J.C. Derrick – The J-Curve

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 10th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. Our managing editor J.C. Derrick now on the value of timely reading.

J.C. DERRICK, COMMENTATOR: At the start of this year I began reading the book J-Curve, by Paul Miller. He’s the same author who wrote A Praying Life a few years ago. 

The subtitle of the book is “dying and rising with Jesus in everyday life,” and it didn’t take me long to see why J-Curve was one of WORLD’s 2019 Books of the Year

Early on, Miller tackles a provocative reference in Colossians 1 when Paul says he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” 

Well, Christ’s death was “once for all” (Rom. 6:10), so how can His afflictions possibly be lacking? 

The answer lies in our ongoing need to come into union with Christ. When we suffer—as the Bible promises we will—we walk the road Jesus walked. 

No one illustrated this better than the apostle Paul. He didn’t just preach the gospel—he lived it. 

It’s a never-ending process we all experience: Dying, rising. Down, up. 

I’ve talked before about some of the difficult things I’ve faced in my life. Like being with my 17-year-old brother when he suddenly collapsed and died. 

At some point we all wrestle with the tension between God’s sovereignty and His goodness. Both are true at the same time. 

But that understanding only allows you to go so far. It helps us trust God and His unsearchable ways, but it doesn’t give purpose to our suffering. 

The J-Curve does that in spades. It helps you see that trials aren’t just something we have to endure; they are an invitation to come into union with Christ in a way we never could otherwise. They allow us to act out the gospel, dying to our own desires, plans, and reputation, rising with a deeper understanding of Christ’s suffering on our behalf. 

Not only is the J-Curve unhindered by seemingly undeserved trials that have no explanation, those are its primary application. This revolutionizes how you view suffering you can’t understand—actually giving you an element of excitement when you face difficulty out of your control. 

This is why Paul says in that same verse, Colossians 1:24, that he rejoiced in his sufferings.  

I can only describe the timing of my reading J-Curve as God-ordained. Within days of beginning it, my father-in-law went into the hospital. The next week, he died—less than eight weeks after being diagnosed with ALS. It was one of three memorial services for people close to us so far this year. During that same time span three close family members were in car accidents. My father-in-law was the first of four hospitalizations, too. 

And yet, amid those trials, our family also welcomed three new lives into the world in a span of 19 days. Two nieces and our own son, Reese Christopher. 

Dying, rising. Down, up.  

It’s a lot to process. But the J-Curve gives me a framework for it and a better sense of God’s work in our lives. 

That also makes it easier to join with Job in declaring: “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” 

I’m J.C. Derrick.

(Photo/Paul Miller)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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One comment on “J.C. Derrick – The J-Curve

  1. Derek Brown says:

    Hello J. C. Derrick and the World Team!

    Thank you for the excellent work you do day after day, week after week as you report on important world events and offer trenchant commentary on various social and biblical issues. I listen to the World and Everything In It podcast on a regular basis (often with my oldest son on the way to school) and we’ve been subscribers to World magazine for the last two years. Please keep up the good work!

    My comment pertains specifically to J.C. Derrick’s remarks on Paul Miller’s J-Curve. Overall, Derrick’s commentary was a powerful reminder of how God ordains our suffering for his glory and our spiritual good. I was moved to hear of Derrick’s recent experiences with what we might call “bitter providences,” mixed with the joys of welcoming new life into the world. What an amazing story (or set of stories)! Thank you for sharing these things, J. C! And keep up your excellent work as World Radio’s managing editor.

    However, I do want to point out a couple of statements in your commentary that were a bit inaccurate and will tend to confuse your listeners.

    I noticed that twice in the podcast (and above transcript) Derrick refers to union with Christ as something that can grow, or, at least, something that Christians must continually pursue. For example, Derrick says, “The answer [to how we understand the apostle’s statement in Colossians 1:24] lies in our ongoing need to come into union with Christ.” Near the end of his commentary, Derrick says, “[The J-Curve] helps you see that trials aren’t just something we have to endure; they are an invitation to come into union with Christ in a way we never could otherwise.”

    The confusion occurs by not maintaining a clear distinction between (1) union with Christ and (2) communion with Christ. On the one hand, union with Christ occurs at conversion and is fixed, like justification. We come into union with Christ by faith, once-and-for-all when we are saved. Communion with Christ, on the other hand, is something we experience, to different degrees, over the course of our Christian life. With reference specifically to Derrick’s commentary: suffering in this life is a way of experiencing deeper communion with Christ, not union with Christ.

    In medieval theology, union with Christ was not a fixed reality; it was something that could fluctuate and change over one’s spiritual pilgrimage. It was the believer’s responsibility, therefore, to seek greater and more complete union with Christ through prayer, the sacraments, obedience, suffering, and so on. The Reformers, therefore, sought to maintain the biblical distinction between union with Christ and communion with Christ.

    And one can see why it is vital to maintain this distinction between union with Christ and communion with Christ. In order to have genuine enjoyment of Christ in communion with him, our relationship with Christ must be firm and fixed, and our righteous standing before God must be found in something other than our inconsistent works and affections (i.e., our communion). How can we enjoy Christ and suffering with him when we are unsure whether or not our deeds and prayers and suffering have brought us into greater union with him?

    In the medieval scheme, it was the person’s works, their diligence in seeking God, their spiritual affections, even their suffering, that achieved greater union with Christ. In other words, it was subjective effort grounding subjective experience. In reformed theology, it is an unchanging union with Christ that leads unfailingly to works of sanctification, diligence in seeking God, prayer, affections for Christ, and the capacity to fellowship with Christ in his sufferings. In the latter case, it is the objective status grounding the subjective experience. Because the objective status doesn’t change and is unaffected by the subjective experience (e.g., works, prayers, affections, suffering), the believer is actually supplied with an infinitely more reliable foundation upon which to build his or her enjoyment of Christ.

    I hope this is helpful. I don’t think this is a matter of theological hair-splitting. Due to how it directly affects our daily walk with the Lord, I believe it is important to maintain these distinctions so that Christians can have a robust assurance of their relationship with Christ. Medieval theology provided no such assurance due to how they articulated the doctrine of union with Christ.

    Again, J. C., these comments are offered in heartfelt gratitude for all you and your team do at World. May the Lord continue to richly bless your ministry. I can’t wait to sign to the Podcast on tomorrow.

    Every blessing,
    Derek Brown

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