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Book Reviews

Book Review: What is the Gospel?

We have just finished celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Why was the Reformation so important?

The answer is that through the years the gospel of salvation by grace alone, from Christ alone, through faith alone had become obscured. Men and women were participating in religious activity but they did not understand the core of Christianity – the true gospel. The gospel had become obscured.

A Problem In Our Families?
I wonder if this lack of gospel clarity is also a problem in our homes as we raise our children. In The Disciple-Making Parent I say this:

Surprisingly, for something so important, the gospel can be easily blurred, assumed, or forgotten. As believing parents we often assume our children understand and are being taught the gospel. And so, we wrongly think we can concentrate on other things in their development. In fact, though, the gospel is being assumed. When this happens we are on dangerous ground. Mack Stiles has observed, “Losing the gospel doesn’t happen all at once.” How is it lost? Stiles tells us, “The gospel is accepted. The gospel is assumed. The gospel is confused. The gospel is lost.” And D.A. Carson adds, “When we assume the gospel, we are one generation from denying it.” (p. 76 The Disciple-Making Parent)

What is the Gospel?
Enter the little book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. This small book (121 pages) seeks to lay out the gospel clearly and succinctly with no frills.

His chapters are:
Introduction – “What is the gospel?” Today’s authors give a surprisingly wide range of answers to that question.
1. Finding the Gospel in the Bible – Gilbert’s main point is that it is not just a matter of doing a word search on gospel in the New Testament. He is going to take us through Romans 1-4 because Paul was laying the gospel out systematically to a church he had not met.
2. God the Righteous Creator – The Gospel starts with understanding God is our creator and has the right to ask us anything. Additionally, he is righteous and holy. We are accountable to him.
3. Man the Sinner – Though made in the image of God, men and women are sinners. We choose to rebel against God. Don’t confuse being guilty of sin with our individual sins or the effect of sins. We are guilty of all.
4. Jesus Christ the Savior – But God sent Jesus, the God-man, as the suffering King to die in our place on the cross.
5. Response:Faith and Repentance – We must respond in faith to Christ. This faith is that the righteous requirements have been met in Christ on the cross. Our response is faith alone. If faith is turning to Jesus and relying on him for salvation, repentance is the flip side of that coin. Repentance is not perfection but it is taking sides.
6. The Kingdom – Conversion brings us into a kingdom. It is a kingdom that has started but that is not complete.
7. Keeping the Cross at the Center – In this chapter Gilbert takes us through three ways the gospel has been proclaimed that are either wrong or move the cross off center stage.
8. The Power of the Gospel – In the final chapter Gilbert invites us to follow Christ.

My Take
What is the Gospel is helpful for its clarity and minimalism. There are few stories or writer’s flourishes. Instead, Gilbert wants to make sure the clarity of the gospel is bold and bright. For that I am truly grateful. It is a helpful tool so that we will not assume the Gospel. To paraphrase Tim Keller, The gospel is not the ABCs of Christianity but the A to Z. We never outgrow our need for the Gospel. 

My only, tiny, quibble has to do with wishing the Resurrection was included more (see 1 Corinthians 15:1ff).

For parents who read this blog, I could see this tool being used to make sure the gospel is clear in our heads. And that is always important. For a mist in the pulpit is a fog in the pews. Lack of clarity for the teacher means fogginess for the students.

Get it. Read it. Make sure the gospel is clear in your head. And make sure you are talking about the gospel with your children.

Remember “When we assume the gospel, we are one generation from losing it.”

Twenty Quotations

What is the gospel of Jesus Christ? You’d think that would be an easy question to answer, especially for Christians. p. 15

When you come right down to it, Christians just don’t agree on what the gospel is—even Christians who call themselves evangelical. P. 17.

First, if you are a Christian, I pray this little book and the glorious truths it attempts to articulate will cause your heart to swell with joy and praise toward Jesus Christ for what he has accomplished for you. An emaciated gospel leads to emaciated worship. Second, I hope that reading this book will give you a deeper confidence as you talk to others. Third, I pray that you will see the importance of this gospel for the life of the church, as a result you will work to see that this gospel is preached, sung, prayed, taught, proclaimed, and heard in every aspect of your church’s life. Fourth I hope this little book will help to shore up the edges of the gospel in your mind and heart. Finally, if you are not a Christian, then I pray that by reading this book you will be provoked to think hard about the good news of Jesus Christ. P. 20-22.

