Matt Chandler, in his new book, The Explicit Gospel, makes a case for two dimensions of gospel — one on the ground, which is basically individual salvation, and one from the air, which he calls the meta-narrative of the Bible. The former focuses on God, man, Christ, response; the gospel from the air focuses on Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, and Consummation. The former is expounded through Romans 11:23-26, which permits Chandler to focus on the gospel as about God’s glory; the latter permits him to focus on Romans 8:18-24. He brings in other biblical passages but these two texts set the central themes for him.
Does Chandler’s “gospel from the air” contextualize his “gospel from the ground”? Or are they more or less the same thing? Why do these studies on the gospel ignore Israel’s Story so much? Is christology central enough in Chandler’s view of the gospel?
A few words about each of the chapters in this second part of his book:
1. On creation: he has a lengthy diatribe against science because it is unstable, and he sees instability in that people change their minds — he calls it a “constant state of subjectivity and do-overs” (95). Well, what he’s getting at here is that his view of the Bible and theology and creation don’t mesh with evolution (he takes a shot at BioLogos) … and says theistic evolutionists “have to believe that [evolution] in order to stay in science’s good graces” (98-99), which is both uncharitable and uninformed. This game of “I know their motive” goes both ways: one could counter and say that his crowd sustains its view in order to keep specific watchdogs happy. I’ll stop with this except to make the observation that the same kind of changes occur in theology and hermeneutics over time and if he applied his logic to them he’d be in a heap of trouble. This whole section harms the book as amateurish, and the book would have got along fine without it. The rest of his stuff here on creation is unexceptional but sound: creation leads us to worship God and that things went haywire.
2. On the Fall: this chp did not do what I thought it would but instead has a rather innovative, and at times witty, sketch of Solomon and Ecclesiastes as indicative of the fall.
3. On Reconciliation: here he sketches the view that ultimate reconciliation is cosmic. He somehow managed to avoid discussing universalism and how theology from Barth and Torrance on has pondered this very question. His focus here is that the work of Christ is not just individual salvation but epic — “national redemption, covenantal restoration, and ‘real world’ reconciliation” (137). The one observation that I have to make is that he has not developed this theme in his own head, or at least in this chp, because there are all sorts of issues that arise when one begins to discuss this idea of cosmic reconciliation. It’s about individual salvation “and more” — and the reader wants him to clarify in details what this “and more” entails. And he sees reconciliation as generating a reconciling mission on our part — so he gets into missional (attractional and incarnational). For Chandler it is very clear that on the ground gospel sets in motion a systemic reconciliation.
4. On Consummation: this seems to be the heart of his concern about the gospel from the air. Chandler confesses he’s not a fan of much of Christian (zany) eschatology, so he focuses on the larger themes: new creation, kingdom, etc. He has a long, long quote from Tom Wright. Most who are attracted to new creation themes immediately work them into social justice and peace and political actions, but Chandler appears to me to be decidedly a-political.
1. His gospel from the air is really a larger version of his gospel on the ground with a cosmic eschatology. Which means…
2. His explicit gospel proposal is a thoroughgoing soterian gospel that ignores the Bible’s plotline and instead finds a salvation story line, and I have previously described this approach as “covenant soterian” gospel. His gospel more or less skips from Genesis 3 to Romans 3 and lacks any interest in the Story of Israel, the Story of Jesus (his references to the Gospels simply do not have shaping influence), that Jesus is Messiah/King is of little concern … and this means…
3. His proposal needs more attention to Israel and Church as the locus of God’s work in this world. Even when he brings in the cosmic stuff in part two of this book I kept wondering what role Israel and the church play in his gospel from the air. It seems to me that his church is individuals who are saved. Trevin Wax is but one who has pushed hard to incorporate ecclesiology into our understanding of the gospel; Chandler seems to me to be avoiding that theme.
4. His method is to use favored soteriological texts (Romans 11, Romans 8 ) that are filled in with other texts, and he does use a number of biblical texts but they fit within categories established in these two important texts. He needs to spend more time expounding 1 Cor 15, the sermons in Acts, and to examine why the Gospels are called “gospel.” At the core of my King Jesus Gospel proposal is methodology: where do we go to define the gospel? Do we go to “gospel-defining” texts (which I attempted to do) or do we go to “salvation-defining” texts, which Chandler does. I suggest the former approach is sounder.