Book Review: The Explicit Gospel

“The Explicit Gospel” by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson

The last few years have seen a great many books (explicitly) about the gospel written by guys from the “young, restless, Reformed” movement, including noteworthy examples by Greg Gilbert, J.D. GreearJared Wilson, and Trevin Wax (all of which are in my personal library). So this begs the questions: Do we really need another book about the gospel? And if so, what does THIS book bring to the table that makes it special?

With regard to the first question, of course the answer is yes. There is nothing in life more important than the Gospel of Christ, and we can never hear it and be reminded of its truths too often. The reason for all the great gospel-centered books lately is the fact that, for far too long, the gospel has NOT been faithfully and clearly proclaimed. Instead, it has been merely assumed by much of American evangelicalism. The problem? Much of what has been assumed is not actually the gospel.

Enter The Explicit Gospel, which encourages readers to make the gospel explicit rather than revert to the “moralistic, therapeutic deism” that most professing believers falsely assume is real Christianity.

Having recently finished this book — Chandler’s first — I can easily say it deserves a place on my bookshelf (and yours!) next to all the others. When it comes to books on the gospel, novelty is not exactly a desirable characteristic. So the fact that Chandler says nothing new is a good thing! What makes a book about the gospel “good” is its ability to speak timeless and unchanging truths in a fresh way, to help modern readers grasp and love God’s Word. Chandler accomplishes this in two ways: his approach to the gospel and his expression of the gospel.

Approach

The book is organized around two common summaries of the gospel, which Chandler refers to as the “gospel on the ground” and the “gospel in the air”. The gospel on the ground focuses on God’s redemption of sinners, summed up in the narrative of God-Man-Christ-Response. The gospel in the air “zooms out” to see God’s restoration of the cosmos as its focus, summarized by the narrative of Creation-Fall-Reconciliation (or Redemption)-Consummation.

I have read and enjoyed books focusing on each of those two narratives, but this is the first in which both have been addressed together. Chandler’s dual-approach is very helpful! He encourages readers to be able to see that the glorious gospel of Christ includes BOTH the salvation of sinners and the restoration of all things. We don’t have to choose between doing evangelism or doing other types of “kingdom work”. The Church is called to preach the Good News (including the unsavory bits such as penal substitutionary atonement), but she is also called to love and serve the community in a variety of ways. We are to be both message-minded AND mission-minded.

Chandler devotes a chapter to each point of both narratives. While all were beneficial, my personal favorite was his chapter on “Consummation”. Here he enters the turbulent waters of eschatology, and manages to emerge unscathed, having provided some much-needed clarity in the process. I appreciated his focus on the “big picture” aspects of eschatology — Christ will return, sin will be destroyed once and for all, and believers will be raised with glorified bodies to live with God in Heaven for eternity — without stooping to the conjecture and guess-work of most popular End Times writing.

The final chapters warn of the dangers of a gospel that stays on the ground or in the air too long; in other words, the errors that we are likely to encounter if we over-emphasize one narrative or dismiss the other. Chandler is right to advise caution here. Every one of us is sinful, and any doctrine wrongly understood can lead to heresy. He closes with a plea that making the gospel explicit is the only way to put sin to death in our own lives, and the only defense against reducing the gospel to mere moralism.

Expression

No matter how strong the content of a book is, it can’t help those who won’t read it. This is the problem facing most books of a theological-nature: it’s really hard to write a theologically-weighty book that won’t intimidate most readers! This is another strength of The Explicit Gospel. Matt Chandler’s writing will reach an audience that isn’t going to pick up a book by John Murray or Martyn Lloyd-Jones… though hopefully they will after reading this book and learning that theology isn’t boring!

More than anyone else I’ve read recently, Chandler writes like he preaches. This has the potential to be both good and bad. As someone who has heard him preach on a number of occasions, I felt I knew exactly how he would have said the things he wrote. I wondered, though, how well some of his sarcasm and humor might translate to those less familiar with his preaching style.

Regardless, the conversational style makes this book’s 240 pages quite easily digestible, and the knack for delivering punchy, memorable one-liners that has made Chandler such a popular speaker is just as evident in the book. There is no shortage of quotable material here, including several interesting analogies and paraphrases of Scripture designed to write Truth on the hearts of those who are immune to the standard clichés of evangelical culture.

Whether you’ve read dozens of books on the gospel or none at all, I hope you’ll take the time to read this one! Buy it here.

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