The Explicit Gospel

It is amazing how the Church—the entity divinely charged with preaching and proclaiming the Gospel—continues to muddle, mix, and marginalize the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I read another fascinating book, just newly released, that argues this very point. The book is titled The Explicit Gospel. It was written by young evangelical pastor, Matt Chandler (a Baptist with admitted Reformed tendencies). Chandler serves as lead pastor at the mega church—the Village Church in Highland Village, TX. He also recently became the new president of the church planting network and organization called the Acts 29 Network. He is taking over for founder and well-known shock pastor, Mark Driscoll, of the Mars Hill mega church in Seattle, WA.

The book was published by Crossway Books (I purchased the Kindle edition), who offer this brief summary:

Too few people attending church today, even those in evangelical churches, are exposed to the gospel explicitly. Sure, most people talk about Jesus, and about being good and avoiding bad, but the gospel message simply isn’t there—at least not in its specificity and its fullness.

Inspired by the needs of both the overchurched and the unchurched, and bolstered by the common neglect of the explicit gospel within Christianity, popular pastor Matt Chandler writes this punchy treatise to remind us what is of first and utmost importance—the gospel. Here is a call to true Christianity, to know the gospel explicitly, and to unite the church on the amazing grounds of the good news of Jesus!”

It’s a short but accurate assessment, and summarizes his laudable and helpful, if not necessary endeavor. Though there are the definite overarching Reformed themes on the “glory of God” and the “sovereignty of God” (which Lutherans may not entirely agree with) he is nonetheless another pastor, author, church leader (and church plant advocate to boot!) who provides yet another critique and corrective on the confusing theology and practice of the North American church.

He routinely emphasizes that the unadulterated Gospel must be the core of the church and makes some stinging indictments along the way. He has much to say, is relational, winsome and theological, but not overly scholastic. A handful of excerpts are offered below, with more to come in future posts:

We are saved, sanctified, and sustained by what Jesus did for us on the cross and through the power of his resurrection. If you add to or subtract from the cross, even if it is to factor in biblically mandated religious practices like prayer and evangelism, you rob God of his glory and Christ of his sufficiency. Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation for us, not because of all the great stuff we’ve done but because Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death. My sin in the past: forgiven. My current struggles: covered. My future failures: paid in full all by the marvelous, infinite, matchless grace found in the atoning work of the cross of Jesus Christ. (Introduction).

We want to live as though the Christian life is a 50/50 project we undertake with God, like faith is some kind of cosmic vending machine. And we’re reinforced in this idolatry by bad preachers, by ministers with no respect for the Scriptures, by talking heads who teach out of emotion instead of texts, who tickle ears with no evident fear of the God who curses bringers of alternative gospels (Gal. 1:8–9). (Chapter 1)

We live in a day and age when, from pre-seminary all the way through seminary, prospective pastors are fed the pabulum of church growth. Then once they hit the playing field of ministry they are fed it more and more. From books to classes to seminars to conferences, the church is absolutely consumed with growing at all costs. Forget whether the members of our churches have any real depth or substance to them; we just want to be able to measure and count the three Bs: buildings, budgets, and butts in the seat. The Bible does say a few things about churches growing in those ways, but today this has become the prevailing mind-set of ministry in evangelicalism, and it is a biblically perverted, missionally distorted mind-set. (Chapter 2).

 The same law of God that diagnoses our depravity cannot cure it… If we don’t understand the bad news, we will never grasp the good news. The bad news is not just that we don’t measure up to the law but that by the works of the law none of us will be justified before God (Gal. 2:16). What alternatives to the cross are there? Be a good man? Be a good woman? Be a good Boy Scout or Girl Scout for Jesus? This is what it boils down to for many in the church: replacing the centrality of the cross with something more appealing, something we think is more weighty. In fact, all across the evangelical landscape, people want to get away from the shame and the blood and the guts and the horrific slaughter of Jesus Christ and focus on something else with the cross out on the margins. (Chapter 3).

His goal is to present the theological truths of the Gospel, neither reducing the mission of the church and her witness or the centrality of the Gospel to that mission and witness. In short, it is another in-house corrective to all the gimmicks and gadgets being used by the North American church to replace the clear Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Though Lutherans will pick up on the previously noted historic differences with the Reformed, it’s nonetheless another solid read for those interested in tracking the theological dialogue of the church and her mission. It’s also another reminder for Lutherans to stop flirting with the theological pop trends of the day and stay their theological course. When so many evangelicals continue to critique the unhealthy theological state of their church, it remains a mystery to me why Lutherans continue to chase after them and abandon the great confession and practice of faith (the explicit distinction between law and Gospel) that has long been the basis of our identity:

The distinction between law and Gospel is an especially brilliant light which serves the purpose that the Word of God may be rightly divided and the writings of the holy prophets and apostles may be explained and understood correctly. We must therefore observe this distinction with particular diligence lest we confuse the two doctrines and change the Gospel into law. This would darken the merit of Christ and rob disturbed consciences of the comfort which they would otherwise have in the holy Gospel when it is preached purely and without admixture, for by it Christians can support themselves in their greatest temptations against the terrors of the law. (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article V, Law and Gospel.)

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


One response to “The Explicit Gospel

  1. Pastor Kevin Jennings

    Hi, Pastor Woodford!

    A few years ago, a book came on the scene, “Why Men Hate Churh.” The book offered an assessment and, of course, what to do about it. I read about ten pages and then my head started to explode, trying to figure why Lutheran churches would use such a thing as a guide. The book, like many in its community, assumes that all Christians are Reformed at best, and really Arminians at heart. The reason I was at such a loss was that there was no talk of Godspel or Sacraments.

    In the Easter Epistle from 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul tells us what the Gospel is, and that it is “of first importance”: Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Gospel, that He was buried, and that He was raised in accordance with the Gospel.

    All people are really Pelagians at heart. Evangelicals with an emphasis on a decision or some other such thing necessarily must keep finding new and more energizing themes, which leads them down dangerous paths. For Lutherans, why we ever abandon the clear proclamation of the Gospel I’ll never know.

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