The Gospel of God’s Glory

There’s a cottage industry of books about the gospel, and Matt Chandler’s book, The Explicit Gospel, is the newest one produced. No one is any more satisfied than I in seeing a focus on gospel, an area on which I have been focusing for about a decade. Odd, isn’t it, that the heart of our faith — the gospel — is in need of articulation. Why?

A brief history lesson, and the word “brief” is an exaggeration. Contemporary evangelicalism, and Matt Chandler is part of this messy, murky movement we call evangelicalism, is the result of three shifts, the first of which was colossal. First, the Reformation, which means Luther, Calvin and the (usually ignored) Anabaptists, and this means a greater emphasis on Scripture and the doctrines of salvation, and justification came to the fore. Second, Pietism, which gets off the ground in 17th Century Germany when P.J. Spener said institutional Lutheranism needs renewal, inner and personal that works itself out into the church and society. And there is a long-term legacy of Pietism in the desire for an inner renewal to match one’s orthodox theology. Third, Revivalism, which said Pietism made such an important point that we need to emphasize this more clearly: everyone needs to be saved and so we need to evangelize. So we think of Whitfield, Wesley, Edwards and then later in Finney, on to Moody and Sunday, and then Billy Graham.

Why do you think we have such a flurry of books about the gospel today? What distinguishes Matt Chandler’s book on the gospel or is this yet another attempt to improve the “soterian” gospel?

This history masks a major issue: over time the message or the content of the gospel can get distorted and it can get thinned out and it can lead to a generation of Christians hearing, believing, responding and dwelling in a gospel that needs more than revivalism and pietism, and some of us would argue, needs to get beyond the Reformation (and the creeds), and we need to go all the way back to the New Testament and think again.

I see Matt Chandler in a group of us who really does want to get us out of the thin gospel of our day, created especially in revivalism but stuck in some very naughty habits of thinking it is about us and that it’s reducible to “God loves us” and “you are OK and I’m OK and, in fact, all of us — or almost all of us — are OK” , and he wants to restore the gospel of our day to biblical proportions.

So he begins as does all the soterian gospel approaches (see my book, The King Jesus Gospel, for soterian approaches) — with God, and with “man,” and with Christ and with response, which means his gospel looks like Greg Gilbert’s (What is the Gospel?) and, to be honest, much like every soterian gospel from the days of Billy Graham and Bill Bright onwards to our day. But Chandler’s approach is not the same, and I’d like to emphasize here that these four elements in the typical evangelistic presentation are essentially biblical and important elements in the doctrine of salvation, even if there are a variety of ways of expressing them.

His God is the God who does all things for his own glory. Which means this is going to be a John-Piper-shaped perception of the gospel. Which leads to his beginning with Romans 11:33-36, and this leads Chandler into a battery of texts about God’s glory and God’s inscrutability and God’s supremacy in the Bible. (I would have focused on 1 Cor 15:20-28, where Paul drives from the gospel into the “all in all” theme. Same difference, as we used to say. Perhaps.) This God is to be worshiped, and it is precisely there that our wiring gets messed up.

The God of glory Chandler sketches has not yet touched the ground, has not yet entered into the Story of Israel, and has not  yet approached the profound revelation of, say, John 14 — that the one who sees Jesus is the one who sees the Father. In other words, a biblical God is to see the Father in the face of Christ. This God is, to be sure, both inscrutable and incarnate. I don’t see any of the latter in this chapter. The God of glory in Chandler’s chp is a transcendent God, which is true, and this God is also profoundly immanent too.

Our wiring is messed up in that we worship what God has made instead of God. By moving from God to us – as fallen sinners – Chandler’s approach to the gospel becomes soterian to the core.  The problem here, though, is that we are idolaters. In King Jesus Gospel I phrase this very same problem as “usurping” in that we have usurped God’s rule in this world. Chandler moves into God’s response to our insurrection: the severity and wrath of God and hell. First, he argues, we have to feel the weight of God’s severe judgment against sin. Chandler has a habit of coupling themes that are uncomfortable to many today to non-acceptance of fuller postures of the Bible and to a claim that those who do accept those themes are the ones who are truly biblical.

