Book Review: J-Curve, by Paul Miller
Paul E. Miller, J-Curve: Dying and Rising with Jesus in Everyday Life. Crossway, 2019. 327 pages.
In Philippians 2:5, the Apostle Paul instructs us to “have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
In this verse, Paul reminds me of two realities I routinely forget. The first: In Christ Jesus, I have a new mindset. The second: In Christ Jesus, I am to live out the new mindset I have.
In this book, Paul Miller showed me how these two realities converge: The J-Curve.
WHAT IS THE J-CURVE?
The J-Curve is “the normal Christian life” (19). It is the life that “repeatedly reenacts the dying and rising of Jesus.” Like the letter J, it demonstrates how Jesus’ life went down into death and then up in resurrection. And, just as the Apostle Paul reminded the Philippians, this life is our life. “It’s the pattern not only of Jesus’ life, but of our lives—of our everyday moments” (19).
Paul Miller explains that he wrote this book “to reset your sense of the normal Christian life” (22). The normal Christian life is a life given over to many “deaths”—dying to comfort, convenience, worldly success, approval, ease, resentment, touchiness, grumpiness, cynicism and despair—only to be “resurrected” again and again, finding life in repentance, love, humility, vulnerability, trust and hope. “Jesus substitutes himself for us, we substitute the pieces of our lives for others” (30).
SEEING THE J-CURVE IN SCRIPTURE
Miller tethers his exploration of the J-Curve to the writings of the Apostle Paul. He opens up portions of Philippians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans 6 and 8, Colossians 1 and 3, and Ephesians 1. He also explores models of J-Curve living in Philemon, 1 Thessalonians, and Acts.
In Part 1, Miller explores the J-Curve in relationships to the flesh, justification by faith, and union with Christ. In Part 2, he begins the downward descent into repentance and suffering. In Part 3, he looks at the motivation of love. In Part 4, Miller begins to look up by taking us on the resurrection side of the J-Curve. In particular interest to 9Marks’ readers, the book concludes in Part 5 by exploring the role of the church as the community in which the J-Curve is used to reshape the people of God into the image of Christ.
CRUCIFYING THE FLESH AND RISING TO LIFE IN CHRIST
I have a confession. I am consistently tempted to live entitled. On many days, I functionally believe that glorification should have already taken place. Despite Paul’s words that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), I sometimes think that “many” means “few” and “occasional.” I forget what living as one “crucified with Christ” really entails (Gal. 2:20). I forget that, biblically and theologically, we live in the already/not yet. This life is the wilderness before the promised land, where temptations to grumble abound. This present sojourn includes a cross being placed upon our shoulders before the crown that one day adorns our heads.
And, this is why I am thankful for this book. If you’re anything like me, it would serve your soul to read it as well. Applying Miller’s work to your life will calibrate your heart to biblical expectations for life and ministry and furnish you with a biblical perspective of what living by grace actually looks like.
The Christian life is hard, but it is not all doom and gloom. While recently preaching through the book of Exodus in our church, I came to Exodus 15:22-27. There, the Israelites are lead into the wilderness only to be met with an undrinkable oasis they called “Marah” (bitter). After grumbling against Moses, and Moses crying out to God, God intervened and made the water sweet by casting a log into the water. The people were able to drink and then the moved on in their desert journey before coming to Elim, a rich oasis in the desert where they could refreshed. This is the J-Curve—bitter circumstances made sweet by the provision of God. Behind every pain, there is purpose. Beyond every Marah, there is an Elim. In the midst of death, there is life.
J-Curve is a refreshing reminder that true spirituality is earthy spirituality. We live out our devotion to Christ in the contexts of delayed flights, crying babies, and and stuffy noses. Each day, dying and rising with Jesus takes us on the sacrificial paths of costly love: caring for a sick spouse or child, spending time with an elderly church member, pursuing a wayward brother or sister, and crucifying our own flesh. But, as Miller reminds us, this death-and-resurrection process is the normal Christian life—and the normal Christian life is a “pilgrimage into the wonder of the gospel” (24).
Though it will cost us our lives (only to find them in the end), let’s all be eager to join that pilgrimage.