrace: “The love of God is not something to see once and believe and then move beyond to other truths or strategies for growing in Christ. The love of God is what we feed on our whole lives long, wading ever more deeply into this endless ocean. And that feeding, that wading, is itself what fosters growth. We grow in Christ no further than we enjoy his embrace of us.” (70)
Chapter 5, Acquittal: “If we long to grow in Christ, we dare not do what comes so naturally—namely, say we believe that the verdict over our lives is decisively settled in our justified status before God but then move on to other ideas and strategies when it comes to our emotional lives and daily pressures.” (98-99)
Chapter 6, Honesty: “You are restricting your growth if you do not move through life doing the painful, humiliating, liberating work of cheerfully bringing your failures out from the darkness of secrecy into the light of acknowledgement before a Christian brother or sister.” (114)
Chapter 7, Pain: “Our natural instincts tell us that the way forward in the Christian life is by avoiding pain so that, undistracted, we can get down to the business at hand of growing in Christ. The New Testament tells us again and again, however, that pain is a means, not an obstacle, to deepening in Christian maturity.” (125)
Chapter 8, Breathing: “You wouldn’t try to go through life holding your breath. So don’t go through life without Bible reading and praying. Let your soul breath. Oxygenate with the Bible; and breathe out the CO2 of prayer as you speak back to God your wonder, your worry, and your waiting. He is not a force, not an ideal, not a machine. He is a person.” (156)
Chapter 9, Supernaturalized: “We don’t need the Spirit to be different on the outside; we do need the Spirit to be different on the inside. Yet again: we don’t need the Spirit to obey God; we do need the Spirit to enjoy obeying God.” (164-65)