God is the God of glory; we are insurrectionists and God’s response is one of wrath and judgment. Next comes Christ, and this means grace – and this is perfect expression of the soterian rhetoric. Withhold grace until liminality is created: God is sovereign, God is holy, you are a sinner, you are in trouble – now enter grace. This is the rhetoric of revivalism, but it is not the rhetoric of 1 Cor 15, or of the gospel sermons in Acts. It is the rhetoric of revivalism. Chandler’s atonement theory is satisfaction and penal substitution, and that’s what Christ accomplishes, and he helpfully ties atonement to the sacrificial system of the Old Testament and the Day of Atonement (but we need to something here on Passover since that is the event Jesus chooses for the death). His gospel is shaped by the cross — life of Jesus, resurrection, vindication, exaltation, Messiah … just not given much place in this part of his book.

Finally, response. The gospel confronts the person with a choice about Christ, and the acts of sacrifice no longer matter (this is about performance and religion). Chandler emphasizes in this chp the importance of witness but at the same time the responsibility of God to make things happen.  The power is in the work of the Spirit, not in the preacher and persuasion or in the person.  He pushes against seeker-sensitive preaching and finds a good example for proper preaching in Acts 2 – Peter told the truth. He focuses on faith, but not emphatically so, and doesn’t say much about repentance or baptism – or confession. His emphasis, and this is a good one, is that the gospel and response to the gospel are not the same thing.

Here is an issue worthy of discussion: I find a tendency, and to me it was clear in this section of Chandler’s book, that those who approach theology through this sovereignty lens and who speak of God’s grace struggle to make that grace prominent, or say that God does this all because he loves us, and to make that so clear that one doesn’t feel that the proponent is simply passing on the necessary information that God is gracious. I’ll put this clearly: Gilbert and Chandler affirm the doctrines of grace and the love of God, but I don’t find grace or love as important as it ought to be as a driving force of the gospel. (Bryan Chapell, in his TGC chp, however, very clearly had strong tones of grace and love; Greear was closer to Chapell.) Sovereignty of God emphases tend to push love and grace to the margins. Maybe I’m wrong on this, and maybe others have read this chp who would disagree. We are long way here, for instance, from what we find in Phil Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace?

The singular importance of this book is that Chandler, while he has just sketched a soterian gospel in a glory-of-God Calvinist shape, sets this gospel (on the ground) into a gospel from the air (which will focus on the meta-narrative of the Bible from creation to consummation/kingdom). Which means we have to wait for the next part of this book to see if the Story of Israel leading us to Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord and the King and his kingdom, and if the Gospels are the gospel itself.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Scot, is there any hint in your view of grace, and the lack of discussion of grace for Chandler, that grace is more than god simply overlooking our sins? As an RCC youngster I still think of grace as something more, something that is actually imparted to us to help enable us. I keep thinking that you and Matt are saying grace is just the action of not condemning us for our sins….right?

  • James Petticrew

    I wonder about Wesley coming under revivalism? …. I think he is probably closer to pietism (moravian influence) modified by his high church Arminianism and Puritanism (both his grandparents were prominent nonconformists) I think that while Wesley was key in what we in the UK call the Wesleyan Revival I don’t really see in him the classic practices of “revivalism” which I think stems from the States and the theology and activities of people like Finney who believed that you could create the conditions for revival. His teaching on holiness and sanctification were modified by American revivalism by people like Pheobe Palmer.

    This difference between the US and UK still lives on, no UK church would call a series of evangelistic services having a “revival”

  • http://patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed Scot McKnight

    DRT, grace is the showering of God’s goodness on us when we don’t deserve it and so all about God’s actions toward us — from forgiveness to gifting to exalting — is God’s grace. And grace is prompted by love and so when grace is taught well it emerges out of God’s utter, unyielding love for all of us and all of creation. God is love means God will be gracious.

  • Bach

    Scot

    Love the post. I also love Chandler’s book. It is amazing though that some who preach the gospel so much (or grace) don’t always show as much grace to those who don’t agree with them theologically. Never quite understand how some can be so focused on grace and yet miss the application of it

  • Bill C

    I see God as “other-centered” which conflicts with a view that God does everything for his own glory!

  • http://www.danwhitejr.blogspot.com Dan Jr.

