The Gospel from the Air

The Gospel from the Air May 3, 2012

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.

Some observations:

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.

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  • Scot:

    I’m glad you are taking the time to review not only books that advance the discussion, but also those which continue to repeat the revivalistic and individualistic ways of thinking. The ingrained thinking (things the prophet Isaiah might say hold people back from understanding “the new things”) of populist evangelicalism is a sort of Babylon from which it takes a while for people to hear the call out of exile and into faith in messianic redemption.

  • RJS


    Your brief comments on his section on creation drove me to take a look at what he actually says here. I write this with a deep sense of frustration and disgust. Amateurish is dead on. We should expect much better from a teaching pastor responsible for a church of >10000 people.

    One can certainly take the position as he does on p. 99 that: “The point is that God tells us what he did in the beginning, and if we want to be faithful students of creation, we must begin not with experimental data but with revelation.” This argument requires a theological and hermeneutical response not a a scientific response. And his focus on the Fall is fine – this is where I am wrestling with some of the concepts and implications myself.

    But all of his ramblings about why the complete rejection of evolution is otherwise a supported move are pure hogwash. According to Chandler … Not only does evolution violate the 2nd law of thermodynamics (which he butchers) but it violates the 1st law (which he butchers almost as badly)! He has gone cherry picking from a number of sources without understanding any of them. His blood clotting explanation brings visions of the intellectual incoherence of Kirk Cameron’s “crocaduck” as a reason why evolution is not true.

    It doesn’t bother me that Chandler favors an old-earth historical creation on biblical grounds. It does bother me that he makes the unfortunate arguments for it that he does in the text. This damages his credibility. You’ve done a fair bit of research on apostasy and have had experience with undergraduates at North Park. It seems to me that finding out that your spiritual leader was sloppy, inaccurate, and just plain wrong, on an issue like this can call everything he has ever taught into question. And when Christian mentors are no longer credible, it is like they were preaching the tooth fairy – and we’ve outgrown it.

    There are a number of people I respect who take positions similar to that taken by Chandler – I am not really arguing here about his bottom line. I am calling for integrity and care in engaging the issues.

  • Scot – I’ve recently been turned onto your works through fellow Messianics, such as Boaz Michael and Derek Leman. I agree with Derek that it’s good to see you review “books for the masses” that are taking the church by storm because of their “radical” message. However, as you aptly observe, there is little new or radical or even informed with such works, because they are designed to feed the placidity of the masses. As long as our gospel message is focused on “I” and our Western individualism, rather the God of the Bible, Israel His historic people, and the role of the Church in this grand scheme, we completely miss the point and whittle down an epic saga to a flannel-graph. It is time for the Church to see the larger picture as you suggest, and I pray that through the work of scholars such as yourself that there is lasting transformation. Many blessings…

  • Robin


    I need to understand when you approach these reviews are you approaching them like you would a scholarly paper or like you would a sermon….

    I’ve been in academic settings so I know that when you write a dissertation your advisor might say, those ideas are interesting, but here are 10 other angles you haven’t considered yet that you need to address in order to make your paper bulletproof.

    Also, everytime I hear a sermon I can think of 5 things I wished they would have said, but I never really give voice to those types of critiques because I just focus on the good content of the message…every sermon doesn’t have to be perfected like an academic paper.

    I know Chandler’s book isn’t either one of those, but when you are writing these critiques which do you view it as closer to being, an academic paper that needs to be defended or a series of sermons meant to edify believers (but not necessarily be all-encompassing).

  • JoeyS

    I always found it interesting that Jesus shared the “Good News” before he went to the cross – the Gospel of Jesus was something more expansive than the cross – although the cross became an important element. I’m frustrated by any definition of gospel that doesn’t root itself in the message Jesus brought to people before he went to the cross.

  • Aaron J. KUNCE

    Here’s the thing, Scot. I’m sure it’s a fine book. But really, if these authors, teachers & preachers keep ignoring Israel’s story/role/vocation – and yet they keep quoting Tom Wright – what it tells me is they are skimming Wright and haven’t yet grasped the point or the power of his writings. It amazes me how often I discuss Wright with people who claim to have read him – and yet – they seem utterly unchanged theologically by his exegesis of Romans 9-11 (Climax of the Covenant theme).

    Wright’s treatment of Romans alone is enough to send any preacher/teacher/exegete back to the study, library, and prayer chapel. Why am I going on about Romans? And about Wright? Because more people need to read and grapple with the importance of Israel’s story as integral and then their Biblical Theology would be more coherent. Then we could talk about it being/becoming Explicit.

    Anyhow, I respect Chandler. I just wanted to chime in about people liberally quoting Wright where there seems to be only a slight grasp of his central themes.

    Good review. I am going to read this book.

  • Scott Eaton

    “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).

    Hmmm…like we’ve never experienced this in the church. I guess for two thousand years the church has been absolutely stable with no “do-overs.” Yeah…right.

    I really wish guys like Chandler would start to read more broadly than just books published by guys associated with The Gospel Coalition and the new reformed movement (ok, I’m sure that’s not all he reads but it makes my point). A good place to start might be Christian Smith’s book “The Bible Made Impossible.” You don’t have to abandon your core convictions but at least it might lead to more informed arguments.

  • Rick

    Scott Eaton-

    “I really wish guys like Chandler would start to read more broadly than just books published by guys associated with The Gospel Coalition and the new reformed movement”

    Keep in mind that not all in the TGC would necessarily agree with Chandler on that issue (science/evolution), including people like Keller.

  • Elizabeth

    I was one of the high school/college students who went to the weekly Grace Bible Study in Abilene TX and listened to Matt for years and was deeply blessed by it.

