Book Review: “Crucifying Morality” by R.W. Glenn

Crucifying Morality by R.W. Glenn, Shepherd Press, 2013, $10.39.

Every Christian has a tendency to revert to a pattern of moral religion, which isn’t the heart of the Gospel at all. Paul wrote to the Galations about this, and Christ called the Pharisees out for the same reason – if we think we’re pleasing God by any good work or merit on our part, we’re wrong. The Gospel calls us into the Kingdom of God on the basis of something far more glorious than our imperfect obedience.

Crucifying Morality is a study of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12, or what is basically the introduction to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Glenn’s thesis in the work is that  quite a lot of teaching on the Beatitudes, especially in Sunday school, has steered many Christians in the wrong direction about what Christ is really saying here. Glenn argues that the Beatitudes are not a series of commands on how one pleases God and gets into His kingdom. Instead, they’re the evidence of one who is already in it. Glenn demonstrates that “[i]t is no accident that the Beatitudes contain no imperatives whatsoever,” and that instead, “they are the qualities that begin to characterize sinners who encounter God’s grace in the gospel” (16). Christ isn’t commanding rigorous obedience in the Sermon on the Mount as the requirement for entering His kingdom. Instead, “[t]he Beatitudes are meant to jar you from your complacency and lead you to question whether you have entered the kingdom”  (16).

Glenn argues that the Beatitudes are the marks of a Christian, not the requirements for how you become one. His point is that “Jesus is the Beatitudes.” Glenn tells us,

“Do not seek the Beatitudes. Do not turn them into moralistic teaching. Seek Jesus Christ who alone embodies the Beatitudes, and the Beatitudes will then be true of you as well. Why? Because Jesus fulfills them […] Seek him through the gospel and you will be a new person, enjoying all the benefits of a relationship with God, living in the kingdom. Christianity is about coming over and over again to rest in the life that Jesus lived and the death that he died for you as a gift of sheer grace” (18-19).

This is glorious, life-changing news. We’re born again by no power of our own. And when we have the New Birth, we’re in God’s kingdom and we can’t be snatched out of His hand. Christ’s Beatitudes are the marks of one who is Christ’s.

Practical and Introspective

Here’s a breakdown of the book’s structure: Glenn writes one chapter for each of the Beatitudes, where he exposits the meaning and application of that Beatitude, and how that’s a mark of how a true Christian will live – meekness, for instance. Each chapter also begins with two quotes: one from a worldly perspective on the chapter’s topic, and one from Matthew 5 that flips that worldly idea upside down.

Each chapter ends with study questions that are unique from any book I’ve read. The questions are broken into four categories: “For Your Head,” “For Your Heart,” For Your Church,” and “For Your City.” Each category has a different type of question, all meant to encourage developing personal theology and devotion to Christ, and also taking that devotion to your local church family, and to your city and cultural context. Glenn’s chapters and study questions are all written with an edifying, pastoral purpose and love for the Church. These study questions are definitely a highlight of the book. Don’t skip them.

Rich With The Gospel

Really, the most wonderful thing about this book is how saturated it is with the Gospel. Glenn brings the text of Matthew 5 and the Beatitudes to bear in light of God’s grace to us through Christ, and the glory of being a part of God’s kingdom, through His grace. In our morality-idolizing Western culture, this book is a refreshing drink from the fountain of God’s grace and kindness in the Gospel. The church needs this kind of edification, and I, individually, need it to keep grasping for grace and for Christ, and not trying to pull myself up by my own bootstraps.

Glenn says that that the kind of teaching and preaching in the Church that makes a passage like the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 into mere rules or guidelines, is dangerous and tragic. And it misses the point completely. The point of it all is Jesus. Jesus fulfills the law on our behalf, as our Substitute and Advocate before God. Christ is the perfect fulfillment of the Beatitudes, and we can produce those qualities because Christ’s Spirit lives in us as Christians. Glenn states,

“[The Beatitudes] convey the essence of the gospel, but when reduced to flat moralistic teaching, they lose all their richness. In fact, that kind of teaching is just wrong […] So take a few steps back and marvel. The Beatitudes reveal the profile of the Christian, the character of the one who has had a life-changing encounter with the grace of God […] If your life bears any resemblance to the Beatitudes, it is because you are blessed in Jesus – you died with him so that you might live in him. The Beatitudes flesh out outrageous grace, which is yours as a gift through the gospel” (115-123).

This is wonderful news. This is the Gospel of Jesus. Get this book – I have nothing but good to say about it, and hearty recommendations to give. Take up and read, and I hope that it’s fuel for you to marvel at the Gospel. Thank you R.W. Glenn for writing it, and to Shepherd Press for the opportunity to read and review it.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: “Crucifying Morality” by R.W. Glenn

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