    I agree the perfume of the “Love of God” seems to be left to the side a bit. I’m sure Matt Chandler would say God is love but the message that comes across often in his preaching is God loves His own holiness and that is why He chases down His own glory. I don’t often pick up a storied Gospel that portrays God’s commitment to his own project in humanity from Genesis 1, through Israel and then climaxing with God in Jesus entering into His own project. I like to say “What God makes, God loves and what God loves, God sticks with.”

  • Joshua

    James,

    How would the UK define a revival? As an American, I would not define revival as “a series of evangelistic services.” The movement extended well beyond the services, after all. This really isn’t the main point of the post, so I’ll return to it.

    I’m not sure why there’s so many books being written on this right now – especially from TGC folks. I think some of them are being written to exclude folks who aren’t Reformed from Evangelicalism (hence TGC’s newest book defining what they believe the gospel is – Roger Olson is reviewing the book chapter by chapter right now). This goes back to the debate over whether Evangelicalism is best understood in historical/sociological terms or theological/doctrinal distinctives, and I won’t go into that right now.

    But, in general, I doubt that’s why most of these books are being written. For most (I’ll assume Chandler is in the second group) I guess they see a similar problem as you – the gospel isn’t being articulated very well for many people these days. The difference is that they don’t see how part of the problem is the message itself. As far as whether or not it is Soterian, well, you seem to think it is, so I’ll defer to your judgment on the matter since you are the one defining what the Soterian gospel is in the first place.

  • Jesse

    If you define “glory” without drawing from both God’s utter distinction from us AND God’s coming to us in the incarnation Christ, then you end up defining “glory” strictly in terms of how God is different from us–he is holy (and we are not); he is all-powerful (and we are not), his will shall be done (and ours will not), etc. The result is that our human limitations (what we are not) have set the terms for defining the meaning and content of what God is. The God of “glory” becomes the inverse mirror image of ourselves. This is the same mistake the Protestant liberals made!

    It’s better to define glory where God actually shows himself as glorious, in Jesus Christ (John 1:14). And Jesus Christ shows God’s glory precisely by seeking not his own interests, but ours (Phil 2:3-8).

    If you start your account with God seeking his own “glory”, then define what it means to have “glory” by way of human properties, then you’re going to end up with human looking God and a distorted gospel. The Chandler account goes off the rails pretty early, and the problem is that he accepts the assumption that God’s “glory” can be defined in terms of God’s distinction from humanity rather than also in terms of what God has actually shown himself to be in his revelation in Jesus Christ.

  • http://dribex.tumblr.com/ William Varner

    I missed the fourth “shift.” Can Scot or someone tell me what it is? Fundamentalism? Neo-Reformed?

  • scotmcknight

    William sorry. I was going to add creedal orthodoxy … but that’s not so much a shift. Prot, pietism, revivalism… three.

  • http://www.justinboulmay.wordpress.com Justin B.

    “He pushes against seeker-sensitive preaching and finds a good example for proper preaching in Acts 2 – Peter told the truth.”

    This is ironic, because Chandler’s community tends to emphasize the Cross more than anything else, and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 references the death of Jesus only to make the point that Jesus died. There’s no hint of a substitutionary atonement in Peter’s sermon here.

  • T

    There is an irony in reformed articulations of the gospel that the title of this book makes more pointed. There are so many “explicit gospel” statements and framings in the NT, and they don’t line up all that neatly with Reformed articulations, especially the ones from “the gospels” and Acts. So obvious is the disparity that many, after hearing and/or adopting a typical reformed/soterian version of the gospel (especially if they do so exclusively, regardless of the full range of NT articulations), honestly wonder if Jesus preached the gospel himself. I think Piper is one of the (minority of?) reformed folks who answers that question in the positive. But the fact that the “explicit [reformed] gospel” leads many to ask the question at all, let alone answer it in the negative, ought to give some pause to reconsider the matter, from soup to nuts.

  • Jacob

    Bill C
    curious to hear you expand on God being “other-centered” and how the conflicts with him being for His own glory. a few questions arose for me when I read your comment.

    1. What do you mean by “other-centered”? and how do you square that with passages that clearly point to God working for Himself. (Is. 43:7, 25; Ez 20:9, Eph 1:11, Rom 1:5, etc. etc)

    2. Where do you most prominently see conflict with an “other-centered” God and a “God’s Glory-centered” God? are those ideas mutually exclusive i.e. Can God be other-focused (centered is a hard term for me to jive with) and still be radicaly “God-Centered?”

