In 1786 Andrew Fuller wrote:
It seems to be one of Satan’s devices, in order to destroy the good tendency of any truth, to get its advocates to [make it trite] out of its senses, dwelling upon it in every sermon or conversation, to the exclusion of other things. Thus the glorious doctrines of free and great grace have been served in the last age, and so have fallen sadly into disrepute. If we employ all our time in talking about what men ought to be and to do, it is likely we shall forget to put it into practice, and then all is over with us.
I had high hopes of giving you a statistic about the number of books being sold on Amazon in the year of 2012 with the word “gospel” somewhere in the title. I sorted them by Publication Date and scanned through 26 pages only to realize that I was only on April of 2012 starting from the December of 2012 selections to be pre-ordered. I gave up. It would have taken way too long to sift through all those to find a manageable number. The word gospel has become somewhat of a buzzword.
It is certainly a danger to have a “misfocused focus on gospel-centeredness”. It is also a danger that with all of our talk of the gospel and the implications of the gospel we will in the end be guilty of simply assuming the gospel. In doing so there is a real danger that all of us can be throwing around the term “gospel” but talk about two totally different things. Matt Chandler has written The Explicit Gospel “to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing”. It is Chandler’s desire to make the gospel explicit.
In explaining the gospel Chandler looks at the gospel from two different vantage points; namely, ground and air. The first part of the book is dedicated to what is termed the gospel on the ground. Here he follows the God-Man-Christ-Response summary of the gospel. He devotes a chapter to explaining each of these terms and within each chapter often engages in some polemics about what the gospel is not.
The second part of the book is dedicated to what is termed the gospel in the air. Here he follows the Creation-Fall-Reconciliation-Consummation meta-narrative of the gospel. Again he devotes a chapter to each heading, explains the story, and occasionally engages in narrowing the definition to the exclusion of some other positions.
The third, and final, section of the book engages a couple of dangers associated with an overemphasis on either of these gospel summaries. In the ninth chapter Chandler looks at the dangers of keeping the gospel on the ground for too long, while the tenth chapter give the same treatment to the gospel in the air. He notes that we must be faithful to both of these gospel summaries to really be faithful to the explicit gospel. His eleventh chapter deals with moralism (which is really what the book aims to do battle with).
If you have spent any time listening to Matt Chandler preach you know what this book is about. Chandler can be hard-hitting and funny at the same time. He is engaging and yet serious. Chandler’s preaching style is captured well in this book.
First of all, much props need to be given to Jared Wilson in this book. Wilson did more than simply write and introduction or throw his name on the cover of the book. He is largely responsible for the flow of the book and capturing Chandler’s preaching style in written form. If you have listened to Matt Chandler preach you know that may have been a difficult task, but Wilson did a tremendous job. While reading through the book you could almost hear Chandler’s voice preaching through the pages.
While that is a good thing about the book it may also be one negative. There are certain things that those familiar with Chandler will “get” but it may be difficult for those not-initiated to track with. In one instance Chandler quips, “God was angry and moved me to Abilene for seven years”. Knowing Chandler I know that he is making a joke about Abilene. But those not knowing neither Chandler or Abilene the joke may fall flat and be actually somewhat distracting.
For me though, I love it. I love listening to Chandler preach and his jokes are hilarious. I think it is wonderful that they were able to capture this on the written page. Others may not enjoy that as much. I only mention that to make the reader aware either for good or ill.
As for the content of the book it is tremendous. I have been preaching and teaching the gospel for a decade now. In doing so I have tried to labor time and time again to make the gospel explicit. Yet in reading through this book there are ways that Chandler shares the gospel that will help my own preaching.
For the preacher and non-preacher that reads this book I think you will walk away from it having a more clear understanding of the gospel. You may not get new information but you will certainly grow in your articulation of the precious truths of the gospel. This book is valuable if for no other reason that Chandler’s emphasis on preaching the gospel in both “ground” and “air” forms. Both are necessary and Chandler does a tremendous job driving that point home.
Chapter 11 is worth the price of the book. Here he combats the moralistic therapeutic deism that is so prevalent in our day and age. I am glad the tackles it and he does a tremendous job doing so.
Should You Buy It?
I received this book for free at T4G on Thursday morning right before I left for lunch. I was very excited to read through it—as I have been looking forward to this book hitting the shelves since January. Unfortunately for my reading aspirations I felt deeply stirred by the Lord that I was to give this book as a very large “witness tract” to our waitress at TGIF.
I have no idea what will become of having left her that book. But what I do know is that if she picks it up and reads it she will “hear” the gospel. And as Chandler rightly says in this book she will respond to it—either through rejecting it or embracing Christ (whether for the first time or anew). For this reason you should purchase this book. If you are a believer it will cause you great joy in hearing the gospel explicitly explained. It will also help you articulate the gospel better yourself.
If you are an unbeliever and really want to know what Christians believe about Jesus, you may not get all of your theological questions answered in this book, but you will hear the timeless message of the gospel. The gospel is explicit in this book.