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Book review –> The Explicit Gospel

November 26, 2012

“You know you know it…
But then again, maybe you don’t.”

Matt Chandler is the lead pastor at The Village Church in Highland Village, Texas, and regardless of your feelings about mega-churches and satellite campuses, this is a man who loves and faithfully proclaims the gospel. I have listed several excellent sermons here and if you want to listen to more of his sermons, I would suggest you begin with his series in the book of Galatians.

Everyone says that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but the little dirty secret is that everyone does it anyway. I think that a book’s title is extremely revealing because both the author and publisher have worked hard to catch your eye in order to promote what they have to say (and make money of course) and so the title can tell you quite a lot. I was extremely pleased with this particular title because it accurately portrays the goal and message of the book; that is, the necessity of making the Gospel “Explicit” in your life rather than “assumed”. Matt Chandler says that his title came from a blog post written by Josh Patterson (a co-pastor at The Village) which I would encourage you to read because it will give you a great insight into the message of the book (read here).

The book begins with a problem that is more prevalent than we would probably like to admit. Basically, there are generations of people who are growing up going to church several times a week and yet never hearing or understanding the Gospel. Generally this happens because the Gospel is assumed by Christians and not made “explicit” so that this new generation doesn’t really know what the Gospel is or how it applies to their life or even what the point of Christianity is.

(If you think that this problem is ‘bunk’, then I would encourage you to talk to some teenagers in your church that would say that they are Christians. Do they really understand the basic message of Christianity? Can they articulate the Gospel they claim to believe in? Ask them what is the point of Scripture. Will they say “a manual for life” or “divine inspiration and revelation that points us to Christ”? Why do they think that the bible is trustworthy? Why do they believe God exists? All of these questions find their answer in the Gospel but most Christians that you talk to will not even know where to begin…)

There are some major themes that run throughout Scripture (more easily seen in Paul’s letters), two of which are the giving of glory to God in all things and the continual reminder of the Gospel to Christians. These themes are powerfully picked up on by Matt Chandler in this book as he seeks to remind us of the different aspects of, and the supreme importance of, the Gospel. This book is a wonderful reminder of what the Gospel is, its relation to life, its driving, motivating force in our lives, and of how God is the center of the universe and we most definitely, are not.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures

Romans 1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

Clarity: There were many things about this book that impressed me but none more than its clarity. There are so many books that are written by, and to, the evangelical community that are too vague to be helpful and too obscure to carry any meaningful truth. Just go to your nearest Christian Bookstore and you will find thousands of pages that say nothing at all, or if they do say something it will most likely be a product of their own minds and not consistent with Scripture. Chandler’s book stands in stark opposition to this ‘disease’ as every page grips you with the proclamation of biblical truth and a Gospel that is presented in a way that is plain and precise.

Simplicity: This goes along with the ‘clarity’ but it is important enough to be mentioned on its own. I think that old books by deep thinkers are a fantastic thing. Books like Holiness by J. C. Ryle are deep, complicated books that require that you read, reread, reread again, ponder, make notes, etc. This is not one of those books. Chandler brings you on a journey and while there is a lot of material in his book that needs processing, you can read through it comfortably without getting stuck on complicated concepts. Chandler does a good job at talking about God’s attributes, hermeneutical rules, and more, in a way that makes sense to the average lay person, yet meaty enough that the more scholarly will be challenged. All of which mean that this a great book for anybody and everybody…

Hilarity: Another reason that I love this book is because by reading this book you will get a good feel for who Matt Chandler is. Matt is a good-natured guy who seems to find the funny side of just about everything and draws you in with him. Just to give you a little taste…

“God creates anything he wants and as much of it as he wants, and he does it all out of nothing. He doesn’t need raw material. He makes raw material. God is not limited like you and I are. We are always limited by what’s available and always dependent on outside consideration and constraints. When God created the universe, it’s not as if the angels walked up to him and said, “Look, God, there are mountains everywhere. There are planets and goats and ostriches and rock. You’ve got to get them out of here; we don’t have any room to play kickball,” so God said, “Well, where can I store this stuff? I know: the universe.”” (24)

and

“Peter, who had been rebuked only twice in the last hour and a half, decides that he needs another rebuke, so he pulls out his sword and tries to fight the high priest’s guards. (Peter’s an interesting dude. He unsheathes his sword and takes on the enemy at one moment, but three hours later he doesn’t want to fight at all.)” (55)

This book is broken down into three simple parts…

The first part he calls the “Gospel on the Ground”. This view of the Gospel allows us to see the details of what God, Christ, and the Gospel has to do with us and this is where we see the “power of grace for human transformation” (16). The four chapters that make up this section are truly helpful in understanding the nature of who God is, who we are, Christ’s purpose, and ultimately our necessary response to this act of grace by God in our lives.

The second part he calls the “Gospel in the Air”. In this part, Chandler demonstrates how “Paul connects human salvation to cosmic restoration” (16). Chandler begins this section discussing the overall context of the plan of redemption; namely, creation. (From an apologetic standpoint, this chapter is absolutely amazing in its ability to argue for an intellectually honest belief in creation according to Genesis 1). From creation, Matt moves into the cause for our desperate need for the Gospel; the Fall. One of the things that I really enjoyed in this chapter was his discussion about the loss of Shalom from the book of Ecclesiastes.

“Somehow we have received the idea that God is a cosmic killjoy, but we stand on Scripture to say that this deep longing in the core of who we are that cries out for happiness and delight was put there by him and he means for us to be satisfied” (125).

“Ecclesiastes is in the Bible so that nothing would be in our hearts but Jesus” (126).

He wraps this section up with a lengthy, but good, conversation about redemption and consummation. Again, these topics are discussed clearly and brilliantly, constantly reminding us that the purpose of the entire cosmos is to bring Christ Glory and that even his redemption of us is primarily about God and only secondarily about us.

He concludes this book by discussing the “Implications and Applications of the Gospel“. When discussing the Implications, Chandler talks about the dangers of having a hyper-focus on either the Gospel in the air or the Gospel on the ground and calls us to take a balanced view based on how the Gospel is presented in Scripture. In the Applications, Chandler talks about the necessity of effort but the dangers of moralism. Here is a small glimpse…

“We are not going to grow in the Christian life through stasis. We must move. It is not an idle life that we live as believers in Christ. But where do we move? And how? What is grace-driven effort, and how is it different from the motivations offered by moralism? What is the difference between moralistic deism and grace-driven effort? There are essentially five components to a right understanding of grace-driven effort, and what they all revolve around is not our religious performance but Christ’s saving performance on our behalf. These components revolve around Christ’s cross, not our own bootstraps.” (210)

This is a fantastic book that I cannot recommend highly enough. Besides its theological quality, you can get it fairly cheap… 8 dollars for a hardcover, 230 page, book.

I will leave you with Matt Chandler’s last words…

“May we never assume that people understand this gospel but, instead, let’s faithfully live out and faithfully proclaim the explicit gospel with all the energy and compassion our great God and King has graciously given.” (222)

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