    I almost feel like I wish people didn’t think that they had to write a book when they get big because it sort of sements you into a certain story. Once it’s written, the “masses” commit you to what you put on paper, and well, you sort of have to commit to it too. Not everyone needs to write a book. Especially when it’s not saying anything new. This sounds like one of those situations.

    Matt was a pretty integral part of my faith formation a long time ago and I’m thankful for that. But sounds like I probably won’t be reading his book.

  • Thomas

    There is a lot of arrogance here in the comments. It must feel good to have arrived and be so much more enlightened than Chandler’s audience and the GoCo crowd.

    I hardly identify with either of these groups by why refer to them as the “masses” over and over? As if these are not people but brainless droids, how patronizing. Could it be that those people just disagree with you?

    And why assume Chandler has not read broadly? Is this charitable or something that is known for sure? I try to read this blog so that I can continually be challenged and encouraged by new ideas and views that I don’t always agree with. Sadly, I think the ethos here is often to just label the opposition “soterians” and to further demonize them as, group-thinking, arrogant, power-hungry, people who don’t get the whole Bible story.

    This is a really tough posture to have a conversations from…

  • RJS


    I don’t think Scot has ever held up his local church as one where the King Jesus and Israel messages are effectively preached. Good comes out of many churches (including Chandler’s) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aiming for better and more complete understandings.

  • Alan K

    I’m surprised that he would introduce Barth and Torrance in speaking of reconciliation but then not mention them with regards to creation and fall. Both of those theologians run everything through Christology.

  • RJS


    Which comments give you the sense of arrogance here? Scott Eaton made a comment about not reading broadly and also backed off of it. He was also called on it by another commenter.

    I suppose you could consider my comment at #2 arrogant – but this one I can back up if you’d wish. (And I was saying nothing about soterian or nonsotarian gospels.)

  • Thomas

    Fair question RJS. I think the notion that if Chandler just read Dr. Wright than he would be set straight put forth by Aaron is a tad arrogant. What if someone on here said, “if you guys would just finally read Dr. Piper and grasp his brilliance on justification it would send all of you back to your study,” that would smack of arrogance, no?

    I don’t consider you arrogant RJS, in fact I know that you are strive to listen and understand others, and offer way more knowledge and expertise than I have in a plethora of areas.

    As I said before, referring to the audience or people that read Chandler’s book as the “masses” also comes across as dismissive and condescending. As if these people are not able to think for themselves and are just drones. Again, what if I said, “All of the Dr. Wright fanboys (and girls) just blindly take in whatever he says and never question it.” It would be insulting to the intelligence of those you disagree with.

    BTW RJS, would really love to hear more about why Chandler is off-base in his blood clotting example from your perspective. Maybe you have written a post on it elsewhere or could refer a book?


  • Bob


    I just think it’s strange that one would have such strong convictions about King Jesus and Israel, take time to critique books like Chandler’s but then make one’s home at a church that is, may I dare say, further from the King Jesus theology than that of Chandler’s book and those who fall into that general camp (New Calvisnist or whatever it’s called today). It’s odd to me and I wonder if anyone else finds it odd.

  • mark


    I presume that you live or have lived in the area wround Willow. Can you suggest a King Jesus-preaching church in the same area? I’d honestly like to go check it out.

  • Bob

    Mark, I’d like to know as well. 🙂 Anyone?

  • The other Dana

    Aaron J. KUNCE said on May 3, 2012 at 9:19 am:

    Here’s the thing, Scot. I’m sure it’s a fine book. But really, if these authors, teachers & preachers keep ignoring Israel’s story/role/vocation – and yet they keep quoting Tom Wright – what it tells me is they are skimming Wright and haven’t yet grasped the point or the power of his writings. It amazes me how often I discuss Wright with people who claim to have read him – and yet – they seem utterly unchanged theologically by his exegesis of Romans 9-11 (Climax of the Covenant theme).

    This comment brings to mind a picture of the young child who enthusiastically licks the tasty cream cheese frosting off the top of the “carrot” cake all the while being very careful not to get too close to the scary bits of walnuts or raisins or actual “carrots” lurking below.

  • The other Dana


    Would you please suggest some authors/books that explicate (in ways similar to your views) and then even flesh out what you’re getting at in, esp., your 3rd and 4th observations above? Something other than your own King Jesus Gospel and Wright’s books (which I’ve already read)?

    Thank you.

  • Robin


    I think my question to Scot about how he reads and critiques the books touches on Bob’s comments about churches. At first I read Scot’s review in the voice of “this guy is a hack and misses the gospel. Because he isn’t mentioning Israel, etc” and I wondered what kind of standard he had for “good teaching” in a church. Then I reimagined the review as being a panel at an academic conference where each panelist pokes at and fine tunes the arguments of the other panelists. Sometimes it is poking out of arrogance, but usually it is to help make each others presentations better.

  • Scott Eaton

    Thomas (11:22am),

    RJS was right, I did back off my comment about Chandler’s depth of reading. I really don’t know what he reads and I tried to make that clear. But hear me out.

    For many years I was a part of Chandler’s tribe and know many others who still are and some who were. I admire Chandler greatly and many others associated with TGC. However, my observation is that there is sort of an “approved list” and anyone not on that list gets over-looked, ignored and comes under suspicion. Just look at the lack of diversity in the line-up of speakers at TGC and other similar conferences. Attend those conference bookstores and I think my point is substantiated by simple observation. The book selections are limited to that “approved list.”

    I appreciate Rick’s (10:27am) reminder about Tim Keller and I really admire him. But I think Keller is definitely the exception and not the rule.

