Greg Gilbert’s brand-new What Is the Gospel? (Crossway–IXMarks, 2010) is dynamite. Pick this book up to remind yourself of the essential of the essentials. A short (127pp), small, readable, punchy text, What Is the Gospel? dispels the cloudiness surrounding the exact character of the gospel today. Pastors, disciplers, Bible study leaders, and many others would find this a great book to pass on to believers, young believers, and unbelievers.
The book’s subject matter is deceptively easy to obscure. There are many definitions given of what exactly the gospel is today. Is it the proclamation of the kingdom? Do we do the gospel? Or is it a message to proclaim? If it is a message, what is the core content of this message? If you read widely in evangelicalism today, you’ll find all kinds of answers given to these questions. There is indeed a great depth to the gospel, a many-sidedness, but I think Greg is quite right that there is a core to it that cannot be minimized or replaced.
On a personal note, I remember reading Greg’s 9Marks reviews almost a decade when I was a college student. I read them and thought, “I want to write like that.” Greg has a sharpness to his prose and a clarity to his thought that is unusual. With this particular book, I liked Greg’s section on three ways that the gospel is unhelpfully defined. For example, there is massive confusion today on how kingdom and cross, and social justice and evangelism, fit together. Do you emphasize one? Both together? How do you figure this stuff out theologically, spiritually, exegetically? Greg’s book is a starting point on this tricky matter. I hope we’ll hear more from him on this.
The Bible actually gives us very clear instruction on how we should respond to any pressure to let the cross drift out of the center of the gospel. We are to resist it. Look at what Paul said about this in 1 Corinthians. He knew the message of the cross sounded, at best, insane to those around him. He knew they would reject the gospel because of it, that it would be a stench in their nostrils. But even in the face of that sure rejection he said, “We preach Christ crucified” (! Cor. 1:23). In fact, he resolved to “know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). That’s because, as he put it at the end of the book, the fact that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” was not just important, and not even just very important. It was of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). (110)
Amen. Pick up this little book, and gain clarity on a central matter that we are constantly tempted to minimize, whether on a theological level through direct challenge, or on a personal spiritual level through listening to our doubting hearts. The gospel is clear, simple, a message to proclaim, and the means by which we and our wicked souls will be saved.