Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes by R.W. Glenn
In his new book, Crucifying Morality: The Gospel of the Beatitudes, R.W. Glenn seeks to demystify the Beatitudes for the Christian. Rather than see the Beatitudes as imperatives ‘to be’ a certain kind of person or seeing them as providing an impossible hill to climb, Glenn sees then quite differently. He writes, “Christians, because they come to understand the grace of God, are people who are poor in spirit, who mourn and are meek, who hunger and thirst for righteousness not their own, who exude mercy and purity of heart, who make peace, and who experience persecution for Jesus’ sake. The Beatitudes are a profile of the Christian” (17). Furthermore, the Beatitudes are a kind of gospel litmus test for all those who believe, because they bear witness to the life available to those who have been saved by the grace of God.
One of the best parts of the book was the first section on The Good News of Moral Bankruptcy. In writing about poverty of spirit, Glenn makes a most helpful distinction between a kind of earthly lowliness and self-deprecation and the kind that is utterly dependent upon God (29-30). Whereas one person might be humble in stature and feel insignificant, this does not automatically lead to ‘despairing of yourself, your own abilities..,and your own powers as incapable of gaining any traction with God’ (30). Gleen says that, “The fundamental character of the Christian faith is that you live conscious of your utter dependence upon God” (30). Why is this important? For one thing, having utter dependence upon God relieves the Christian from seeking to draw strength from any spiritual or religious exercise they have done. Furthermore, if we do continually run to our own strength or dedication we find that our faithfulness is not consistent but sways in its intensity, causing us to fall on our faces due to our sin. Therefore, to despair of our own abilities is to turn to the One who has an endless supply of grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and who through obedience made a way for sinners such as I.
In writing about mourning over sin, Glenn touches a subject that we need to hear. He writes, “You should cry over sexual trafficking, over pedophilia, over incest, over the oppression of the poor, over the African AIDS pandemic,….over conscripting children into gruesome militias led by cruel warlords” (38). Mourning over sin includes mourning over the sins of the whole world. Both systemic and personal, sin ravages communities and their people by infecting its deadliness upon every family and situation. Glenn writes, “Do not ignore evil or suffering; instead, acknowledge it, see it for what it is, and mourn over it” (39). The way forward is to see the gospel and what Christ did on the cross as being the answer for even the most broken of situations. Furthermore, as we mourn over the sins of the world we begin to see the gospel activity of the church in these places and rejoice at the change taking place. Where there is persecution in the church at large in the world, there is also gospel change taking root. Yet, as we mourn over sin in a global context, we do not mourn without hope. As we come to God with our sins and the world’s, we ask for wisdom to fight injustice on our backyards, and in places that we work.
Lastly, R.W. Glenn calls his readers out of either/or arguments for a more robust understanding of mercy and the gospel. He writes, “Whether considering enemies, or disabled persons, Jesus took the same two-fold approach to mercy: it is pardon and kindness, forgiveness and compassion” (72). Jesus relieved the suffering of those around him and had great compassion upon them. Even more, Glenn calls us to see that the radical mercy of Jesus knew no stranger because it was not limited to Jew or Gentile but to everyone. This kind of mercy, mercy to the heart and body is the kind that should change the way we engage those in need around us. Some groups offer only bread for the hungry without the gospel and others want to offer the gospel without a coat for the cold. True mercy that comes from Jesus offers both forgiveness and compassion. This holistic idea is really at the heart of gospel transformation.
I really enjoyed this book!! For a sober, gospel reminder of the Beatitudes, this book is for you. Glenn succeeded in making the Beatitudes shine with the glory of the gospel, pointing his readers back to Jesus time and again for their hope, healing, and identity.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Shepherd Press for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.