For the last two years I worked as a university ministry apprentice, and one of my great joys was getting to see students really grapple with their faith in an environment that poses many challenges to Christians. Now you would think that some of the toughest of these challenges would be things like answering tricky theological questions or holding up a Christian perspective on an ethical issue, and indeed, they often are. Yet an interesting observation I made was that there was another, perhaps simpler question that was also often met with a level of uncertainty by many of the Christian students – “what is the gospel?”
Now let me be quick to assure you that this wasn’t a question that caused difficulty because these students weren’t Christian. More often it was merely that students didn’t feel confident to articulate the gospel succinctly, yet in other cases, there was also doubt when it came to their own understanding. And this is where Matt Chandler’s first book, The Explicit Gospel, is helpful in giving us an indication as to why this may be the case, and how we ought to respond.
Writing in a refreshingly conversational style, yet with great perception, Chandler sets the scene and gives his rationale for writing such a book by telling a story from his own church, The Village, where the concerns about his congregation’s understanding of the gospel first started to grow, culminating in the question, “How can you grow up going to church every week and not hear the gospel?” (p.12).
Whilst I’m sure there are particular aspects of his context and Christian heritage that plays into this question (The Village Church is located in Dallas, Texas), it is a question that I think is worth us all asking as we reflect on the churches and Christian communities we are a part of. For Chandler goes on to conclude, “what I found was that for a great many...the gospel had been merely assumed, not taught or proclaimed as central. It hadn’t been explicit” (p.13), which has resulted in many Christian individuals and communities holding to a strange mix of moralism, deism and pop-psychology where God cares most about us fulfilling our potential and Jesus is little more than a good role model for life.
And so Chandler lays out the aim of his book with unashamed honesty: “to make sure we are all on the same page here – which is to say, God’s page – and talking about what he is talking about when the gospel is mentioned in the Scriptures” (p.15). What is helpful is how he then reintroduces us to the gospel message through two interesting frames of reference – “The gospel on the ground” and “the gospel in the air” – both of which must be integral in our understanding of the gospel if we are to be faithful to it as laid out in the Scriptures. Whilst the rest of the book will undoubtedly unpack these, essentially the first dimension traces the biblical narrative in order to see the work of the cross in individual human lives, and the latter explores how this connects to the bigger story of cosmic restoration and redemption.
As fallen, sinful creatures, it seems we are disposed to either reducing or expanding the gospel, adding to or subtracting from it. Essentially, turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all (Gal 1:6). So what is the remedy? How do we ensure we teach, preach and share the explicit gospel, not an assumed one? I’m sure there are many good answers to that question, but ultimately I believe we need to keep coming back to the Bible. For it is through God’s Word to us that we, who can be so quick to forget or distort it, may be reminded of the true gospel of Jesus through which we have indeed been saved, and which our broken world so desperately needs to hear.
About our contributor:
I grew up in the beautiful suburb of Oatley, just north of the Shire, in a Christian family where I was introduced to Jesus from a young age. I am thankful for the faithful instruction of my Scripture and Sunday School teachers and parents, and for God’s grace in giving me the understanding to commit my life to Jesus as a 12 year old.
For the last two years I have been serving in the Evangelical Union at Sydney University as a “Howie”, or ministry apprentice under the Howard Guinness Project. This year I have just started at Moore Theological College where I am studying the three year Bachelor of Theology. I’ve just finished my Greek intensive and whilst my head is already swimming I’m excited for the challenge and encouragement that I know will come from studying God’s word in community with others.
I’m married to Nigel who is a Christian Studies teacher at Shore and also plays semi-professional cricket. We’ve been married for just over two and a half years and are loving learning more about each other and how we can best use our lives for the sake of the gospel, especially as we serve in our church, St Matthias, Centennial Park. We also love going out for breakfast, swimming at the beach, cheering for the Swans at the AFL together and fawning over other people’s dogs.
I really enjoy having good, robust conversations God’s Word and Christian life, especially over coffee, and am excited by the opportunity to refresh my understanding of the gospel as I read and chat about The Explicit Gospel. I think it is a great blessing that we have so many wonderful resources available to use to help us grow and mature in our faith, and not only books, but also the encouragement of one other as we seek to live faithful lives for our Lord Jesus.