Review of To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain by Matt Chandler
We’ve all met people who self-identify as Christians for no reason other than a hazily remembered response to an altar call from their youth. If these individuals did not self-identify as Christians, no one who knows them would have the slightest reason to suspect the ‘heart change’ that took place years back. If they are Christians at all (a matter up for debate, to be sure), they are far from mature believers.
However, even among the more obviously sincere believers, maturity can be hard to find. This is due largely to the simple fact that maturity is hard. It’s easier to stick with the milk; the meat can be tough to digest. But Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in the Dallas area and president of the Acts 29 network of churches, wants to encourage his readers to take the plunge into spiritual maturity—or, to continue Paul’s metaphor, to rip off a big ol’ hunk of steak and get chewing. The framework for this discussion of spiritual maturity is Paul’s letter to the Philippian church—as Chandler points out, the only church that doesn’t get a reprimand for blatant immorality or bad doctrine. But even though the letter is rebuke-free, it’s full of challenging material and admonitions to pursue spiritual maturity.
Chandler begins by looking to the book of Acts for some information on the background of the church at Philippi—a church that began with the conversion of Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. (Chandler likens her to a successful fashion designer—a Coco Chanel, perhaps, or a Donatella Versace—though I’m not sure there’s a biblical case for all the assumptions he makes.) The church eventually includes a slave girl once under the control of demons (though again, I’m not sure we know from Scripture that she became a believer; it’s certainly possible that the demon was exorcised and she went her merry way without believing at all) and the jailer who imprisoned Paul and Silas before his own miraculous conversion. It is to this church that Paul is writing.
Having explained to us a little bit about the church, Chandler spends the rest of the book describing the attributes of one who is spiritually mature: He lives a life worthy of the gospel (Chapter 2), he fears the Lord (Chapter 3), he is humble (Chapter 4), he passionately pursues Christ (Chapter 5), he is broken and open about his sin (Chapter 6), he is discontented with and fights that sin (Chapter 7), he is centered on the gospel (Chapter 8), he rejoices in the Lord even in hard times (Chapter 9), he trusts God instead of worrying (Chapter 10), he seeks to glorify Christ regardless of his circumstances (Chapter 11), and he is content—a skill he learns from the Scriptures (Chapter 12).
In his previous book, The Explicit Gospel, Chandler directly addressed the tendency of the modern American church to just ‘assume’ the gospel—to take it for granted that those in attendance knew the gospel already, and just go from there. This tendency, Chandler argued, resulted in a heckuva lot of folks who, despite warming the pews for a really long time, never really understood the gospel at all. He made a convincing case for explicitly sharing the gospel on a regular basis. He spotted a problem and wrote to address it.
This is not that sort of book (though it does include the anecdote of the ‘fainting goats’ that was previously featured in The Explicit Gospel). Instead, it’s a general exhortation to Christians to progress toward the spiritual maturity outlined in the book of Philippians. It will come as no surprise to those familiar with Matt Chandler and his work that this book is soundly orthodox (notwithstanding some narrative liberties taken with the text). Chandler’s discussion of Christian maturity is spot on, and certainly convicting.
Near as I can figure, this ‘new’ book is really just his 2009 Philippians video/DVD sessions (with accompanying study guide) repackaged in book format. I don’t know why it’s been repackaged as a book, but then I guess it doesn’t hurt to put out another gospel-oriented book on Philippians.
Chandler is at his best when he describes real-life anecdotes applying the truths he’s learned—specifically, the health struggles endured by himself and his family. Discussions of ‘rejoicing in all circumstances’ really gain credibility when the author relates, for example, the horror of watching an ambulance speed off to an unknown hospital, his seizing infant son and worried wife inside. His discussion of his own harrowing and spiritually challenging experiences resonated with me a lot more than his attempts to ‘fill in’ the narrative details of biblical stories.
I confess I wasn’t blown away by the writing (though it’s certainly not the worst I’ve read from the pen of a pastor—those who are gifted speakers are not, after all, necessarily gifted writers). Then again, that may have been due, at least in part, to the fact that I listened to the audiobook version (not read by Chandler, sadly), and these sorts of works tend to be better absorbed in paper format. If nothing else, it’s a lot easier to take notes and mark helpful or challenging passages when you’re holding an actual book.
Still, if you’re looking for a solid study on the book of Philippians, and/or if you or someone you know is looking to grow past young faith into greater maturity, you could do a lot worse than this book.
Alexis Neal regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.
This book was reviewed in connection with the Patheos Book Club.