The Gospel as Center (Book Review)

The Gospel Coalition is a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing their faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming their ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.  Their desire is to serve the church they love by inviting all their brothers and sisters to join them in an effort to renew the contemporary church in the ancient gospel of Christ so that they truly speak and live for him in a way that clearly communicates to our age.

Gospel Coalition members have written a number of pamphlets explaining the gospel in our postmodern context and how it relates to all of life.  These separate booklets have now been collected in a single volume, edited by D.A. Carson and Tim Keller, and called The Gospel as Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices.  Each booklet represents a single chapter in this book.  The message of the book is broadly reformed and particularly evangelical.  The coalition’s official documents contain a preamble, their confessional statement and a proposed theological vision for ministry.  No two chapters are written by the same author, so there is a variety of styles and levels of quality.  Some authors will relate to people better than others, but by and large every chapter is excellent.  Here are my brief thoughts on each chapter.

Chapter 1. Gospel-Centered Ministry (by D.A. Carson and Timothy Keller)

  • Either foundational or capstone pamphlet
  • Argues for strategic emphasis on biblical theology instead of systematic theology
  • Answers the question of how to do ministry in the church and the world without responding to the culture from the standpoints of either (1) purity from; (2) defensive against; or (3) relevant to.
  • Tries to rescue the term “evangelical” by making it also confessional/doctrinal
  • Unpacks The Gospel Coalition foundational documents

Chapter 2. Can We Know the Truth? (by Richard Phillips)

  • A humble apology in response to post-modernism
  • Truth is that which corresponds to reality
  • Bible is propositional truth from God
  • Jesus is the truth of God incarnate
  • Read the Bible (especially the NT) to find the truth that we all need

Chapter 3. The Gospel and Scripture: How to Read the Bible (by Mike Bullmore)

  • Gospel is both cause and effect of Scriptural revelation
  • Evangelical convictions for rightly reading Scripture (also humility)
  • Hermeneutic: Christ-centered, Spirit-enabled
  • Read the Bible as story and theology
  • An introduction to how biblical and systematic theology are related to Christ and the gospel

Chapter 4. Creation (by Andrew Davis)

  • Briefly surveys the various creation theories and compares them to evolution
  • Lots of examples of nature/earth fine-tuning, some examples of Intelligent Design
  • Survey of doctrine of creation in the Bible, overview of Genesis 1-3
  • Points to human regeneration, earth/nature new creation
  • Applications of doctrine of creation

Chapter 5. Sin and the Fall (by Reddit Andrews III)

  • Lots of lengthy quotations from Scripture, Herman Bavinck, Robert Dabney
  • Evil originated with angels in heaven
  • Good description of freedom (pre-fall) and bondage of the will
  • Describes sin’s definition, scope, depravity, results, satanic bondage (systemic)
  • Emphasis on seriousness of sin and its only remedy in the blood of Christ

Chapter 6. The Plan (by Colin Smith)

  • Overview of Bible from promises made (OT) to promises fulfilled (NT)
  • Shows how 7 promises are made by God, fulfilled in Christ, and applied to believers now and in heaven
  • Baptism: plunge into water as we are “plunged” into union with Christ (p. 25)

Chapter 7. What is the Gospel? (by Bryan Chapell)

  • Full gospel presentation (individual, corporate, new creation)
  • Framed by story of author’s brother who was saved in prison
  • Very gracious presentation, seeker-sensitive (establishes common ground, defines terms)
  • Shows how Christ and his benefits are desirable and beautiful

Chapter 8. Christ’s Redemption (by Sandy Willson)

  • Excellent overview of Christ’s person and work
  • Clearly presents the gospel as Christ’s work for us
  • Not a lot of footnotes, therefore easy to read
  • Quotes hymns to good effect
  • Worshipful tone
  • Provides detailed explanations why the exclusivity of the gospel and Christ’s redemption are absolutely necessary

Chapter 9. Justification (by Philip Ryken)

  • Not too technical, but is in some places where it is necessary (with explanation)
  • Explains all traditional aspects of justification (need, foundation, meaning, source, basis, imputation, means, goal, recipients)
  • Illustrated and quoted well
  • Exposition of Romans and The Gospel Coalition confessional statement on justification
  • Arc of the pamphlet is a dramatic conversion story of a monk

Chapter 10. The Holy Spirit (by Kevin DeYoung)

  • Starts off theological, but quickly turns easier to read and more practical
  • Illustrated well
  • Author has a regular-guy sense of humor
  • Addresses spiritual gifts, but doesn’t come down as either a cessationist or a continuationist
  • Stresses that the Holy Spirit desire and role is to point us to Christ
  • A helpful corrective to charismatic theology of the Holy Spirit (baptism of the Holy Spirit is not a second blessing)

Chapter 11. The Kingdom of God (by Stephen Um)

  • Quotes pastors and scholars, some of whom use difficult vocabulary (Meredith Kline)
  • Good balance of personal and communal aspects of the kingdom
  • First part of the booklet can be hard to follow (fairly conceptual)
  • Grounds the kingdom concept in redemptive history and fulfilled in Jesus as the true people, true place, and true authority of God

Chapter 12. The Church: God’s New People (by Timothy B. Savage)

  • Proper stress (not overemphasis) on the church as family
  • Church comprised of believers (nothing said about their children)
  • Emphasis on church as transformed people as a witness to a sinful, needy world
  • Mission of church is to worship (first), evangelize, and love their city

Chapter 13. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (by Thabiti Anyabwile and J. Ligon Duncan)

  • Evangelical and reformed
  • Anyabwile explains baptism as a credobaptist
  • Duncan supplements baptism teaching with paedobaptist arguments (shows respect for both sides)
  • Lord’s Supper is reformed position (spiritual presence of Christ)
  • Useful analogy –> baptism : wedding :: Lord’s Supper : marriage

Chapter 14. The Restoration of All Things (by Sam Storms)

  • Language is a bit technical (seminary-feel to it)
  • Distinguishes between inauguration and consummation of the kingdom
  • Makes use of and quotes 2 Corinthians commentary by Murray Harris (old language)
  • Provides interpretive options for different eschatological schemas (without favoring one)
  • Points past intermediate state to the eternal resurrection state
  • Jewish hope of restoration was earthly first, not spiritual leading to earthly restoration
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