Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Review: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson

Image Source
Let me first say that I was looking forward to reading The Explicit Gospel. There's been some hype in the evangelical community about it, and there have certainly been no shortage of authors re-establishing the centrality of the gospel in today's world. For that reason, I'm excited about this contribution because I think it addresses an important issue in our churches - the loss of the gospel as the foundation of Christian church.

Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson are both pastors and have written a very accessible, easy-to-read breakdown of the gospel message of Jesus that touches on many critical theological doctrines. The authors state that this book has been written for a very specific purpose - to clarify what the Bible says about God, man, Christ, and the church because American churches are not doing an adequate job of this. As such, I'm not sure this book is as timeless as others on the subject, but nonetheless it is still a relevant issue (and may resurface time and time again). The book is broken up into three parts: Gospel on the ground, Gospel in the air, and dangers of both sides:

Gospel on the ground
This first part of the book focuses on the holiness of God and the subsequent nature of the sin we commit. The message of this section is that because God is eternally good and righteous, man's sin is not a mere mustard stain on His tie but a complete assault against His character. As a result, an equally eternal punishment is required and that place, Hell, is not something most of us understand, let alone are even aware of. Chandler and Wilson clearly articulate mankind's need for God's rescue through His Savior, Jesus Christ (as opposed to our own rescue through our good works).

Gospel in the air
The second section of The Explicit Gospel steps away from the personal perspective and focuses on the gigantic, all-encompassing application of God's plan of restoration to the entire order of creation. The authors make a compelling case why human sin has wreaked utter devastation on the entire cosmos, and how awesome is God's plan to restore all of it (not just to you or me individually) when Jesus returns to complete what He began with His death and resurrection.

Dangers
The final chunk looks at dangers in learning too heavily in either direction (on the ground or in the air). The authors argue that staying on the ground too long waters down the gospel so that it's so private and personal, becoming irrelevant; staying in the air too long results in a social gospel that makes Christ an unnecessary part of the picture. They also take on the topic of missions, identifying how evangelism is impacted by both sides and admonishing readers to stay true to the gospel we first received (Gal. 1:9).

Jared Wilson (image source)
There are three things I really appreciated about this book, in terms of its style:
  1. The writing style was very personal and easy to follow. It feels like the authors had a conversation that was written down verbatim, humor included. I found myself smiling to myself or even sometimes laughing out loud while reading.
  2. There is theological depth without theological drowning. Many major issues are addressed in this book, but unlike many others in its category, this book can be readily understood by laypersons.
  3. The illustrations used to make certain points were vivid, which helped me as the reader easily wrap my mind around what they were saying. For example, on page 13 they state, "Trying to figure out God is like trying to catch a fish in the Pacific Ocean with an inch of dental floss."
One thing that I struggled with throughout the book, however, was its scope. At times I thought I was tracking with the main thread of a chapter, but the various rabbit trails it took seemed to detract from that in an attempt to broaden the scope to something it maybe should not have. For me, it was noticeable but forgiveable because those rabbit trails were still interesting and important.

Matt Chandler (image source linked)
The audiobook I listened to, which came to me from Christian Audio in exchange for my unbiased review, was narrated by David Cochran Heath, who did a fantastic job capturing the tone and sentiment of the book. His pace was perfect - not at all slow, but not too fast that it's difficult to follow - and his ability to express the nuances of the text was superb.

Overall I would highly recommend this book. I think churches should pick this up and begin examining their own presentation of the gospel to see if it suffers from any of the pitfalls this book describes. I think pastors should read this and make sure they are making the gospel explicit to their congregations, and churchgoers should read it to identify or stay on that narrow road the gospel paves. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend this to nonbelievers, because it's simply not what its intended for. However, people who have been raised in the church or who may also be newer to the faith will appreciate the clarity with which this book uses in making the gospel explicit. In fact, it might just be the first time they've heard it.

Additional Resource
Matt Chandler has teamed up with Christian recording artists Shane & Shane to share the explicit Gospel on a tour. The video introducing the book is here (it's worth the 2 minutes):

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