"The old story will never grow old..."
If you’ve been a Christian for sometime it would be easy to see the title of this book (The Explicit Gospel) and feel like it’s not for you; after all, you already know the gospel, right? But as I’ve been reading through it I’ve been reminded that this book is for people like you and me, for we all need to hear and know the gospel; we never outgrow it. Chandler suggests that amongst many Christians and churches the explicit gospel, the gospel of the Scriptures, has faded into the background only to be replaced by an assumed gospel, which is effectively not the gospel at all. The solution? We must come back to the Word of God to correct our understanding, and so the first part of Chandler’s book tells us the story of the “gospel on the ground” as we trace the biblical narrative of God, Man, Christ and Response.
On one hand this is nothing new. Many of us would be familiar with this framework, and would surely feel confident in our ability to articulate it to others. But let me ask you the questions I asked myself as I read this section. When was the last time you immersed yourself in the gospel story? Do you remember the last time you sat in awe of the transcendence, creativity, sovereignty and glory of our God? Or when you let the weight of our sinful idolatry and rebellion lay heavy upon you as you saw it reflected against the holiness of God? Do you daily reflect on the cross as the place where God’s kindness and justice met in the death of Jesus, remembering it as “the response of God to men for belittling his name”? (p.55). Perhaps, like me, you recalled those times being more infrequent than you would care to admit.
I raise these questions not to provoke guilt, but to emphasize how easily we can grow indifferent to the gospel through familiarity; how we can let the wonders of God’s grace and kindness to us become little more than a tired story we rehearse at church on Sundays. And even as I was reading these chapters I found myself tempted to marvel at Chandler’s skill in retelling the gospel story with such clarity, freshness and passion, rather than remembering that the real wonder is the story itself and the gracious God who has authored it and made it known to his wayward people.
Perhaps this is why the last section on Response resonated so deeply with me, where Chandler begins the chapter stating, “the gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction” (p.63); ultimately there can be no ambivalence or apathy. For it is the gospel that “actually stirs the hearts of men” (p.69); it is “the sharp word of the gospel [that] cuts some open, and others it scars…there is no one in between” (p. 71). There are so many implications of this for our daily Christian lives, including the place of man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty in evangelism as well as the role of good deeds as an outworking of faith. Chandler helpfully addresses both of these and we need to keep thinking through ourselves.
Yet we would do well to pause and reflect on Chandler’s question to us towards the end of the chapter: how am I responding to the good news of Jesus Christ? We all respond to the gospel, whether we’re conscious of our response or not, but will we be people who let our hearts grow hard from unbelief or indifference or will we respond with genuine faith that leads to salvation? Let’s pray that we might persevere to the end so that with all of God’s people we may declare on the Day of Christ, “Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us” (Is 25:9a).