The Gospel for Christians: A Review of “The Explicit Gospel” by Matt Chandler

There are words and phrases that Christians use that have almost entirely lost their value and their meaning. This is largely true because we don’t take the time to carefully define what we mean and articulate it clearly; therefore, over time the words become frequently used and almost entirely assumed. I think of phrases and words like: give it to God, washed in the word, born again, saved, Evangelical etc. Perhaps it will surprise some but in a similar vein is the word “gospel.” A word which once specified specific truth content has now become vague and useless. We talk often about the gospel, but without ever defining it. For every ten Christians who use the word, I fear you will have ten different understandings of it. I have seen it first hand, and so has Matt Chandler. That’s why he has written this book, and written it largely for Christians. The Explicit Gospel is a clarion call to stop assuming the gospel and stark speaking it clearly in the church.

The book is divided into three parts. The first two parts examine the gospel from two different angles, while the third focuses on the gospel’s implications. In the first division Chandler focuses on the soterian development of the gospel, what we might call the aspect of personal salvation. He breaks the chapters down simply into the structure of the personal gospel: God, Man, Christ, Response. Each chapter in part one focuses on one of the four components. God created the world and made it perfect. He created it to demonstrate his glory and for the creation to reflect it back to him. Man, however, screwed that vision up with his rebellion and sinfulness. Man’s perfect and happy relationship with God was broken because of sin, and now God stands angry and wrathful towards man. If his situation doesn’t change, man will face the wrath of God. But God in his great love sent Christ to live a perfect life and secure a righteousness for man, to die in his place for his sins, and to rise from the dead for his justification. Now the gospel call is for every man to recognize that he is a sinner bound for hell unless he repents and turns from his sin to believe in Jesus and follow him as Lord.

The first division may seem, for many, like a lot of familiar content. It’s a detailed examination of the gospel that all Christians must believe, but sadly far too many “Christians” will be surprised by the content of these chapters. The fact is that many Christians who faithfully attend church do not hear the gospel, and that’s not all because they are just dozing during the sermon. Over the years Chandler has heard from countless individuals at his church that though they grew up in the church they never heard this message. He writes:

The moralistic therapeutic deism passing for Christianity in many of the churches these young adults grew up in includes talk about Jesus and about being good and avoiding bad – especially about feeling good about oneself – and God factored into all of that, but the gospel message simply wasn’t there. What I found for a great many young twentysomethings and thirtysomethings, the gospel had been merely assumed, not taught or proclaimed as central. It hadn’t been explicit. (13)

It is because of this reality that Chandler as written this book. His desire is to help churches, pastors, and Christians in general make sure that they both fully understand the real gospel and can and will articulate it clearly. With that in mind he doesn’t give us simply the soterian angle of the gospel message, he wants us to see more of its full picture.

Part two of the book takes a “30,000 foot” look at the gospel picture. Moving out from the gospel of personal salvation Chandler points us to the “oft-forgotten meta-narrative of the Bible’s story of redemption.” The two parts combine together to make the whole picture of the gospel, and Chandler is so helpful in reminding us that we can’t ignore one or the other dimension and still speak as if we have the complete gospel.

The Bible establishes two frames of reference for the same gospel. I call these vantage points the “ground” and the “air” and in this book we’re going to see how together they comprise the explicit gospel. (16)

The gospel in the air builds naturally upon what he has already discussed in part one of the book, here showing how our personal salvation connects to the dimension of cosmic restoration.

The chapters are broken down into the summary format of Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation. Because of the realities of Biblical illiteracy and Biblical ignorance this part of the book will be fresh for many Christians. And in our age of renewed social concern this book will serve the church well by connecting that clearly to the gospel of personal salvation. Like Gilbert and DeYoung’s What is the Mission of the Church? The Explicit Gospel won’t let us get away with making social activism our gospel. Chandler gives us good reminders of the difference between a missional focus on our efforts and a missionary effort developed from the gospel. He writes:

Missional power comes not from our good intentions but from the gospel itself. This knowledge demands missional humility. We can’t transform. Only God does that. We’re not what makes anything new. It’s not our act that renews the city. It’s the cross that enacts renewal. (152)

The danger in holding the gospel in the air too long is skittering out to the slippery slope of the social gospel. When we obscure or lose the primary and central truth that is revealed as we view the gospel on the ground, it becomes difficult to distinguish the function of the gospel from a Buddhist’s acts of charity or an atheist’s act of altruism. (189)

This part of the book really makes the book so worth the time of every Christian. But then again, maybe it’s both parts combined that makes it necessary literature for the church.

I thoroughly appreciated this book. I am thankful to have been taught the gospel clearly throughout my life, but that is not the case for everyone. That’s why this book was written and why I commend it. I plan on reading and rereading The Explicit Gospel, as much for my own sake as anyone elses. I also plan to use the book as the primary textbook for my Free Seminary class on the gospel next spring. The manner in which Chandler has broken the content down makes it so useful and highlights key areas of focus for the church today.

If you are a Christian, friends, then let me ask you: do you know the full gospel? Can you articulate it? Read The Explicit Gospel and make sure you’re on target.

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