    Thanks to the fine work of RJS here at Jesus Creed my world has been opened up to science and particularly science and the Old Testament. I have actually learned how little I really know about science. Like many other Christians for years I thought science was the enemy of faith and of Christianity in particular. Thankfully this is changing.

    I’ve come to discover that most pastors and evangelical Christians really don’t know much about science or the Old Testament and have typically embraced talking points put out by groups like Answers in Genesis. This is sad. And this is what I was reacting to in Chandler’s statement. If this makes me arrogant then I guess I plead guilty.

    Books like “The Bible Made Impossible” and those by Pete Enns have given me much to think about. I just wish other evangelicals would become open to at least engage the ideas in these and other books with more openness and honesty.

  • Jon G

    I have a great deal of respect for Chandler. He had a huge impact on me and his heart for loving God and loving others is substantial. That said, his weakness (although sometimes it’s a strength) is that he’s had no formal theological training beyond a bible major in undergrad. Is his theology amateurish? Yes, because he’s an amateur theologian. He’s picked up most of this on his own. He’s taken what American Christianity has given and run with it. But he’s a really smart guy and very contemplative.

    I think, Scot, that we (evangelicals, Chandler, Neo-Reform, NPP, etc.) would all benefit if you and he sat down for a coffee sometime (he likes it black as molasses). Feel free to invite Wright and Keller along! We all want to follow the Jesus Creed, isn’t it time to have a family meeting?

  • Scott Eaton

    Jon G (1:27pm) – I love that idea! “A family meeting” – what a wonderful way to put it.

  • Joey Elliott

    I second Jon G.’s idea, and would also like to add D.A. Carson and maybe Michael Horton to the invite list if possible. And then if there’s room, anyone else who has written a book on the “gospel” in the last few years (Gilbert, Greear, Wilson, DeYoung).

    If my list is one-sided, feel free to invite others. This would be awesome and helpful.

  • Rick

    Scott Eaton 1:13-

    “But I think Keller is definitely the exception and not the rule.”

    You may be right, but the fact that he is not only a member, but considered a leader of the group does say something about their acceptance of thos who hold such views.

  • RJS


    You make an important point – Keller may be an exception, but he is also a leader and this should cause some pause in making broad characterizations.

  • scotmcknight

    Jon G, I would love for that to happen.

  • Scott Eaton

    Rick, I too think you make an important point.

  • Jon G

    Scot, are there attempts being made? Can I come? If nothing else, I can unify the crowd by denying the doctrine of the Trinity! 🙂

  • Thomas

    Scott, thanks for the response and clarification.

    I think this idea that there is an “approved” list of books and thinkers in the GoCo crowd is more myth than fact. Read a guy like Trevin Wax, Jared Wilson, Ed Stetzer (to a degree) and many others and you will see a wide range of reading recommendations, which heavily include NT Wright.

    Ironically many of these guys that are part of the GoCo tribe that I talk to immediately mention the impact and interaction they have had with Dr. Wright the moment the topic of the Resurrection or Easter comes up.

    Now the monolithic nature of the conference circuit is anything but unique to the Reformed crowd. By attractional design conferences almost have to build a list of speakers that all swim mostly in the same stream. There are exceptions to this such as Catalyst where you do have a wide range of speakers including both Matt Chandler and Mark Driscoll.

    Speaking of Mark Driscoll, he might totally break the mold you are talking about here. The Resurgence 12 conference coming up has Driscoll putting together a conference Mariners Church with speakers like Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, James McDonald and others who are not anywhere near the GoCo, Reformed crowd.

    Might we just paint with less of a broad brush instead of making accusations about the “masses” and monolithic movements that allow only for approved reading lists.

  • Thomas

    Amen to what Jon G. wrote!

  • Scot, RJS, or anyone familiar with the King Jesus Gospel:

    I’ve been tracking with much of the nuanced Gospel you present (King/Messiah Jesus) in your posts and book. One thing I’m wondering though is how I incorporate (or if it’s even important to incorporate) this when sharing the Gospel with a person (in my case, college students whom I work with)? Are you okay with someone jumping from Gen 3 – Rom 3 when sharing with someone, especially cold-contact (non-relational sharing)? It seems like your contention for a sounder Gospel (a King Jesus-Gospel) is appropriate for the pulpit or a book, but is it fit for a conversation? Especially if your words are sometimes limited?

    To be clear, I’m wondering what you would say to share the Gospel with someone (incorporating your KJG).

  • JoeyS

    Thomas, I think you’re right that in practice many of those guys read widely. But, take Trevin Wax, for instance – have you ever read his reviews of writers outside of his camp? I’ve read several and, more than not, he seems to just skim through stuff and offer rote “tow the party line” responses that don’t engage the material with any respect. Its quite frustrating really.

    I have to admit, if I were hosting a convention I probably wouldn’t have many of their books in the book store – save some Keller – so I can understand wanting to reinforce your own tribe’s ideas. But we all do ourselves a favor when we choose to actually understand what the other side is saying before we bring criticism. That’s why I like Scot’s reviews – he seeks to understand rather than dismiss. Contrast that to DeYoung who wrote a book the Emergent Church without speaking to anybody from the Emergent Church, let alone visiting one. It seems that his interest was less about understanding, and more about proving his side right. What his motives were I have no idea.

    I’m being pretty critical but I get tired of trying to find good engagement with ideas. Even Wright and Piper just speak past each other (although I did find Wright’s analogy at the beginning of Justification about watching the sun rise truthful, rather humorous, if not a bit snarky). I actually enjoy reading guys like Wax and DeYoung because they bring energy to the gospel and a passion for ministry but I’ve yet to see them engage the other thoughtfully or carefully.