    Curious to hear your thoughts.

  • James Petticrew

    I think the US word that would equate most closely with what we mean by revival here would be “awakening” as in the “great awakening” The idea in the UK is that a revival is an extraordinary move of Gof which impacts communities and nations. That’s why here you won’t hear of a church talking about “holding a revival”

    My understanding is that “revivalism” stems from people like Finney who believed that there were steps towards revival which if a church took God would honour and send the Holy Spirit in revival power. So there was an emphasis on things like preparatory prayer and the use of the “penitent bench.” To my knowledge Wesley despite being the catalyst of the Wesleyan Revival never used the methodology of classic revivalism. ( how could he, he predates them) Perhaps he is best seen as a transition figure between the pietists and puritans of the UK and Europe and the emergence of revivalists like Finney in the US? As you say, this peripheral to the main subject here. Just thought it might be a historic anomaly to count Wesley as a revialist .

  • Kenton

    Jesse-

    Your comment is spot on!

  • David B Johnson

    As one who grew up Fundamentalist, grew into Evangelicalism, drank the Young, Restless and Reformed Kool-Aid, and finally settled down as a Moderate Anabaptist Evangelical, I feel reminiscent of my days in Fundamentalism as I listen to the “Neo-Reformed.” This may sound harsh but the God of the Neo-Reformed is really not that different from the God of the Fundamentalists. He is still angry, but now he apparently approves of preaching in jeans, drinking beer, and the ESV. He’s also not as into the Republican party as he used to be. What bothers me the most about the Neo-Reformed, as described in Chandler’s book, is that they don’t seem to see “the glory of the Father in the face of Jesus Christ.” They seem to start with a Puritan vision of who God is and then through that lens, interpret Jesus Christ. Instead, should we not start, continue and end our vision of God through the lens and Jesus Christ? Doesn’t Paul teach in Philippians 2.5-11 that to be in “the form of God” is to be focused on the other with self-emptying love? Chandler, on the other hand, want figure out who God is, before interpreting the Christ event. He says this much. See page 21.

    “The work of God in the cross of Christ strikes us as awe-inspiring ONLY AFTER we have first been awed by the glory of God. Therefore, if we we are going to talk about the scope of the cross, we need to FIRST talk about who God is. What is he like? How big is he? How deep and wide His power” (emphasis mine)?

  • Jon G

    Scot said “We are long way here, for instance, from what we find in Phil Yancey’s What’s So Amazing about Grace?”

    Interesting because I specifically remember Chandler, in one of his early sermons, saying that Yancey’s book was one of his “top 3″. In fact, I read it based on his recommendation.

    I’m not saying you’re wrong, just that the book at one time was extremely meaningful for Chandler.

  • T

    Jacob,

    I’ll let Bill C answer for himself of course, but I’ll give my own stab since since the “God is chiefly concerned for his own glory” theme strikes me as over-emphasized at times.
    We have lots of statements in the scriptures about God and his motives and concerns, and among those we have clear statements that God does things for his own sake, or for the sake of his glory. We have statements about what he hates and loves, and even about how he values some things more highly than others. His glory is certainly part of all that in a significant way, but it is only part, and I don’t think we can say it is even primary. Here’s why I say that:

    If Jesus is the best revelation of God, we have in Jesus someone who is willing to lay down his glory for the love that he, the Father and the Spirit share for the world. Indeed, Jesus’ name is exalted above every name *because he humbled himself so extensively and with such pure goodness.* He should be glorified (even by himself) because he is so good, so kind It is his virtue, his righteous character and acts (summed up best as “love”) that makes him so glorious and worthy. Yes, we have statements that it was all for his own glory, but we also have statements that he did it all for love of those who did not deserve it. Jesus is the good shepherd, not because he is chiefly concerned with his own glory (the hired hands seem more like that), but because he lays down his life for the sheep. The world is filled with rulers and shepherds who are chiefly concerned with their own glory, and Jesus repeatedly contrasts these people with himself. Glory and glory-seeking is not what Jesus reveals as the very heart of God, but a humble and self-sacrificing love that makes him worthy of all the glory there is to receive. His glory rightly follows his virtue, which comes down to our level and even bleeds for lesser, created beings. When we describe the core of God’s character, we don’t say “God is a glory-seeker” but rather “God is love.” Therefore, he deserves all glory.

