Takeaway: The Gospel needs to be understood and Explicit.
I want to affirm Chandler’s desire that people really understand the Gospel. (Although we have a different definition of what is actually the meaning of the word gospel.) He was struck one day by the number of people that his church was baptizing that said the equivalent of “I grew up in a Christian home and going to church but I never heard the gospel until…” I heard and have thought the same thing. Was it that the gospel was not preached or was it that you did not understand?
But like many, his path toward defining and pushing the importance of the gospel takes a pretty standard line. God is great, God owes you nothing, we are saved by God’s grace alone, our desire for this world is really a mis-placed desire intended for God. So we must emphasize our sin, the reality of hell, and our lost-ness without Christ.
There is nothing that is fundamentally wrong with that, but it seems incomplete or at least not the whole story. Yes God is great. Yes God owes us nothing. No God did not create us because God was lonely or lacking something. Yes God created within us a desire for him. Yes we are lost without Christ. Yes we are all sinful and separated from God.
But God also created the world. God created beauty and love and flowers and children and music and sunsets and wonder. To reduce all of beauty and wonder (and the things we wonder at and find beautiful) to sin is to misunderstand God. God is the creator of beauty and wonder. Yes, we should glorify God because of the beauty he created. But it is not sinful to see beauty and think ‘That is beautiful’. It is not sinful (to use his actual illustration) to be excited that your team is winning at March madness. It is sinful to love your team more than you love God and turn it into an idol. But it is not sinful in and of itself to love the world that God created and the things that are here.
God created a good world. It has been corrupted by sin, but it still is beautiful. Creation still has the ability to full us with a sense of wonder. This is not a dichotomy we have to create. You do not have to minimize the world and call it sinful in order to worship God or to hold God up as great. In fact when you look at scripture, it is the world that is often used as a reason that we should be glorifying God and calling him great.
In a similar way, I want to affirm Chandler’s affirmation of the penal substitution model of understanding Christ’s death and resurrection. It is clearly biblical and an important way that we understand the work that Christ did on the Cross. But he goes a step further and minimizes the other models of Christ’s work. They are also biblical and important and all of them are simply models to help us as human understand the role of Christ and the cross in our faith. A model is not the entire thing. A model of the Eiffel Tower is not the Eiffel Tower. The Penal Substitution model of the work of Christ is not the entire work of Christ. It is a model to help us understand what Christ is doing. In a similar way, there is also the Union with Christ model and Cristus Victor and other models. Again, it does not minimize penal substitution to allow that it is one of many models that we should understand any more than it minimizes God to recognize the beauty of a sunset.
A third issue is that Chandler revels in the rejection of the Gospel by many. That is probably too strong, but he seems to want to push people away or at least see rejection of Christ as confirmation that the gospel is being correctly preached. I do not want to say this too strongly (because he does pull back a bit on this later). But the fact that people see the gospel and reject it does not mean that the gospel is being preached rightly. It just means that people are rejecting it. Jesus said people will reject the gospel. But Paul says that he will do anything, become anyone in order to remove any stumbling blocks from the way we preach the gospel. Again, it is not a dichotomy for people to reject the gospel and for us to do anything we can (while being faithful to the gospel) to remove barriers that keep people from hearing.
Chandler is clear that just because a church is growing does not mean that the gospel is being preached, and also clear that just because a church is not growing does not mean the gospel is not being preached. We are called primarily to be faithful, it is not our work that saves people, but Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit working in them. That I affirm strongly. I just want the caveat that it can be our actions that push people away from Christ. Being unloving and unChristlike does matter. So it is always important that we look at ourselves and see if people are rejecting us or Christ. And if it is us they are rejecting, then we need to repent and change the way we act and the way we share the gospel.
I also think that Chandler makes too much of minor issues around the gospel. On creation he mis-characterizes the authority of science (as most pastors that I hear do). This is a good example of why I wish Chandler had cut about 1/3 of the book and made it much tighter and gotten rid of a few of the extra areas.
Another area I wish he had cut was about capitulation to culture. I was almost on board, and then he brings up women in leadership as a place where modern Christians have rejected scripture and inserted their understanding that is derived from culture and not scripture. He drags it into the discussion as an example of rejecting scripture, which seems to me, by his definition of the gospel, to make it into a gospel issue. And then he explicitly ties egalitarian understanding of women in leadership to acceptance of homosexuality. This is the problem in my mind of the way Chandler wants to frame his understanding of the gospel. There is virtually no way to limit the definition of the gospel under Chandler’s method.
Under another method like Scot McKnight’s where the gospel is solely the proclamation of Christ as Savior, Lord of Creation and fulfiller of Israel’s prophecy, the Messiah and King, it is possible to limit the understand and definition of the gospel. Under Chandler’s method, the understanding of the gospel creeps into your entire theology and as much as he does not want it to happen, it become an All or Nothing fight.
In the end I am not sure how much the difference in the definitions of the gospel really matters for most practical theological matters. Both Chandler and I affirm that the end result of our slightly different understandings of the gospel is that we must submit to Christ as Lord, Savior and King. We must live not for ourselves, but for Christ and Christ’s kingdom.
I want to affirm Chandler’s main point that people must actually know Christ and that part of our role as a Church is to make Christ known. And that requires actual explicit words. It is not good enough to have good works and loving actions that draw people to Christ if we do not continue to actually tell people about Christ. It is not good enough to love people if we do not tell them that Christ loves them as well and help them learn to submit to Christ as Lord and King themselves.
Chandler also has one of the best chapters on end times (Eschatology) that I have read. He focuses on why right teaching is important. And why much of the fascination with the details detracts us from the point. The point is that what is here matters, we should not be escapist in our theology. And what is to come is controlled by God and will be a re-creation of the heaven and earth of now (he explicitly draws on NT Wright here). We will have purpose, no strumming away on harps for eternity. For people unfamiliar with this, I think this chapter is enough to justify the purchase of the whole book. Left Behind and other conjecture books on Eschatology have done much damage to Christianity. It takes our eyes off of Jesus and puts them on speculation and unimportant details.
Also his conclusion about the importance of grace and the different between moralism and the gospel is very good. I just don’t know if that is enough to recommend the book.
For most people, I am not sure whether to recommend this book or not. It is well written. There are brilliant sections and there are sections that I think were mistakes. He is a decent writer and fairly funny. He brought up some quick challenging topics that should be dealt with. But many of those are dealt with in other books just as well or better.
christianaudio.com provided me with a free digital copy of the audiobook for purposes of review.