Matt Chandler, with the help of Jared Wilson, has published his first book–The Explicit Gospel.
This book’s purpose is a negative one–to get its readers to the point of not assuming the Gospel. As Chandler states towards the end of his book,
Unless the gospel is made explicit, unless we clearly articulate that our righteousness is imputed to us by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us clean–even if we preach biblical words on obeying God–people will believe that Jesus’ message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.
But the problem is deeper than that and more pervasive. If we don’t make sure the gospel is explicit, if we don’t put up the cross and the perfect life of Jesus Christ as our hope, then people can get confused and say, “Yes, I believe in Jesus. I want to be saved. I want to be justified by God,” but then begin attempting to earn his salvation [pg. 208-209].
This purpose is explained in the promo video below.
What seems to be Chandler’s main point in making the Gospel explicit is his goal of stomping out moralism (or what Chandler likes to call “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”), which he does most pointedly in chapter 11–“Moralism and the Cross.” In the introduction Chandler defines “Christian Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” as the idea “that we are able to earn favor with God and justify ourselves before God by virtue of our behavior” [pg. 13].
Moralism strives where “Christianity” as a religion is present and the Gospel is either assumed or non-existent. In such cases, Christianity becomes all about a list of moral behavior that humans ought to perform, and consequently, because people are not so great at being moral and meeting standards, Christianity becomes all about condemnation. However, where the Gospel is explicit, made clear, and accepted, moral behavior is not a means of earning favor with God but a worshipful response to having God’s favor through Jesus Christ, shame over one’s grievous shortcomings is overcome by praise for the forgiveness of those shortcomings in the cross of Christ, and external behavior modification through human effort is no longer one’s focus but rather aggressive, genuine, sincere pursuit of internal transformation through the Spirit.
In order to accomplish this purpose, Chandler sets out to present and explain the Gospel from two perspectives or vantage points–“the ground” (the Gospel on an individual level) and “the air” (the Gospel in its broader scope). According to Chandler, these two perspectives form the “Explicit” Gospel.
The Gospel on the Ground
Chandler outlines the Gospel from the ground perspective with the headings “God,” “Man,” “Christ,” and “Response.”
God – God is the transcendent, sovereign, and self-sufficient Creator and His ultimate goal in creation is His own glory.
From beginning to end, the Scriptures reveal that the foremost desire of God’s heart is not our salvation but rather the glory of his own name. God’s glory is what drives the universe; it is why everything exists. This world is not present, spinning and sailing in the universe, so that you and I might be saved or lost but so that God might be glorified in his infinite perfections [pg. 33-34].
Man – We are by nature a worshiping people; this is how God made us. But our problem is that instead of worshiping God and giving Him glory, we are glory thieves; we are sinners. Instead of giving glory to God we commit idolatry by worshiping anything but God, and in particular, ourselves. And God takes this cosmic hijacking as incredibly serious because His glory is that serious and precious. The punishment for our insurrection is eternal damnation in hell.
Christ – But, “we have to feel the weight of God’s severity, because without feeling the weight of his severity, we won’t know the weight of his kindness. . . . [pg. 51]. And that kindness or love is shown in Christ. The cross of Christ–His sacrificial death for sin–“is where God’s kindness and severity meet. . . . where grace and wrath intersect. . . . to satisfy God’s justice and secure our salvation” [pg. 54].
Response – And this message of the saving work of Christ on behalf of sinners demands an inevitable response from it’s hearers.
The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction. Jesus Christ has worked such an outrageous wonder that he demands response, whether hatred or passion. Anyone ambivalent about what Christ has actually done just isn’t clear on the facts. To present the gospel, then, is to place a hearer in an untenable position. The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him [pg.63].
The Gospel in the Air
Now that [see directly above] was simply the Gospel on an individual level. The Gospel, however, has much more than saving individuals as its ultimate goal; it has a goal “scaled to the glory of God” [pg. 222]–namely, the restoration of all things.
So, chandler explains this broader scope of the Gospel from some of its underlining themes throughout scripture–the Gospel as scriptures’ metanarrative if you will.
Creation – He begins with creation, that God created the world perfectly good and, most importantly, all for His own glory.
Fall – And then, using the book of Ecclesiastes, he explains how the entrance of sin into the world leaves the world in a fallen state, a state longing for renewal. Consequently, nothing in this world will ever satisfy.
In the end, there is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment. You have to look beyond the sun [pg. 130].
. . .
Sin isn’t just a personal thing; it’s a cosmic thing.
. . .
It’s not just that we are in need of satisfaction, but that every good thing in the universe (apart from God) is too broken to satisfy [pg. 131].
Reconciliation – As such, the Gospel has much more than individual restoration as it’s end–global restoration.
The consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.
God’s glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, and eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to his glory, encompassing all creation [pg. 135].
. . .