  • Jon G

    Thomas, you may be right about your assessment of the GoCo in general but the guys you listed to show Driscoll breaking the mold are not all that diverse. Warren decided to ‘mentor’ Driscoll about 10 years ago, Chandler and Driscoll (both part of the GoCo – Driscoll just stepped down from leadership) are really, really tight friends and highly though of in the GoCo, and Driscoll, Chandler and McDonald are really close (McDonald was a founding member of the GoCo until recently leaving it). Personally, I think Chandler and Driscoll view McDonald as giving their own ministries legitimacy…he’s accredited and they like that his credentials back up their ministries which aren’t (this is just speculation, mind you). I’m not sure about Groeschel, but overall, I’d say you have a bunch of the same represented at Driscoll’s conference.

    Driscoll is notorious for surrounding himself with like-minded thinkers (Chandler, McDonald, Piper, Sproule, etc.) while villanizing other-minded ones (Bell, McLaren, Campolo, Wright). Sure, there might be some minor differences (what Driscoll calls “open-handed” issues), but for the most part – it’s his way or the highway. He’s not open to opposing viewpoints. This is one reason why I SO admire Keller and I’ll post my favorite comment by him again (I’ve posted it here in the past). Ironically, this was said at one of Driscoll’s conferences!

    When asked how he (Keller) knew so much, he replied:
    “If you listen to one expert, you become a clone. If you listen to two experts, you become confused. If you listen to 10 experts, you begin to become wise. And if you listen to 300 experts, you begin to become wise and develop your own voice.” (or something like that)

    Keller is wise, not always right, but wise because he is so well read on such a broad scale. He knows opposing views on many issues and listens to both sides of the story. I wish that more church leaders would take such a position. In my opinion, Driscoll doesn’t even dip his toe in such waters. He’s so ready to defend his own thinking that he’s blinded to where it fails.


  • scotmcknight

    Caleb, I’ve posted on this and I’d urge you to consider the big picture: gospeling is not about trying to convince people they are sinners. It is about declaring who Jesus is. The latter will turn to the former but the former will turn Jesus into a means. So the issue is not whether we skip from Gen 1 to Romans or Gen 3 to Rom 3, but whether or not we are telling people who Jesus is. That story about Jesus will implicate the whole of the biblical story so we will eventually always get round to Gen 1 and 3 and 12 and Israel and Moses and David and the prophets etc…

  • Thanks Scot,

    I didn’t get to unpack this fully, but I do not believe sharing the Gospel would just be about identifying sin. I agree with you that we can to easily “turn Jesus into a means.” So let’s just talk about “declaring who Jesus is” with another person.

    You say that “That story about Jesus will implicate the whole of the biblical story…” and that’s what I wanted clarification on. How would you relay this to someone? Especially a lost person who has no grid for David or the Prophets. How necessary is it that I give Israel’s story in what may be a very brief evangelistic effort?

    I really just want someone to practically story the Gospel (Israel and all) for me in a way that could be utilized in sharing the Gospel with someone.

  • scotmcknight

    Caleb, start with stuff about Jesus. See where it takes you. Get them to “confess” who they think Jesus by asking them who they think he is. That sort of thing. Get them to consider reading the Gospel with you …

    I suspect often that we are being asked to fit into the mold of the 4SL or EE approaches … that is, into one that takes a few minutes. That mold is one into which the apostolic gospel does not fit. I’m not saying you are saying that, though.

  • scotmcknight

    Thomas in particular, but any others…

    I am of now banning the use of the word “arrogant” as an accusation against anyone on this blog. You entered this word into the discussion and it is judgmental, accusatory, and unhelpful.


  • Gordon

    “Caleb, I’ve posted on this and I’d urge you to consider the big picture: gospeling is not about trying to convince people they are sinners.”


    Do you have links to where you posted on this? I have KJG, but I’d like to see more commentary from you on it. Thanks for all your work! Your thoughts on the subject have been on my mind for a while now.

  • Steve Sherwood

    A ways back up the thread there was someone asking for who writes about “the whole story” Gospel beyond Scot and NT Wright. I’d suggest T.F. Torrance. He didn’t just write soteriology, but when he did it was salvation within the larger story of God’s relationship with Israel. “The Mediation of Christ” would be one of the more accessible places to start with him.

  • scotmcknight

    Steve, I’ve not read Torrance enough but what I have read impresses me as a fully shaped approach to theology.

  • RJS

    Thomas (12:01 pm),

    The short answer version … Here is what Chandler says about blood clotting on p. 99 of his book:

    But evolution doesn’t make good sense. Think of something as simple as blood clotting. This process could never have evolved, because prior to the clotting of blood, creatures along the evolutionary chain would have simply died from blood loss. They would not have had a chance to even evolve the ability to survive a wound.

    This is just dismissal by ridicule without understanding the issues. His “because” sets up the problem, and illustrates a misunderstanding about the entire process of evolution. This is why I said it was an intellectually incoherent argument against evolution – like Kirk Cameron’s crocoduck.

    Michael Behe uses blood clotting as one of his examples of irreducible complexity. In Darwin’s Black Box he has a chapter, some 20+ pages long, on the complexity of the cascade and the reason that he doesn’t think it could have developed by chance through a process of natural selection. He doesn’t deny that the blood clotting cascade developed. In fact Behe doesn’t deny common descent, he thinks the evidence is clear. If I understand him correctly he thinks that there are structures that must have been front-loaded (designed) because they couldn’t have developed along a pathway directed solely by random mutation and natural selection. This is because the intermediate steps would have no clear benefit and thus reason to be selected. Behe seems to replace random mutation with designer-guided mutation as mechanism for evolution. Evolution, yes; random natural selection, no – at least not alone.

