A friend sent me this one, and I get why. The most obvious being: She’d grown accustomed to kicking my butt in the five-plus years we’d worked together — and now being 1,000 miles apart, she sent this book to stand in for her. Her own words summarize this as well as I could: “It was a good reminder to keep it all in perspective and to be sure I don’t swing the Gospel too far one way or the other.” Now, for what that specifically means…
Matt Chandler, with Jared Wilson. The Explicit Gospel. 240p., $14.99, Crossway.
The bottom line here is: We’ve assumed people “get” the Gospel without ever spelling it out. Even if that was ever true, it certainly isn’t today. No watering-down or “fun” will ever make the true Gospel palatable; nor will all our good works, in themselves, attract people to Jesus. We actually have to believe the Gospel, share it, and truly believe that it has the power to change lives.
Now, for that “one way or the other”—Matt Chandler separates this book, and the Gospel, into two different aspects that all too often become imbalanced in the church:
• “the gospel on the ground”—the “micro” good news of personal transformation, where we nonetheless are in danger of becoming too inwardly, “me and Jesus”-focused
• “the gospel in the air”—the “macro” good news of the restoration of the entire universe, wherein we can wind up focusing primarily on social-justice issues and “adapting the Gospel to the world” rather than truly following Jesus
No matter which side of the fence you’re on—or even if you’re earnestly trying to hold both sides in tension—there’s plenty of spiritual butt-kicking to go around. As with any good Reformed-based book, Chandler brings some attitude to the table, although thankfully does it with enough self-awareness that it doesn’t cross into being obnoxious and/or know-it-allish. This section, in fact, made me laugh out loud, even as it assaulted the me-centered teaching that usually passes for the Gospel these days:
Most of us have been told that God… employed the depth of his omnipotence and omniscience to create this because he desire fellowship with man…. It’s a very sweet idea… if it weren’t for what the Bible actually teaches, which is that this idea is almost blasphemous…. [O]ut of self-regard, we like to picture that a holy, splendid God—perfectly solely within his Trinitarian awesomeness—wanted to be able to stand within a warm-hued living room, romantic music swelling, and look across at us to say, “You complete me.”
Other observations hit even closer to home: “[T]hose who fall into syncretism almost always started out with a pure motive to see people know, love, and follow Jesus. They fall off track, however, if they become dominated by frustration at others’ failures or at the state of the world.”
After being brought to the question, “So how do you keep the two sides in check, and (therefore) the focus on the Gospel?” the book culminates with the almost misleadingly titled chapter “Moralism and the Cross”—except that when we’re not focused on Jesus, we are focused on moralism, trying to please God. Chandler proposes a “grace-driven” approach, using “the weapons of grace”—and I’ll leave it to you to discover what exactly those are.
If you’re looking for a book to help you feel better about your faith, this isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a book that’ll help bring you to a deeper, better-placed faith, this is a pretty good recent one to go to.