    Finally, God makes it clear that our typical, even commanded ways of giving him glory are not as important to him as loving our neighbor. He says this repeatedly in the OT prophets, and Jesus continues it: “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”

  • Percival

    Jon G.
    Re: What’s So Amazing About Grace being one of Chandler’s top 3 books. You may know this already but Chandler has changed his views profoundly through the years to the point where he felt it was best to remove his early sermon podcasts from their church website since he now sees them as full of error. He has apparently fully moved into the Young Restless and Reformed camp.

  • Jon G

    Percival,
    Yeah, like I said, I wasn’t disagreeing with Scot, just saying that it’s interesting. I too feel that Chandler’s views have changed (haven’t all of ours?). One of the biggest problems I’ve had with Chandler changes, though, is that he was HEAVILY influenced by Rob Bell early on in his ministry. In fact, his early sermons parodied Bell’s NOOMA videos. Now he, like others in his camp, have thrown people like Bell under the bus. (I also think it’s interesting that Bell was heavily influenced early on by Piper – there’s a notation in his book, Velvet Elvis, saying to read anything by Piper!).

    I just wish there wasn’t so much villifying of other Christians with differing views. We all want to glorify God, we should be humble enough to realize that there may be approaches other than our own which could accomplish this.

  • MWK

    “I just wish there wasn’t so much villifying of other Christians with differing views.”

    I completely agree, and that goes for all sides of the debates.

    The only villifying I’ve ever seen Chandler do of anyone is Joel Osteen, who he’s referred to as a charlatan. I also wouldn’t fit Chandler into the young, restless and reformed crowd. He doesn’t like them very much, even if he agrees with much of their theology.

  • Jon G

    MWK,

    I’ve listened to every Chandler sermon out there (many numerous times) and he IS good about not naming names, but he still throws others under the bus. He is especially critical of those who don’t share his vantage points, like atheists or the emergent. That said, I’ve enjoyed much of Chandler’s ministry…he taught me how to see that God was out for my joy and looks at me like I look at my kids. He’s very wise for his age. But he’s also not great at seeing things from someone else’s point of view.

  • Robin

    I’m not that familiar with Chandler, but the thing that stuck out to me from listening to him at the T4G conference is that he was pretty much the only guy who would go toe-to-toe with Mohler.

    That isn’t a bad or good thing necessarily, it is just that the other pastors at the conference always had a sense of deference to each other, but Chandler and Mohler both appeared to be “fighters” willing to throw down if necessary. I’d definitely be interested in seeing him more in a church setting rather than a roundtable.

  • http://mattdabbs.wordpress.com Matt Dabbs

    So grace enters the picture through Jesus? Does he deal with grace in the Old Testament at all or is grace an “aha” reserved for the New Testament? Sorry…haven’t picked up the book or else I would know this for myself. Thanks for the helpful summary and background.

  • MWK

    Robin –

    I’d point you to this sermon by Chandler at Southern Seminary, in which he brought some strong words for the students there, particularly at the end. Coincidentally, a couple weeks later he had a seizure which revealed he had a brain cancer.

    http://www.chosenforgrace.com/2009/11/matt-chandler-at-southern-seminary.html

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Speaking of throwing atheists under the bus. It is rumored that they too are made in the image of God. I wonder what would happen if we let go of our apologetics that is all about winning arguments or points and simply shower then with unconditional grace and love? It might at least lead to a better place to open a conversation rather than our one liners that often end the cnversation before it starts.

  • Eric

    In response to your first question (Why do you think we have such a flurry of books about the gospel today?) I propose this answer: power. Not the power of the gospel but it seems like in evangelicalism there is a power struggle for the hearts and minds (and votes?) of the American evangelical movement between the Reformed Calvinist and those who are not Calvinist.

  • Kyle

    Jesse, that was a fine articulation.

  • Luke

    I’ve never really understood why people open with the “sovereignty” lens. I think if I were a Calvinist I would probably try to start elsewhere and frame sovereignty within the framework of grace and love, not vice-versa. A few people (like Francis Chan) tend to do that and it works better. Probably Chandler’s writing to an audience that already agrees with him on that one though.


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