The Jonah Principle

This week I’ve been indexing the forthcoming book, The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, and have been significantly blessed. What an especially excellent book! Piper on joy. Carson on love. Driscoll on the church. Now I’m to Keller on the gospel, and I found his section on “gospel humiliation” so helpful and so complementary to John Piper's messages at Wheaton and his recent sermon on Joseph, I asked Crossway for permission to give our Desiring God blogees a foretaste of the book to come. (It's due out November 12.) Thanks to Crossway for giving this the go-ahead.

[The following is from Tim Keller's chapter, “The Gospel and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World.”]

Gospel Humiliation

I know this heading [“Gospel Humiliation”] sounds pretty strong, but I want to get your attention. In Jonah 3:1–2 we read, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.’” In Sinclair Ferguson’s little book on Jonah [Man Overboard] he comments on the broken, humbled prophet who hears the second call to Nineveh and answers it. He says:

God intends to bring life out of death. We may well think of this as the principle behind all evangelism. Indeed we may even call it the Jonah principle, as Jesus seems to have done. . . . [I]t is out of Christ’s weakness that the sufficiency of his saving power will be born. . . . [So] fruitful evangelism is a result of this death-producing principle. It is when we come to share spiritually—and on occasions physically—in Christ’s death (cf. Phil. 3:10) that his power is demonstrated in our weakness and others are drawn to him. This is exactly what was happening to Jonah.

What does this mean? A man recently shared with me how he was trying to talk about his faith with his neighbors, to little avail. But then some major difficulties came into his life, and he began to let his neighbors know how Christ was helping him face them. They were quite interested and moved by this. It was the Jonah principle! As we experience weakness, as we are brought low, Christ’s power is more evident in us.

Lloyd-Jones once gave a sermon on Jacob’s wrestling with God. In the talk he told a story of a time when he was living in Wales. He was in a gathering of older ministers who were discussing a young minister with remarkable preaching gifts. This man was being acclaimed, and there was real hope that God could use him to renew and revive his church. The ministers were hopeful. But then one of them said to the others: “Well, all well and good, but you know, I don’t think he’s been humbled yet.” And the other ministers looked very grave. And it hit Lloyd-Jones hard (and it hit me hard) that unless something comes into your life that breaks you of your self-righteousness and pride, you may say you believe the gospel of grace but, as we said above, the penny hasn’t dropped. You aren’t a sign of the gospel yourself. You don’t have the Jonah principle working in you. You aren’t a strength-out-of-weakness person. God will have to bring you low if he is going to use you in evangelism.

Update: Justin Taylor has also posted an excerpt from this book. His is from Carson by way of Driscoll. 

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor at desiringGod.org and an elder at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis. He has edited several books, including Thinking. Loving. Doing., Finish the Mission, and Acting the Miracle, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.