    I don’t think Behe’s reasoning will stand (or is standing) the test of time … but it isn’t a punch-line about animals bleeding to death along the evolutionary path.

  • DRT

    Caleb, I am no Scot, or most anybody, but I have been talking to people using the King Jesus approach for more than a year now.

    The key to me is to let Jesus speak for himself. Typically my conversation starts out with someone being skeptical of Christianity and even in god. I share that I too was like that, but rather than just ridicule what others believed I decided to go out and figure out what people should believe. It was not easy because I found that I really did not agree with a lot of what is out there.

    But now, I am really starting to believe that Jesus really is what god looks like in a human. That this Jesus really did live, die and most importantly rise from the dead. I know that sounds kinda nuts, but the more I have studied it the more I am thinking that really did happen.

    And if that happened, it really does mean that he is the one who defeated the ruling political establishment, the Romans, the ruling religous folks in Judaism, and also was victorious over the ultimate enemy, death itself.

    If this all really happened then I need to know and learn more about him.

    That’s pretty much how I approach it. Nothing about his being saved. Nothing about being sinners. If someone is willing to know that he did live, die and rise from the dead, and they really think that, they don’t need anything else. If Jesus really is god, the Lord and King of all, then I need to learn as much as possible about him and join him in his family.

  • Aarin J. KUNCE

    My apologies to Dana, Thomas, et al. Didn’t mean to come across arrogant, be arrogant, or offensive. I respect Chandler like I said and didn’t wish to type anything that came across as haughty or harsh. Please forgive me.

  • Thomas

    Thanks RJS, helpful and informative.

  • Kyle


    I’m going to be a bit critical, but hear me out. I like what Scott said better about starting with Jesus which will lead to the rest (sin and Jesus is the only salvation). We need to be careful of theological reduction on both sides of this coin. We need to make sure we are not reducing Jesus to a means, but we also need to make sure we are not reducing Jesus’ soterian (Savior) role. From your other comments it seems you probably don’t intend to do that, but my comment is mostly focused on your words in the last comment about the effective how-to share. I think Wright holds these things together well in the talks I’ve listened to on itunes. One thing I really like is his emphasis that Jesus really reigns King, but that this claim would have seemed even more odd in his time than in ours. Thus, Jesus’ reign is not as we expect, and there is both the already present and not yet (hope) in the message. I think your last comment does well in focusing on King Jesus, and pointing people back to the scripture to read about him and what he said. But, what do you say when someone asks you, “What does that mean?” In my opinion, I don’t think emphasizing Jesus’ Kingship should void the use of evangelizing tools like the 4SL, but rather it should shape the way we use them.

    I have read Scott Mcknight and Michael Horton both criticize the 4SL as an evangelizing tool. I agree that this tool is basic in it’s various formats, but I think it’s simplicity could lend itself to the so-called King Jesus gospel just as easily it could lend itself to a soterian reduction. The first law is about God’s love and plan, for example. The question that leads to the second law about sin is “Why do most people not experience God’s love and plan?” This is getting at the heart of the so called King Jesus gospel by starting with God– a loving and purposeful, self-sacrificing ruler. The two verses on the first law are John 3:16 and either John 10:10(if it’s the old one) or John 17:3 (in Knowing God Personally format) which even more clearly speaks to the centrality of Jesus. I do think people can use the 4SL to jump straight to law 2, spend most of their time there, and only fix on the salvation part. However, I think the flow of the 4SL (starting with God, moving to sin, next to Jesus as God’s Son coming to do what no man could do, next to a call to join Jesus and a diagram about how he is Lord) more or less follows the basic pattern of the Bible. Granted a person can choose to minimalize or emphasize whatever they choose, but that’s kidn of the point of being basic. Also, most, if not all, the copies of the 4SL have a lot of back matter about what happened when you became a Christian and reading the Bible and joining a church. I think that is a basic, good, full good news presentation that introduces the King whose Kingdom, glory, and fullness will continue to be revealed to the new believer. I want to reiterate that I love the emphasis of Jesus as King and his work through history in Israel/church. I just think it’s more of a super important contextualization, focus, background, approach that needs to inform the speaker/evangelist more than rule out certain basic formats that present the good news in basic terms (so long as those basic terms don’t limit what the good news and the kingdom).

    If someone has something really important that I’m missing on the 4SL, I’d like to know/converse about it, since I use it regularly. I do think there are many gospel tracts that contain a lot less than the 4SL, but in my opinion and experience they do a pretty good job at opening up the reality of Jesus to people rather than trying to describe him in his fullness. I don’t see anything inherent in them that makes them a soterian reduction; I would attribute that responsibility more to the user.

  • Can we not preach Jesus as Saving King of the World? Is this too difficult to handle? I don’t get why people think this is too hard to communicate. Talk about being a robust message that gets attention!!! The Four Laws approach is less startling and more therapeutic. There is some attraction there. But it ends up like inviting people to a therapist. It’s nice that you, the evangelist, care and want to get people some help. But in the end it is a very personal decision that doesn’t set people n the wrong side of history. The King Jesus Gospel has cosmic clash to it.

  • scotmcknight

    Gordon, a while back I did a series on gospel and this one had some stuff about gospeling by telling people about Jesus:

  • AHH

    Just now reading this thread and saw RJS’s comment (would be #2, we really need that feature back) about Chandler’s inept anti-evolution rhetoric.
    My Ph.D. area was chemical thermodynamics, and I always say that using the 2nd law of thermodynamics as an anti-evolution argument is a sure sign that the person does not know what they are talking about. If I walked into Chandler’s church and heard him say something so silly, I’d likely never come back (and writing something like that down in a book as though one had authoritative is worse than mentioning it in a sermon without bothering to fact-check). I hate to think of how such things would drive away my non-Christian scientist friends should they happen to visit such a church.

