Commentary sets and compilation books are sometimes like a banana. What I mean is that there are parts of them (certain volumes) that are amazing and exemplify what they were created to do. But then there seem to be certain chapters or volumes that leave you scratching your head as to how the editor of the series let this one slide. It’s a huge contrast between “tasty snack” and “vile, diseased flesh of the damned”.
Because of this difficulty it is really difficult to review compilation books like The Gospel as Center. Thankfully, for me, this book is no banana with vile diseased parts. This is the rare banana that you pick off the tree and are simply able to enjoy the tasty snack without wondering what that horrible dark spot of death must represent.
The Gospel as Center is actually a compilation of 14 booklets produced by The Gospel Coalition. The Gospel Coalition is “a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures.” These 14 booklets (this book) flesh out what that renewal and reformation looks like.
The topics covered are: Gospel-Centered Ministry, Can We Know the Truth?, The Gospel and Scripture: How to Read the Bible, Creation, Sin and the Fall, The Plan, What Is the Gospel?, Christ’s Redemption, Justification, The Holy Spirit, The Kingdom of God, The Church: God’s New People, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, The Restoration of All Things. Also included is an Appendix that includes all of the foundation documents of the Gospel Coalition.
Contributors include (to name a few): D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, Bryan Chappell, Sandy Wilson, Kevin DeYoung, Thabiti Anyabwile, Ligon Duncan, Sam Storms, and more.
Some of the sections are more theological and some more practical, all strive to be biblically faithful. As is the case with any compilation book some chapters are written by those that are really good communicators and a few are written by those that say things truthfully but perhaps not as poetically as others. Regardless, every chapter is a faithful exposition of the topic assigned.
I especially enjoyed Storms’ treatement on The Restoration of All Things. I have heard Storms before on this topic and he is always brilliant and engaging, this chapter is no exception. I also enjoyed what was somewhat a dialogue between Anyabwile and Duncan on the practice of The Lord’s Supper and Baptism. Duncan comes from a Presbyterian perspective and Anyabwile comes from a Baptist perspective. Such an irenic discussion and chapter shows why the gospel really can be the center even in historically heated debates.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about The Gospel Coalition is its emphasis on the Gospel Story. You see throughout this book that this narrative informs much of the material. Those within this group always do a good job of showing how the gospel narrative has a bearing even on things such as science, philosophy, as well as the way the church comes together. This book shows how the gospel shines a light into the muddied world in which we live in.
Should You Buy It?
One of the questions that I was asking myself in reviewing this is whether one should buy the whole book or just the booklets that are superb. If this book were a banana with vile parts but one that is mostly tasty I would suggest just buying the booklets. But the truth is that all of these chapters are solid and helpful in their own regard.
Who should buy this book? One way that I think this book would be beneficial would be for a pastor to buy the book and then if possible a few booklets of each chapter. That way he knows the booklets that he is giving away and then he also will be able to keep the book to still have the material when he gives it away. But you do not need to be a pastor or a church leader to benefit from this book. Any believer will find help in these chapters—some perhaps more than others.