The very phrase “gospel of the kingdom,” which is the summation of what Jesus and his disciples preached, points us to something larger than just individual salvation [pg. 107].
Consummation – This restoration of “all things” is ultimately brought to completion with the new heavens and new earth.
When we look at the gospel from the air, through the grand narrative of the Scriptures, we see that the gospel is not just about God’s forgiving us of sins and giving us eternal life, but also about what we are being forgiven for and what eternal life is like. We cannot, as some say, deny that God’s plan to restore all things is the Gospel (as we’ll see in chapter 10), because the Scriptures show us that Christ’s atoning work is good news for fallen creation. Through the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we are reconciled to God in view of our inheritance of the “all things” God is also reconciling (Rom. 8:32). In other words, viewing the gospel from the air shows us its overarching narrative and reveals that it isn’t just of first importance (see 1 Cor. 15:3), but of all importance. It is imperative that our gospel take the shape of the Scripture’s epic vision of God’s redemptive plan. It is imperative that we embrace a gospel that is scaled to the glory of God.
Summary of the Two Perspectives
The Scripture’s complementary perspectives of the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air help us comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love. Neither perspective dilutes the other but rather shapes our vision of God’s saving purposes to the epic scope of biblical revelation. We are after a gospel that is resolutely centered on the atoning work of Christ and scaled to the glory of God. Let the explicit gospel drive us to worship with all “the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19) and in awe of both God’s immense, universe-subsuming glory and his deep, personal love for sinners. May we never assume that people understand this gospel but, instead, let’s faithfully live out and faithfully proclaim the explicit gospel with all the energy and compassion our great God and King has graciously given.
A “Restoration Gospel”?
Although Chandler definitely emphasizes the future and “not yet” consummation of the Kingdom and the restoration of “all things,” he says, “If the gospel is cosmic as well as personal, the Great Commission joins us to God’s mission to restore all things” [pg. 145]. In other words, what he is saying is that since the Gospel in its comprehensive sense has the restoration of all things such as society, government, culture, the environment, etc., in view, Gospel ministry involves engaging in and influencing these realms towards the goal of their restoration.
Now, I am certainly not opposed to believers being involved in seeking social justice, influencing society and government for the better, and being good stewards of their environment. In fact, I would promote such things. But the fact that God will eventually restore all things is not a command for the believer to begin the process of restoring all things. This consummated restoration of all things is entirely future and will not occur until after the return of Christ. The Bible is actually clear that society, government, the environment, etc. will not get better as time goes on but will get worse and worse until the return of Christ.
Surely as believers we are commanded to be salt and light in this world, but we are not commanded to usher in the restoration of all things. The restoration of all things is not something we can or are told to accomplish or even embark on pursuing. We are commissioned to preach the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, to all nations.
Either way, believers ought to be taking interest in positively influencing the world around them. But the danger in attaching such practical applications to the nature of the Gospel itself is that these practices (i.e., seeking social justice and political reform) can become confused with or for the Gospel. This is exactly what had/has happened with “the social Gospel” movement, of which Chandler himself warns his readers (chapter 10: “Dangers in a Gospel in the Air Too Long”). My concern with Chandler’s words is the possibility in them of a similar “restoration Gospel.”
“The Explicit Gospel” Could be More Explicit
Maybe it’s just a matter of preference in writing style (I like to read a lot of dead Presbyterians who wrote very polemically and logically and not so much conversationally like Chandler), but I didn’t find his presentation very crisp, precise, or clear. In fact, in this very post I have some difficulty in summarizing exactly what his main points and purposes are in the book. He often “bunny-trailed” and got off topic (talking about things like creationism v. evolution, the role of women in ministry, etc.) So, I felt like his argument could have been more straight forward, understandably, precisely, deliberately, or explicitly if you will.
Consequently, although I don’t think he did a poor job presenting the Gospel by any stretch of the imagination, I don’t think his presentation of the Gospel meets the standard of his own title–explicit. So, if you’re looking for a straight shooting presentation of the Gospel, I actually wouldn’t recommend this book.
Should You Read It?
Ah…? To be honest, if you’ve read this post in it’s entirety up until this point, you’ve probably read enough about this book’s main points, themes, and purposes that you don’t need to go out, buy the book, and read it. At the same time, this book is about the Gospel and understanding it more fully and being refreshed with its message. Now studying the Gospel is an endeavor I highly recommend. And so I am definitely not seeking to discourage you from reading it. For someone who is unfamiliar with the Gospel and/or wants to study the Gospel, I surely wouldn’t push them away from reading this book. It’s a good read and I’m sure anyone could benefit from reading it. All that I am saying is that the entire book can be summarized in what I have presented above.
Also available are the DVD Leader Kit and Member Book for group studies on The Explicit Gospel. See the promo video for this group study.
Overal – 3
Content – 3
Organization & flow – 2
Readability – 5
Enjoyability – 4