This review comes to us from Mark Stevens, our friend down in Adelaide who blogs at The Parson’s Patch, and he explains the context for this review.
Before I begin my review of Matt Chandler’s new book “The Explicit Gospel” I have to confess a few things. Firstly, earlier this year I read Scot’s book “The King Jesus Gospel”. Surprisingly it was the first book I read dedicated to asking the question, “What is the Gospel?” Every book I had read up until this point either assumed the gospel was a known entity or devoted only a chapter or even a paragraph to asking (and answering) the question. Secondly, earlier this year I had the privilege of sitting in Scot’s class at Tabor Adelaide where he taught for 5 days on the King Jesus Gospel. After 5 days I was thoroughly convinced and converted. To me Scot’s argument makes sense and more than anything I like his starting point (What did Paul mean when he used the word Gospel).
That being said I tried to read all of the preparation literature with an open mind. As part of the pre-reading for the course we were handed Matt Chandler’s “Explicit Gospel”. I want to say from the outset, it’s not that I disagree with what Chandler is saying, like Scot I just don’t think he explains the gospel in a way that does justice to the gospel! Maybe I should explain.
How does Matt Chandler define the gospel?
Matt Chandler’s ‘Explicit Gospel,’ represent a Soterian approach to the gospel. Soterians, according to Scot, equate the word gospel with the word salvation leading to emphasis on a personal salvation. The good news is good news about HOW we are saved. The Soterian gospel is common amongst evangelicals like Chandler because often, ‘when we evangelicals see the word gospel, our instinct is to think (personal) salvation’. I contend, because the soterian-gospel outlined by Chandler begins with the problem of sin it can only find its logical conclusion with salvation. The good news is only good news in relation to the bad news of sin. Please don’t mishear me, sin is a problem. I just don’t think it is where the gospel begins. One thing I note is sorely lacking in Chandlers’ book is any interaction with what Paul meant when he used the word Gospel; and I don’t just mean the meaning of the word. I am talking about the socio-scientific stuff as well.
Matt Chandler’s Explicit Gospel
What is the explicit gospel? According to Chandler, it is the gospel in its purest form, lived out unashamedly in and for the world. The gospel is the story of how the glory of God is reinstated after the fall. As I understand it this is a very reformed way of explaining the gospel. Am I correct?
Chandler explores the gospel from two vantage points he names ‘the gospel on the ground’ and ‘the gospel in the air.’
‘The gospel on the ground’ explores the character and nature of God and fallen man, the intervention of Christ, and the appropriate response of man to Christ’s work on the cross.’ Within this framework, Chandler is presenting the good news as information about how a person can be saved. Chandler depicts the gospel as a deep chasm between God and man that God, in Christ, has bridged the gap; an approach that Scot, in his book, identifies at the heart of a soterian gospel.
Interestingly Chandler suggests that the Bible isn’t about us at all. ‘From beginning to end, the Scriptures reveal that the foremost desire of God’s heart is not our salvation but rather the glory of his own name.’ I find this a strange argument but perhaps it is the Barthian in me that has always believed that God’s desire for our salvation is born out of his desire to be the God of humanity. Chandler’s argument seems to suggest that God is first and foremost concerned with protecting his own image.
Essentially what Chandler goes on to argue is that unless you have the right belief about God, Christ and the state of humanity you can never receive the good news, ‘Believing the news that God is holy, that you are a sinner and that Christ has reconciled you to God by his life, death and resurrection is what justifies you.’ What this ignores, in my opinion, is what Scot picks up that when Paul and the other apostles gospelled this is not the story they told. They didn’t jump from Gen 3 to Romans 3 (to quote Scot).
If the gospel on the ground is about getting right what one believes about God and the fallen state of humanity; the gospel in the air explains what the gospel means for creation and redemption and how the gospel is understood within the greater purposes of God’s plan. Chandler outlines the gospel in the air under the themes of; creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Chandler contends ‘The context of the gospel message is not our benefit or our salvation; the context of the gospel is the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God. This story of the good news is personal, but it is also cosmic.’ Although Chandler claims to look at the bigger picture what he does is ignore the story of Israel and more importantly the story of Jesus in relation to the gospel (in the Gospels). Is it any wonder there is very little about the story of Jesus in Chandler’s argument other than how his death and resurrection relate to fixing the problem of sin? As I said, for the most part I don’t disagree with what Chandler says I just don’t think it is the gospel!
