Title: “Crucifying Morality”
Author: R.W. Glenn
Publisher: Shepherd Press
Release Date: April 1, 2013 (revised ed.)
Rating: 5/5 (highly recommended)
If you grew up as a child in Sunday school, it’s likely that you’ve heard something along the lines of, “Beatitudes: the be-attitudes! Be these attitudes!” The first thing that Glenn does is take this idea to task. The Beatitudes, Glenn argues, are not so much commandments that we need to obey in order to receive God’s blessings as much as they are litmus tests to see if we are living a life that understands the gospel. Glenn makes two things very clear upfront: the Beatitudes are not commandments, and this book is not really about morality in general, only as it pertains to the Beatitudes.
Admittedly, this isn’t something that I’ve really given thought to, so I’m glad that Glenn has brought it to my attention. The Beatitudes, after all, don’t contain any imperatives, so linguistically it’s a mistake to interpret them as if they say, “Do these things and you will receive blessing.” The relationship is not causal, but rather, correlational: blessing and certain attitudes and actions appear together. (As all good statistics students know, correlation does not imply causation.) These qualities and characteristics mark someone who understands the gospel. Glenn puts it this way:
It is no accident that the Beatitudes contain no imperatives whatsoever. Because we are wired for performance and have an insatiable hunger to turn Christianity into a system of dos and don’ts to earn a spot at the table of grace, we feel almost irresistibly inclined to turn them into commandments. Instead, they are the qualities that begin to characterize sinners who encounter God’s grace in the gospel. (16)
So Glenn proceeds through the Beatitudes one by one to demonstrate how each of them is a depiction of the saved person who understands what the gospel means. This is something I’m familiar with, largely due to Steve Lawson in the Resolved 2009 Conference in a sermon entitled “Blessed Purity.” Where Glenn makes this book unique is in fleshing out that idea to its fullest: not only underscoring the importance of being pure or being meek, but in showing what those concepts are and how they flow from an understanding of the gospel. Glenn boldly takes the logic to its fullest to ask the reader if he or she really understands the gospel, fully believes it, if these traits are not present in his or her life (122). This is not novelty for the sake of novelty. This book does not contain a seemingly new perspective simply to be unique or to generate sales. This is a much needed exposition of the Beatitudes to spur a Christian to introspection. To that end, it has been extremely helpful in showing me that I am not yet enough like Christ.
And so what if I am not? Since I recognize that I lack so much righteousness and Christlikeness, am I now to try my hardest to be like Him? Certainly not! Each time the temptation toward morality is presented in the book, Glenn responds by marshaling all the grace found in the gospel to crucify morality. The only way that we can become the blessed person described in the Beatitudes–indeed, the only way for us to do so without betraying the gospel of grace that we profess to believe–is by trusting in grace. Each chapter contains a section that focuses on how centering ourselves on the gospel helps us to become the person of the Beatitudes–by grace, not by our own effort. I’m going to quote from the book again because Glenn puts it better than I can:
Christians have another good reason to give up defending themselves, and that is because someone else has become our defender. I am safe in the gospel. Even though God knows that I am a bankrupt, vile sinner, he has accepted and loved me. Because of this, I am liberated from the need to defend myself, to make excuses, to put others down and gossip about them, to make myself out as more than I am. Those things make me feel more secure in my flesh, but I do not need that kind of security anymore. . . . You can embrace your weaknesses and celebrate your flaws precisely because you know that you have nothing worth defending, and much more than that, because you know that Jesus loves you in spite of them. (53-54)
This is the kind of gospel-centric thinking that I am grateful Glenn brings to the Beatitudes. This isn’t really a book about the dangers of morality, it’s a book about the gospel. That is something I can heartily recommend because it’s something every Christian needs–I certainly do! The most helpful aspect of this book for me is that Glenn takes the time for each and every beatitude to show how those characteristics can be coaxed out of us by God’s grace. By the very nature of the Beatitudes, this book constantly points back to the gospel and the work of Christ. It repeatedly emphasizes our lowliness and our need for Christ. In doing so, it exalts our Savior. There is not much more that you could ask for from a book on the Beatitudes, but the book gives this in addition: under the unifying theme of the gospel, each chapter on a beatitude is different enough from the others that the book is not a series of repetitive remarks on the gospel. I have greatly enjoyed this book and found it to be very helpful in shaping how I see the role of grace in my sanctification. I hope it does the same for you.
(This book was provided free for review by Shepherd Press, with reviewing managed by Cross Focused Reviews, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)