  • Kyle

    If anyone is still reading this thread, I would like some actual feedback with an argument about using the 4SL. There have only been assertions without argument. Perhaps you are pulling from some sources of which I am unaware, but I’m asking for a real explanation about what makes the 4SL inherently reductionist.

    In Scott’s url reference I really like this:
    “But I do think in one minute, in 5 minutes, in one hour, in one day, in one week, in one month, in one year we can witness to Jesus by reading the Bible, by telling stories about Jesus, and by telling people what has happened to us in encountering the grace of God in King Jesus, who is Lord of the Empire and the Savior of the Expanses.”

    How does using the 4SL keep you from doing this? I feel like just discarding a method of evangelism, or saying it’s simply reductionsist without explaining why, is making an unnecessary choice before you actually use the 4SL. My opinion is that something like the 4SL is a good entry point, containing necessary elements of the good news (including soterian aspects as well as Kingship, Lordship elements), that can be absorbed and used with in the context of the so called King Jesus gospel.

  • DRT


    I can give you my opinion on the 4SL, since i certainly have one when I read them.

    The 4SL is primarily about us being sinners and not being able to get to god because of our sin. That is what it is about. Then it says that Jesus solves the problem of sin so we should folllow Jesus.

    In other words, the gospel is all about us in the 4SL. It is about us not getting gods plan, us sinning, us being able to experience “the plan” (which I find creepy), and us needing to do “receive Jesus” (whatever that means).

    Further, if you want to alienate me, come up to me and tell me that I am a sinner and you have some magic answer that can cure me. Give me a break. Yes, I know that I am not your average person, but nothing can make me run away from you faster than that.

    You see, in the 4SL Jesus is reduced to some get out of jail free card that I could use to get the “abundance” of life. That is not a very good representation of the actual gospel and Jesus.

  • James

    I could see Scot McKnight and N.T. Wright being invited to some forum to discuss about the gospel with John Piper, Keller, Carson, Trevin Wax.

    Such interactions has happened:
    i) Trevin Wax’s interview with N.T. Wright:
    ii) TGC’s review of McKnight’s King Jesus gospel: ,
    If Piper had a 1hr talk with Rick Warren, I’m sure he’d be ok with having one with N.T. Wright. But, the only reason why the TGC conferences have mainly reformed speakers is because TGC is intentionally a group trying to maintain their reformed distinctiveness.

    But of course TGC won’t invite Bell and McLaren….Keep in mind Driscoll was part of their group but broke off.
    —Tony Campolo? Possibly, if he didn’t suggest Calvinism as a possible contributing factor to Hitler’s Nazism (youtube). He seriously is targeting the wrong crowd.
    –Rob Bell could have a debate with Francis Chan who personally called Rob Bell before he wrote his book. For those interested, Rob Bell did have a discussion with reformed charismatic pastor Adrian Warnock on a UK radio show.
    —With McLaren and Campolo… I feel they have much more of a political agenda anyway, their issue ought to be with the moral majority/Left Behind/Pro-Israel pastors like John Hagee or Pat Robertson. In my opinion, if the Emergent church chose the moral majority as their targets and not the neo-reformed, they would’ve had a wider following. The New Calvinists though they may lean more conservative, aim to be a non-partisan group with regards to politics.

  • JP

    It is amazing to me how often the science/creation debate (I wish I could call it a discussion but at this juncture I don’t feel that definition would hold) comes up in literature and conversation. The distrust on both sides is absolutely astonishing. Both sides feel that the other is a lying and manipulative system intent on ruining humanity.

    But the relationship has changed so much over time. While there have been plenty of battles between the two in the past, there have also been some great voices on the topics. I will simply list two historical Church figures but know that there are plenty more.

    John Calvin made an interesting statement in his commentary on Genesis 1:16 talking about the “Greater and lesser lights that govern the skies.

    Calvin’s approach to the problem is simple: the words of Genesis 1:16 are not to be taken literally. The great reformer’s clearest statement on the relationship between the scientific evidence of his own day and the literal meanings of Genesis is as follows:

    “..Moses described in popular style what all ordinary men without training and education perceive with their ordinary senses. Astronomers, on the other hand, investigate with great labor whatever the keenness of man’s intellect is able to discover. Such study is certainly not to be disapproved, nor science condemned with the insolence of some fanatics who habitually reject whatever is unknown to them…
    Moses did not wish to keep us from such study when he omitted the scientific details. But since he had been appointed a guide of unlearned men rather than of the learned, he could not fulfill his duty except by coming down to their level. If he had spoken of matters unknown to the crowd, the unlearned could say that his teaching was over their heads. In fact, when the spirit of God opens a common school for all, it is not strange that he chooses to teach especially what can be understood by all.
    When the astronomer seeks the true size of stars and finds the moon smaller than Saturn, he gives us specialized knowledge. But the eye sees things differently, and Moses adapts himself to the ordinary view.”

    In other words, Calvin believed that Moses had to communicate in such a way that his audience would understand what he says. He never discounts science and in fact says that we should not fear science in general.

    Another example of an historical Church figure who held that science should be trusted and looked at alongside Scripture was Augustine. All we have to do is read “Literal Interpretation of Genesis” to understand that he believed Scripture should not be taken literally when contradicted by science. I love the reason that he says we should not speak on subjects we don’t know/understand because it will turn-off those who don’t believe to the Bible.