1. Finding the Gospel in the Bible
Let me suggest that for now, we approach the task of defining the main contours of the Christian gospel not by doing a word study but by looking at what the earliest Christians said about Jesus and significance of his life, death, and resurrection. P .27

One of the best places to start looking for a basic explanation of the gospel is Paul’s letter to the Romans…First, Paul tessl his readers that it is God to whom they are accountable….Second Paul tells his readers that their problems is that they rebelled against God….Third, Paul says that God’s salvation to humanities sin is the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ…Finally, Paul tells his readers how they themselves can be included in that salvation. P. 29-31.

Four Crucial Questions: 1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable? 2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why? 3. What is God’s solution to the problem? How has he acted to save us from it? 4. How do I –myself right here right now—how do I come to be included in that salvation. What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? P. 31

2. God the Righteous Creator
For the most part, [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][God]’s a kind, affable, slightly dazed and needy but very loving grandfather who has wished but no demands, can be safely ignored if you don’t have time for him, and is very, very, very understanding of the fact that human beings make mistakes—much more understanding, in fact, than the rest of us are. p. 38-39.

Because he created us, God has the right to tell us how to live. P.42.
We will see late how the seemingly impenetrable contradiction in Exodus 34:6-7—a God who “forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin” and yet, “does not leave the guilty unpunished”—is resolved by the death of Jesus on the cross. P. 43.

3. Man the Sinner
It’s a breaking of the relationship, and even more, it is a rejection of God himself –-a repudiation of God’s rule, God’s care, God’s authority, and God’s right to command those to whom he gave life. In short, it is rebellion of the creature against the Creator. P. 48.

This is why it is absolutely crucial that we understand both the nature and the depth of our sin. If we approach the gospel thinking it is something else or something less than what it really is, we will badly misunderstand the good news of Jesus Christ.. p. 51.

There is a huge difference between understanding yourself to be guilty of sins, and knowing yourself guilty of sin. P. 54.

It is only when we realize that our very nature is sinful, that we are indeed – dead in our trespasses and sins as Paul says that we see how good the news is that there is a way to be saved. P. 55.

4. Jesus Christ the Savior.
The Bible is the story of God’s counteroffensive against sin. It is the grand narrative of how God made it right, how he is making it right, and how he will one day make it right finally and forever. P. 61.

You see King Jesus came not only to inaugurate the kingdom of God, but also to bring sinners into it by dying for their sin, taking their punishment on himself and securing forgiveness for them, making them righteous in God’s sight, and qualifying them to share in the inheritance of the kingdom. P. 65.

5. Response – Faith and Repentance
Faith and repentance. This what marks out those who are Christ’s people, or “Christians.” In other words, a Christian is one who turns away from sin and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ – and nothing else – to save him from sin and the coming judgment. P. 73.

6. The Kingdom
The kingdom of God is God’s redemptive rule and reign over his people….God’s kingdom is therefore God’s rule, reign, and authority. p. 87.

First, the kingdom of God is not yet completed, and yet it will not be completed until King Jesus returns…The strong man was bound, but not destroyed. Evil was defeated but not annihilated, and the kingdom was inaugurated, but not brought to full and final completion. P. 90.

I used to think as a child that the Christian’s destiny was to spend eternity in a never-ending disembodied church service. That was scary thought! P. 91-92

7. Keeping the Cross in the Center
Nevertheless the pressure to find a “bigger” more “relevant” gospel seems to have taken hold of a great many people. Again and again, in book after book, we see descriptions of the gospel that end up relegating the cross to a secondary position. In its place are declarations that the heart of the gospel is that God will remake the world, or that he has promised a kingdom that will set everything right, or that he calling us to join him in transforming our culture. Whatever the specifics, the result is that over and over again, the death of Jesus in the place of sinners is assumed, marginalized, or even ignored. P. 103

8. The Power of the Gospel
How is it that I let the beauty and power and vastness of that gospel be crowded out of my mind so often and for so long? Why is it that my thoughts are often dominated by silly things like whether my car is clear, or what’s happening on CNN right now, or whether I was with happy with my lunch today, rather than by those glorious truths? Why do I so often organize and think about my life as I were wearing blinders, rather than in light of eternity? P. 115.

Want your children to follow Christ as adults? Up to 50% of young people walk away. Check out The Disciple-Making Parent. And for a free audiobook with your purchase, simply email us.