Sadly Chandler does not explore the gospel outside the framework of Creation, fall and redemption. There is little to no discussion on the word gospel in the Greek and certainly no exploration of how the Gospels might inform one’s understanding of the gospel. This is the point I find most surprising. In Christ do we not have the gospel being lived out before our very eyes? Furthermore, at no point does Chandler interact in any depth with 1 Corinthians 15 or recognise its importance as the earliest use of the word gospel. Chandler does not interact with the historical use of the word ‘gospel’ in its first century context as Scot’s approach encourages one to do.
Chandler’s presentation of the gospel is framed within a systematic doctrinal understanding of salvation. For me it is a little too neat. It smacks of trying to control what people believe instead of leading them to Jesus. Soterians begin with the problem of sin which leads to an argument always in search of a solution. The cross is at the centre of the gospel message and therefore, the ultimate answer to the problem. As Chandler states, the cross is the “central tenant of all we believe about salvation” and the death of Jesus the wrath absorbing cross of Christ was the plan of God before creation”. His soterian gospel deals only with salvation and ignores the larger gospel story of Israel and Jesus the Messiah as the fulfilment of Israel’s story.
It is my opinion that Chandler’s approach to the gospel does not begin with good news. It starts with the bad news first; we’re all in trouble because we have failed to understand the gospel. He states, “How can you grow up going to church every week and not hear the gospel? I quickly decided that these people had heard the gospel but didn’t have the spiritual ears to truly hear it, to receive it.” Like all books read for this assignment Matt Chandler is trying to get it understand and outline what he believes the gospels to be, “I want to spend my time with you trying to make sure that when we use the word gospel, we are talking about the same thing”. Unfortunately, if you disagree with Chandler there is little room for you in the Kingdom of God.
At the heart of Scot’s approach to understanding the gospel is a desire to understand what Paul meant when he used the word Gospel. Using 1 Corinthians 15:1-21 as his framework McKnight argues that one is able to discern the content of the gospel as Paul himself understood it.
At the beginning of ‘The King Jesus Gospel’ McKnight quotes N.T. Wright’s view of how he sees many people’s explanation of the gospel. The quote emphasises McKnight’s own judgements:
‘I am perfectly comfortable with what people normally mean when they “the gospel”. I just don’t think it is what Paul means. In other words, I am not denying that the usual meanings are things that people ought to say, to preach about, and to believe. I simply wouldn’t use the word “gospel” to denote those things.’
Both Scot and Matt Chandler seek to explain the gospel. Both claim to do so in light of what Paul really said. However, I would conclude that Chandler fails to employ a method of framing the gospel that is true to what Paul really meant. Not only does he fail to recognise the influence of his own tradition and experience he also fails to address his own preconceptions of the word. In doing so the gospel, the story of Jesus the Messiah as the filling up of Israel’s story and the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as the content of the gospel out of which salvation flows, is missed.
And that leads me to my final question. Does a person, me included, Scot, and even you, have to believe what Chandler believes to be considered Christians? Is there any room for those of us who disagree? I just think there might be more to the gospel than Gen 3 and Romans 3!
 McKnight, S, The King Jesus Gospel, (Zondervan, 2011), 29
 Chandler, M, ‘The Explicit Gospel’ (IVP, 2012), 15
 Ibid, 15ff
 Ibid, 53
 McKnight, S, The King Jesus Gospel, (Zondervan, 2011), 29ff
 Chandler, M, ‘The Explicit Gospel’ (IVP, 2012), 33
 Ibid, 83
 Ibid,, 90
 On page 13 Chandler uses Paul’s use of the word gospel as a springboard to what he wants to say. At best it is illustrative.
 Ibid, 101
 Ibid, 53ff
 Ibid, 58
 Chandler, M, ‘The Explicit Gospel’ (IVP, 2012), 12
 Ibid, 15
 Wright, N.T., ‘What St Paul Really Said, (Eerdmans, 1997),41 as cited by McKnight, S, ‘The King Jesus Gospel’ (Zondervan, 2011)