The Explicit Gospel
"One thing is for certain: If my T-shirt doesn’t convert those I encounter in a store, my bumper sticker will get them on my way out."
As silly as this may sound, our actions often reflect this to be a reality. We live in a day where many believers hold to what Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson, in their new book The Explicit Gospel, call a “bumper sticker” or “T-shirt theology”—looking on the surface rather than preaching deep truth. Chandler and Wilson address common misunderstandings of the Gospel and set out to clarify what the Gospel is and its implications. The majority of those who profess to be Christian claim to know and trust the Gospel, but the sad reality is, most do not even know it at all.
The book is divided into three parts: the Gospel on the Ground, the Gospel in the Air and Implications and Applications. Chandler first examines what he calls “the Gospel on the Ground.” This is the Gospel on the micro-level. The Gospel on the ground addresses God’s holiness, mankind’s fall, Christ’s life and death and man’s required response. It deals with how man is reconciled to God through the finished work of Christ. Most presentations of the Gospel in our day begin and end here.
But Chandler argues that the Gospel message is much bigger than this—that it extends to all creation. So in section 2, Chandler discusses the Gospel on the macro-level, or what he calls “the Gospel in the Air.” He explains the Gospel on this macro-level in saying:
The gospel in the air gives us this conception of the scope and the ambit and the greatness of the gospel. If the Bible gives us a wider context than personal good news for personal sin requiring personal response, let’s be faithful to it. At the end of the Biblical story, the gospel’s star figure says, “Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5). If his word is true, we must take his reference to “all things” seriously. As Lloyd-Jones says, “The whole universe is involved."(p. 90)
Chandler shows the Gospel is not simply justification but also includes redemption and restoration of all creation. The book of James is very clear in that the one who truly understands and is transformed by the Gospel is the one who helps the poor, the orphan and the hungry. One whom the Gospel has done a work in is one who takes part in this ministry of restoration. When a person embraces the Gospel, he embraces God’s heart to restore what has been tainted and destroyed by sin.
Finding the right balance between the "Gospel on the ground" and the "Gospel in the air" is crucial. In section 3, Chandler shows the danger of over- and under-emphasizing either aspect of the Gospel.
There are several dangers of the Gospel being "on the ground” too long. When a person stresses the Gospel on the ground, the Gospel becomes nothing more than an individual salvation call. Often, even men who desire to be faithful in preaching the Gospel will fall into this trap. The major problem with this is that it divorces salvation from community and the Bible’s overarching theme of restoration. Salvation then becomes a personal relationship with Jesus but divorced from the Church, community and God’s plan of restoration. The believer is saved but not saved into a new life. The Gospel becomes a message about man’s reconciliation to God without any mention of God creating a new humanity called to act as a vice-regent for the risen Christ.
Likewise, there is equal danger of the Gospel being "in the air” too long. When one focuses on the Gospel in the air, that leads to a Christ-less Christianity, or a social gospel. There are many organizations that guise themselves as Christian relief organizations but may never directly present the Gospel. When things such as helping the poor, fighting injustice and participating in acts of mercy are divorced from Christ and His purpose to reconcile sinners to God, you have no Gospel at all. Chandler critiques Saint Francis of Assisi’s idea that we should preach the Gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words. Chandler instead argues that words are essential in the Gospel message. He explains the Gospel beautifully with his illustration of intrinsic circles. There are three aspects, or circles, of the Gospel that need to be understood: the first circle addresses how God is reconciling man to Himself through Christ; the second circle addresses how man is reconciled to man in covenant community; and the third circle addresses how reconciliation takes place between God and creation. All three of these aspects must be explained or present if one is to be faithful to the Gospel message.
Both Chandler and Wilson are two of the funniest Christianspeakers/writers alive, both having a unique ability to balance theological precision with humor and illustration. Expect the unexpected while reading this book. But know that Chandler and Wilson are also writing on an issue of great importance to our day. The Explicit Gospel brings extraordinary clarity and creativity to what all assume is understood—but quickly realize has been forgotten.