Well, I dare say the gospel doesn’t get much more explicit than this! No one can ever say again, “I wish someone would write a book that explains the gospel—the whole gospel—in plain language that I can understand” if he is aware of The Explicit Gospel (by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson). Most books that attempt to clearly spell out the gospel do so using one of two methods: topically or chronologically. Theologians describe these two methods as “systematic” theology and “biblical” (or redemptive-historical) theology. Chandler is the first person I am aware of that lays out the gospel message using both methods without pitting them against one another. Many Christians are suspicious of one method or the other, labeling the topical method too logical, and the chronological method too liberal. But the whole gospel marries these two methods and views them as complementary perspectives.
In the first section of the book, the authors explain the gospel topically, calling it the gospel on the ground. This gospel perspective usually employs categories such as God, Man, Christ, and Response. You’ve probably heard it before, summarized as God is holy, Man is not, Christ bridges the gap between God and Man through his substitute sacrificial death, and this calls for Man’s response of faith and acceptance. Those are the very bare bones of the gospel on the ground. But there is so much more that can be said to help us make sense of this structure. The authors make this explicit with wit, humor, humility, candor, illustration, and zeal.
The second section deals with explaining the gospel chronologically, calling it the gospel in the air. This gospel perspective often uses categories like Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Recreation. The Explicit Gospel renames these as Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation. Either way, both sets refer to the same things, albeit with nuanced emphases. This perspective tells the gospel in the form of a narrative—the world’s most beautiful, fantastic, lovely, and cosmic story. It goes something like this: God created the world very good, with his people to rule over his creation as his stewards. But humanity sinned against their Creator and plunged themselves and the creation into sin and misery. However, God had a plan to reconcile all of fallen creation with himself through redeeming fallen humanity. This God accomplished by sending his only Son Jesus Christ to reconcile and redeem the world. The work of God will culminate in the recreation of all things, including a redeemed humanity in a new heaven and earth. This glorious end will consummate God’s plan of the ages. Again, this is the basic outline of the gospel in the air, but there is oh so much more to the story. The authors make this explicit and retell God’s story in such a way that one can’t help wanting to believe with all his heart that it’s true!
The third section of the book contains important implications and applications for believing the whole gospel (from the ground and the air). The authors explain a few of the dangers that often accompany a gospel that stays on the ground too long. In other words, there are dangers that can arise when you view the gospel topically or systematically while ignoring the gospel story. These dangers are:
- Missing God’s Grand Mission
- A Rationalized Faith
- A Self-Centered Gospel
Conversely, there are dangers that frequently arise when you step on the slippery slope of viewing the gospel as story only. These dangers are, in sequential order down the slippery slope:
- A Christless Gospel
- Culture as Idol
- Abandoning Evangelism
The only weakness I can find in the book is the authors’ view of creation. They label themselves “historic creationist.” The way they explain this view is commonly known as the “gap view” of Genesis 1. This interpretation of the first chapter of the Bible believes there is a time gap of undetermined length between Genesis 1:1 and verse 2 (some put the gap between verses 2 and 3). This view is attractive to some because it allows room for an old earth while still maintaining a literalistic 24-hour-day view in the creation week. I guess the perceived benefit of allowing for an old earth gets one more in line with modern evolutionary science while still giving allegiance to the young earth creationists that believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. But I don’t think the gap theory is as helpful as the authors desire. First, if it is only the non-organic material in the earth that predates the creation week, then hardly anything in creation is made compatible with scientific theories that date the earth at millions of years old. Fossils of plants, animals, and humans must have come after the gap. Even the sun, moon, stars, and presumably the rest of the universe must have been created after the gap, thereby making them no older that the creation week that occurred no more than ten millennia ago (according to the young earth creation view). Second, most biblical scholars have dismissed the gap theory as antiquated and inadequate on textual grounds. Genesis 1:1 is better read as a summary verse for what follows, to be understood something like: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and this is how he did it.” Therefore I find the authors’ “historic creationist” view curious since it sits in no man’s land, dismissed by young earth creationists, textual scholars, and evolutionary scientists. Nevertheless, I account this weakness as minor, even a curiosity, in an otherwise stellar book.
I don’t know of any other popular preacher or author that has given such an explicit “gospel gift” to our culture. If you are a faithful Christian, you will profit from this book by becoming more balanced in your appreciation and belief in the whole gospel. If you tend to keep the gospel on the ground too long, you’ll be awakened (perhaps for the first time) to the mission of God and the place you are called to serve in it. If you tend to keep the gospel in the air too long, you’ll be reminded that God’s mission to recreate the world through reconciliation starts with sinners believing that Jesus forgives sin and coming to him as Lord and Savior. If you are a person who grew up in church but is no longer participating, or you consider yourself familiar with the basic Bible message while church isn’t your thing, you’ll be surprised to discover why Christians are so excited about the gospel. You’ll get an explicit whiff of how Christians smell the gospel. Not as foolishness, or the stench of death, but the sweetness of God for our salvation. And if you don’t quite fit either of those descriptions, then you ought to do yourself a favor and read The Explicit Gospel anyway. Make it a priority. Rick Warren, the author of the mega-bestselling book The Purpose-Driven Life (admit it, you remember it, and you probably read it!) says this about The Explicit Gospel: “If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It’s that important.” For what it’s worth, I actually agree.
Watch a short promo for The Explicit Gospel:
Watch a talk by Matt Chandler on The Explicit Gospel: