During the last two years much has been written in the area of gospel studies. At the popular level, Greg Gilbert did well to kick things off with What is the Gospel?. Darrell Bock provided a well thought through scholarly approach while remaining extremely readable at the popular level with Recovering the Real Lost Gospel. Both of these books I really enjoyed. After reading the above books I was moved by the testimonies from Jared Wilson’s Gospel Wakefulness, which shares the awakening experience that occurs at conversion or at a later stage in spiritual growth. His insight to the sanctifying aspect of the gospel should not be neglected.
In addition, Joe Thorn delivered an incredibly cogent book on preaching the gospel to self daily in Note to Self. Rounding it off with Trevin Wax’s most excellent work contrasting the counterfeits to the one true gospel in Counterfeit Gospels, a book I reviewed just this last week.
If you happen to read the above reviews, you will likely find how I’ve grown in the grace of God through these works and how my writing has matured stylistically and selectively keeping the purpose of wholesome speech in mind.
Now on to what we’ve been waiting for, a review of the Explicit Gospel, a work from an author that has been anticipated by this blogger for nigh about a decade. I have watched with eagerness and joy the gospel-ministry of Matt Chandler for nearly a decade. I served with him briefly at CrossCamp. I attended the Metro Bible Study at Prestonwood. I served and attended the Village Church for a year of training while at Dallas Seminary. I prayed for him along with thousands others as he battled cancer, and I had the joy of listening to him preach at T4G on the eschatalogical wonder of the gospel this last year. Therefore, this book has been an incredibly joyful read!
The Explicit Gospel is the culmination and product of Chandler’s prayers and reflection upon pastoral ministry and the gospel during these many years at the Village Church. Not to be forgotten is the seamless interplay of countless conversations between Jared Wilson and Matt Chandler as this project came to fruition. These men have carefully considered the premise of this book and presented the premise in a very digestible and helpful fashion. Because of the thoughtful writing of these two men, this book has been a delight to read!
The Premise and Structure
The premise of the Explicit Gospel is primarily concerned with the pattern that Chandler kept seeing as a pastor at the Village Church. This pattern is that people grew up in church, attended every event, walked the aisle/got baptized, then fell away from Church, returning again as an adult to finally hear the gospel explicitly. Chandler describes his response after hearing testimonies of this kind during baptisms at the Village Church, “That night for the first time I asked the question, ‘How can you grow up going to church every week and not hear the gospel?’ I quickly decided that these people had heard the gospel but didn’t have the spiritual ears to truly hear it, to receive it (Chandler, 12).”
Chandler goes on to consider this common phenomenon by making the following astute observation about how many churches are pastored and many functional church goers think:
For some reason—namely, our depravity—we have a tendency to think that the cross saves us from past sin, but after we are saved, we have to take over and clean ourselves up. This sort of thinking is devastating to the soul. We call this the “assumed gospel,” and it flourishes when well-meaning teachers, leaders, and preachers set out to see lives first and foremost conformed to a pattern of behavior (religion) and not transformed by the Holy Spirit’s power (gospel) (Chandler, 14).
The result of Chandler’s premise is a journey of making the gospel explicit. Chandler says, “But I want to spend my time with you trying to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing (Chandler, 15).” Chandler begins making the gospel explicit by providing a novel perspective of two ways to view the gospel. He refers to the first as the gospel on the ground (a micro-level of the gospel) and the second view as the gospel in the air (a macro-level of the gospel). Both views are looking at the same concept, the gospel, but they are seeing the different effects that the gospel has on everything. In fact, Jared Wilson in his forthcoming release of Gospel Deeps refers back to the gospel on the ground as a microscopic view of the gospel and the gospel in the air as the telescopic view of the gospel (Wilson, 36 1st proof). I think this is a very appropriate way to surmise these two perspectives of the gospel.
