First, I must confess that I’m really late in writing this review. Partly because of technical difficulties (hard to write when your laptop crashes). Mostly, though, because I noticed that it was no accident that I began reading this book during a season when I felt disconnected and dry, and I did not want to rush through the book for the sake of writing a review on time when I felt God working in me to break up hard ground and stir my affections for Him once again. I am incredibly grateful to Crossway for providing me an advanced copy of The Explicit Gospel, and for their grace and patience in waiting for me to complete the review.
Matt Chandler has taken on a big project in defining the gospel so concisely, both what it is, and what it is not. I’ve read other books about the gospel, but none as clear as Chandler’s. The other books I’ve read I have found to be Theologically lacking or incorrect, or confusing because the author spent so much time detailing nuances that it was incredibly hard to follow. While Chandler does expound on some of his statements, he does so in a way that enhances his explanation of the gospel, instead of detracting from it.
I grew up in the non-denominational church world. My understanding of salvation was that God sent Jesus, and Jesus willingly came, to Earth to live as a man and die for my sins to save me from Hell. There may have been more taught about the gospel, but that was really all that I understood about the gospel until I was around 20, when I entered the Baptist church world and the discipleship pastor lovingly kicked my legs out from under me and proved I really had no idea what the gospel was. For the first 20 years of my life I was stuck in what Chandler calls the “gospel on the ground.”
Chandler defines the “Gospel on the Ground1,” as God, Man, Christ, Response. Or, how the gospel affects us directly through personal salvation. Even then, though, he takes it to a higher level by pointing out that we will never see the beauty of this until “we have first been awed by the glory of God2.” So, even in this Chandler rightly points out that the salvation of humanity doesn’t terminate on us, but rather rolls up higher and serves a greater purpose of displaying God and His glory in being both just and merciful in offering salvation to those who have committed treason against His Lordship.
Even in our “enlightened” society today, the punishment for treason is death. So, the question in my mind hasn’t ever been why those who commit treason against Christ go to Hell, but rather why God would save any of us. If God’s primary focus is His own glory, then why save those who belittle His name and attempt to hijack His glory?
In his book The Gospel and the Mind, Bradley Green reminds us that “premodern Christian thinkers almost always engaged in intellectual endeavors against the backdrop of an overarching telos or goal.3”
I think this is helpful for us, because that’s exactly what Chandler does in the second section of The Explicit Gospel. He sets the “gospel on the ground” in perspective to the “gospel in the air.” If the gospel on the ground is the street level view of what happens to individual people in salvation, the gospel in the air is the 30,000 foot view of what we see throughout Scripture. It’s putting the salvation of man in light of the overarching goal of God that we see in Scripture: the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God.
This is crucial for us, because if we lose sight of the goal of the gospel being about God’s glory, then we will make salvation all about us, and turn the gospel into something that it is not: a self help program to make us better people. Equally important is keeping the gospel on the ground in focus, because if we only focus on the meta-narrative of God’s glory, then we risk becoming unloving to the very people that Christ died for to bring the Father glory.
Who Should Read This Book?
Pastors, home group leaders, teachers, read this book. This will help us keep a balance between the personal and cosmic sides of the gospel. New Christians, especially in America, read this book. This will help us see that while God does love us, our salvation is part of a much bigger story. The Christian who thinks he can just sit there in church, read this book. By God’s grace, seeing that our salvation is part of a much bigger story should drive us to get in the game and start making disciples. Those who are prone to arrogance (me included), read this book. Seeing the magnitude of the scope of the gospel will give us some perspective. Those who struggle with feeling they are loved, read this book. Seeing that God loves YOU will, by God’s grace, help you see that He loves you enough to include you in His redemptive plan to display His glory.
About the Author
MATT CHANDLER is the lead pastor of The Village Church, a multi-campus church in the Dallas metroplex of over 10,000 people. His sermons are among the chart-topping podcasts on iTunes and he speaks at conferences worldwide. Prior to accepting the pastorate at The Village, Chandler had a vibrant itinerant ministry for over ten years where he spoke to hundreds of thousands of people in America and abroad about the glory of God and beauty of Jesus.
1. Matt Chandler (2012-04-09). The Explicit Gospel (p. 16). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
2. Ibid., (p. 21).
3. Green, Bradley G. (2010-11-03). The Gospel and the Mind (p. 59). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.