    “Whenever, you see, they (non-believers) catch out some member of the Christian community making mistakes on a subject which they know inside and out, and defending their hollow opinions on the authority of our books, on what grounds are they going to trust those books on the resurrection of the dead and the hope of eternal life and the kingdom of heaven, when they suppose they include any number of mistakes and fallacies on matter which they themselves have been able to master either by experiment or by the surest of calculations? It is impossible to say what trouble and grief such rash, self-assured know-alls cause the more cautious and experienced brothers and sisters. Whenever they find themselves challenged and taken to task for some shaky and false theory of theirs by people who do not recognize the authority of our books, they try to defend what they have aired with the most frivolous temerity and patent falsehood by bringing forward these same sacred books to justify it.”

    These are just a couple examples, however; there are so many more that show the importance of reconciling science/faith instead of dividing the two which is what commonly happens and what it seems Chandler is trying to do in his book.

  • DRT

    JP – Very interesting

    Except that this article

    says that Calvin was arguing against the creation having happened instantaneously and not that it took longer. And I don’t think he was arguing against the big bang.

    Calvin also sought to reverse the Augustinian view that the creation had occurred instantaneously and was only conveyed narratively in Genesis as filling six days in order to accommodate limited human minds. It “is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction,” Calvin wrote. “Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”

  • Kyle

    DRT, do you have any more thoughts on why the 4SL is inherently, emphasis on inherently, soterian? I’m not convinced the method is necessarily reductionist unless it forces us to do that.

    Btw, do you think Jesus saving us from our sins should be removed from a good news presentation? I believe that is a serious reduction in a different aspect. Like I said before, a King Jesus gospel approach should lead to the rest. How can you read the good news presentations in Acts without seeing a call to repent from sins that have been atoned for by Christ?

    What is unclear about receiving Jesus? I can understand how a non-Christian with zero exposure to Christianity could be confused and need clarification. Do you disagree with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit? The 4SL explains clearly that Jesus is Lord, one must either receive him as such or ignore/reject it, and uses reference to Revelation 3:20 to make the point about Jesus coming into the life to make his home. What is disagreeable or unclear about that?

    What is creepy about being a part of God’s plan? In Luke, the pharisees rejected God’s purpose (you could say plan) for them. I can’t see anyone but a meticulous determinist Calvinist getting panties in a bunch over referring to God’s desire for people to be united to him in Christ as his plan. I think law 1 actually provides a great entry point for talking about God’s plan for the world through Israel and the church in the Messiah. You have to begin somewhere, and the God’s plan of redemption through Abraham… leads to Jesus saving specific people. I could see being a little tightly wound about the individualism, but then we do have a culture and God does care about individuals, right? The point, yet again, is that the messenger might need to adjust his/her perspective, but the 4SL can be a good starting point tool nonetheless.

    A related question: Are creeds like the Nicene or Apostle’s Creed to abbreviated in your opinion? At what point does something cross the line from basic into reductionist?

    I think the presenter of the good news using the 4SL could absorb DRT’s emphasis and include the sin/saved emphasis. So, DRT or anyone else, does the so-called King Jesus gospel remove personal sin and need for a savior from the gospel presentation? I would say a presentation of the good news is overly soterian if it turns Jesus into merely means for salvation. However, Jesus is the Savior, the only name under heaven by which men must be saved. So, Jesus does save people, of course from evil in the world, but also, and actually, from their sin. The good news is that his kingdom is already reigning over this world through love and judgment in Christ even though we see the world in rebellion. Here, I use my favorite of N.T. Wright’s words, “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not!” Now, God demands all people everywhere to repent because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness through Jesus. This is cosmic, but it is also a personal call to a personal relationship with God through salvation.

    My basic view on the flow of the 4SL is: Law 1 (God’s nature as loving and desiring goodness in a person’s life defined by Christ himself, not defined by the person’s idea of good for themselves) –> Law 2 (Why people don’t experience this loving God naturally is because of sin and separation from God– a natural question arising from the assertion of a good God, whom we assert to be reigning at the present) –> Law 3 (We couldn’t, wouldn’t return to God on our own, so he sent his own Son to die for us so that we could be restored in relationship, not merely from punishment but also to relationship for his kingdom) –> Law 4 (We must receive this gift by faith; it’s objective information, but information that demands a response from us) —> brief prayer and follow up material about what happens when you trust Christ such as becoming a part of Christ’s body and the Holy Spirit coming, etc. –> another challenge to prayer calling to give thanks for what has happened in Christ.

    Anyone else feel free to chime in as well on the 4SL. I’m really interested in a conversation on this.

  • DRT


    Sorry I did not get back to this sooner.

    First, I don’t understand the connection it seems you are making between soterian and reductionist. Yes, I agree that a soterian gospel is a subset of the whole story, but I don’t use those two concepts as the same thing.

    I also want to break up your statement “Jesus saving us from our sins” a bit more. I detect a couple of assumptions in the way you say that. First, I suspect that you are saying that you feel that if we are in sin then god does not like us. And then, if we will not be saved if god does not like us. I just don’t think that way.

    I feel that it is quite possible that someone can “be saved” without ever hearing the name Jesus. But I also believe that we are all saved through Jesus. I just believe that there is a concept of Jesus that may be bigger than our word Jesus (more like he is The Word).

    Yes, I also believe that we should change our ways to be better. I don’t have any sort of qualm with that.

    As far as receiving Jesus, what do you mean by that? I find that to be terribly wishy washy. I was raised believing in Jesus, left the church, wandered for many years, came back to being an advocate for the church, but I bet that I would be considered to be outside the bounds of the church by many christians. What is the minimum to believe to have received Jesus? I just don’t understand that.