With the first view of the gospel, the gospel on the ground, we see how God works redemption for the purpose of restoring humanity from its fallen position to its rightful position. This aspect focuses on the concept of justification. This whole section keeps individuals in mind. Chandler describes the gospel on the ground through the biblical narrative of God, Man, Christ and Response. He says, “When we consider the gospel from the ground, we see clearly the work of the cross in our lives and the lives of those around us, the capturing and resurrecting of dead hearts (Chandler, 16).”
The gospel in the air views the gospel with restoration of all creation in mind. This section of the book is structured around the scripture of Romans 8.22-23. “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” In this section individuals see how they are part of a cast in a much bigger play. God is performing a mighty work that will result in the eventual restoration of all creation. “Here we find a tour de force story of creation, fall, reconciliation, consummation—a grand display of God’s glory in his overarching purposes of subjecting all things to the supremacy of Christ (Chandler, 16).” This angle of the biblical narrative conveys how the gospel is more than personal. It is cosmic. Chandler says, “As we examine the gospel in the air, we’ll see from the scriptural testimony of Jesus’s atoning work that the gospel is not just personal, but cosmic (Chandler, 16).”
The Explicit Gospel concludes with an extremely helpful section about the many dangers of over-emphasizing the gospel on the ground or doing likewise with the gospel in the air. Chandler presents three dangers for staying with the gospel on the ground too long. These dangers include: Missing God’s Grand Mission, A Rationalized Faith, and A Self-Centered Gospel. The dangers for staying with the gospel in the air too long are: Syncretism, A Christless Gospel, Culture as Idol, and Abandoning Evangelism.
Takeaways from the Explicit Gospel
I seriously enjoyed how Chandler and Wilson tackled some complicated and controversial issues in a very gracious and even-handed manner. They did not shy away from talking about the severity of God but rather highlighted how loving God’s severity is, “In the same way that it is not loving or kind not to coach your children on the dangers of the street and the dangers of the swimming pool, so it is not loving not to warn men and women about the severity of God (Chandler, 41).” They painted an accurate portrayal of heaven and hell and guided readers to the right motivation for desiring the former over the latter, “Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God (Chandler, 49).”
They exposed how many shy away from centering the gospel on christ because they wish to exalt self over Him.
In fact, all across the evangelical landscape, people want to get away from the shame and the blood and the guts and the horrific slaughter of Jesus Christ and focus on something else with the cross out on the margins. But the reason we do this isn’t so much to rectify an imbalance but to idolatrously elevate ourselves. It’s like the charismatics who want to make the day of Pentecost central to the Christian faith. Or the Calvinists who want to make TULIP central. Liberals want to make social justice the center. Fundamentalists want to make moral behavior the center. (Their motto is “Do, do, do,” but the cross screams out “Done!”) All of those things are good things, biblical things. But to make any of them the center of the Christian faith, the grounds of our hope, is to disregard the only power of salvation—the message of the cross (Chandler, 59).
As they discussed the issue of creation, they neither gave way to science’s theories nor overstated what the bible says about creation. “The only reason we feel compelled to accommodate science is that science tells us we ought to. But it is science that should accommodate revelation. Revelation has been around much longer. We also have to admit up front that the Bible just isn’t overly concerned with science (Chandler, 100).”
Finally, the personal anecdotes brought life to the issues. As Matt Chandler relayed story after story of encounters and interactions he had with people, I was better able to understand the urgency of making the gospel explicit and the tact and manner at which we ought to deliver gospel truth to the lost. So many of the issues relating to misunderstanding the gospel or over-emphasizing one of these two ways at looking upon the gospel could be resolved if believers were more trained on doctrine and more intentional with keeping Christ central and God’s glory pre-imminent. The Explicit Gospel accomplishes both of these needs. I found myself sharpened doctrinally and reflective on how I could live Christ-centered for God’s glory.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book from Crossway today! This book will get you excited about gospel ministry and motivated to make the gospel pervasive in your spiritual life. There are a couple other helpful reviews out there on the Explicit Gospel. I encourage you to give them a read as well. I found Aaron Armstong’s review at BloggingTheologically.com and Camden Bucy’s review at Reformation21.org to be the most helpful reviews.