    As far as creepy and god’s plan, what I find creepy about that is envisioning what someone coming up to me would think is god’s plan for my life.

    I don’t know that it is productive to continue to disect what you/I said, but I do offer this.

    I believe that the 4SL and what you said subsequently is written in a language that people do not understand, and that I would characterize as Christianeze. It means something specific to you, but not to me. I am just telling you that it creeps me out and it reminds me of an Amway sales speech.

    Lastly, you seem to be totally lost in trying to make the leap between a gospel story and seperating that from a soterian view. They are not the same. Being “saved”, and you do need to define that, is a outcome of the gospel, not the gospel.

    Take it or leave it, the 4SL is everything that drove me away from Christianity. I certainly am not everyone, I am me, and that is how I feel. You seem to have some preoccupation with sin and repentance and I am not there. It’s kind of like this. You can tell someone that when they are married that they have to stop chasing other people and getting excited and turned on by other people. But the fact is that if they were really in love with their spouse, they would not want other people. You don’t need to tell them to do that and make that a major part of what being married is all about. So it is with Christianity. If you dedicate yourself to Jesus vision, you don’t generally need to be told that you should change your ways and not sin. It is obvious that you need to do that. The issue is to become in love with Jesus and what he represents. That is the the love.

  • Kyle

    Thanks for getting back to me, DRT. I hear your concern about the Amway sales pitch, and I think it’s important. However, I actually have found 4SL more helpful than not with people who have no Christian exposure. I have really only had a hard time using it with people who have gone to church. I don’t think the format is overly important, but I think clarity is important.

    On the parts about sin and repentance, I agree that sin and our repentance is not the good news. However, I believe presentation of sin is a necessary component of the story. It sounds like you are saying that everyone assumes sin and their own participation in it. I think leaving the sin and separation from God out of the story is leaving out a crucial part of the story. I don’t know how anyone could gather a coherent story from you about Jesus, arriving at the conclusions you want them to arrive at, without their assumption of sin. I agree that you don’t have to get people to confessing specific sins during a good news response; rather, I’m talking about presenting the whole story. Jesus is the cure for individual sin, he’s the healer. Jesus is also the conquering King who has come back for his people. I find the 4SL to be a format that is helpful in presenting both the cosmic and personal aspect to this story. You can call it allegiance, repentance, obedience, or whatever you want, but believing in Jesus requires it. The good news is what Jesus has done, namely living as a human, dying in our place, and rising from death to be the firstborn. Faith and obedience is our response to this made possible by the Spirit’s convicting work. When the apostles preached in Acts, they called people to repent or obey Jesus (i.e. Acts 17:30). I’m not arguing that the good news itself is repentance, rather I’m saying the proclaiming of the good news requires us to call people toward God in faith through repentance. I think a real King Jesus gospel absorbs personal and cosmic sin into the story.

    Oh, and maybe I said the salvation comment in a way that was confusing or misleading to you above, I’m not sure. However, you seem to be putting my use about salvation into a “getting saved” category that I didn’t intend. This good news is about salvation whether you like it or not. The story about Israel is about salvation. Another word is redemption. Another word for it is rescue. Jesus is the Savior. So, yes, being saved is an outcome of the gospel, but the gospel is a salvation story, a rescue story.

    Maybe you could comment on my distinction between a soterian gospel presentation and King Jesus gospel presentation. It may help us to keep in mind the word “presentation” here. You say you think I’m lost, but I don’t feel lost. What seems undefined in my position? I think it makes perfect sense to talk about the good news in relationship to salvation, soteriology. I thought I made it pretty clear what the line is for me when talking about salvation becomes a soterian gospel–when Jesus becomes the means rather than the end. If there is no soteriology either within or at least flowing from your gospel, then I would say you have no real gospel.

    I’m also a little confused by some of your remarks earlier in the thread. If you don’t believe a 3-5 minute presentation can get the job done, then I assume you believe there is a lot someone must hear and believe before they can actually have been affected by the gospel. Now, I think I hear you saying that there doesn’t really need to be a presentation of Christ explicitly to specific people. I’m not trying to stir up something about whether someone needs a human presenter of the good news, but I’m trying to get at your critique of a good news presentation. It doesn’t make sense for you to be both unsatisfied with a short presentation of the gospel and it’s call to obey Christ because you think Israel’s story is important and, at the same time, for you want to leave parts of the story out for people to pick up on their own. I’m just talking in terms of clarity. Either you should want more clarity or less. Leaving the Fall out of the story sure gives me a lot of questions. Paul presented to the Greeks in Athens by saying God didn’t leave you without a witness evidenced by your statues and poets, he was patient with you in overlooking all kinds of nonsense, but now he requires everyone everywhere to repent because of Jesus (my paraphrase). Basically, I hear you saying that in presenting the gospel you would only say that Jesus is God, he is really great, he is the loving conqueror of the evil powers of the world and death. Of course, I agree with those parts, but why would you object to a call to obedience in faith? What was our Lord teaching in Matthew 28:18-20? Words like “obey,” “repent,” and “sin no more” are scattered throughout the accounts of those taking the news about the kingdom of God to Israel and to the ends of the earth. Your marriage analogy against this sort of thing tells me that you are speaking past me somewhere, I’m not exactly sure where. It tells me you think sin is the focal point of the gospel for me when that is not what I have said. Sin is, however, a crucial point in the story; it is a point without which the story makes no sense.

    It’s late where I am, so I will hopefully interact with you another time. Good night.

  • Aaron J. Kunce

    Here is a link that gives a summary view of Wright’s thought on Romans apropos of my words above: