The final section of The Explicit Gospel has to do with implications and applications. The majority of the section has to do with what happens if you stay on the ground or in the air too long.
“The explicit gospel holds the gospel on the ground and the gospel in the air as complementary, two views of the same redemptive plan God has for the world in the work of his Son.”
Think of it as a cross country trip. If you drive it you easily get lost in the details. Especially in west Texas. Monotony can set in. The hours grind by and you lose sight of the big picture- why you are going there. You just want to get there.
If you fly, let’s say a small private plan like my friend Steve, you can’t stay in the air too long or you’ll run out of fuel. You see the big picture, but you miss out on the details. You see the expanse of canyons and mountains. But you miss the nuances of those same places.
Not the best illustration, but hopefully it helps. Unfortunately it does break down because the two modes of transportation are not as obviously complementary. They are often mutually exclusive. Too often people treat the gospel on the ground and the air as mutually exclusive instead of complementary. These are the dangers that Chandler wants to make explicit.
He begins with a discussion of slippery slopes. Most theological errors are the result of over-emphasizing something that is true at the expense of something else that is true. In trying to protect one thing, we go too far and deny something else. His goal is to encourage us to avoid this by holding both together.
“So it is not usually in the affirmation of a truth that someone goes down the slippery slope, but in the denial of corresponding truths.”
If we stay on the ground too long there are certain dangers that are present: missing God’s grand mission, a rationalized faith, and a self-centered gospel. No one sets out to do any of this. But focusing on, say the 4 Spiritual Laws, can lead us into dangerous places. We can easily forget or neglect the cosmic dimensions of the gospel. We get tunnel vision, focused on mundane west Texas instead of being refreshed by the grand goal and stops along the way. In a rationalized faith, discipleship is mostly about the transfer of information, not the transformation of a life. This can often accompany the self-centered gospel as we neglect good works and the role of Christians in a fallen world. We begin to see Christianity as about our personal happiness.
There are dangers to being in the air too long as well. It becomes easy to fall into the trap of the social gospel. It is a real danger. Like a plane that runs out of fuel, the gospel in the air too long loses sight of the personal dimensions of the gospel, particularly the atoning work of Jesus for sin. Therefore, you can fall into syncretism, a Christless gospel (which is obviously no gospel at all), culture as idol and the abandonment of evangelism. Remember, no one sets out to fall into these errors. He notes that as he looks at church history, he sees people starting out with good motives to correct the failures of others or what they find in the world. The emergent church leaders didn’t set out to destroy the gospel (and don’t realize they have), but to address weaknesses and failures they saw in the modern church. But they stayed in the air too long and crashed and burned in the wreckage of syncretism, and culture as idol.
“Really, the issue is not with the meta-narrative or social justice but with those who stay in the air too long and leave the atoning work of Christ behind as they press into God’s call to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan, engaging in works of justice and mercy in only vaguely biblical or theistic ways.”
He notes a common shift in this frustration from gospel to guilt as the motivating factor (this is my critique of David Platt’s book Radical, but I am in the minority so perhaps I’m wrong). The shift from grace to works slowly takes place. Jesus becomes unnecessary, though helpful. We then see people and groups beginning to think that various roads lead to God.
In his section on culture as idol, he really takes the mainline denominations to task. Seeking to be palatable to the world, they affirmed some worldly values instead of biblical values. They slide continues until they leave behind too much truth and become a social club of sorts. One of the key issues was egalitarianism. They subtly forsook their doctrine of Scripture, and began to hold culture as on par with it. These were the points of depart that resulted in denominations which deny the exclusive claims of Christ, the substitutionary atonement as essential to Christianity, and the promotion of numerous sins as good.
“Where the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross is preached and proclaimed, missions will not spin off to a liberal shell of a lifeless message but will stay true to what God has commanded the church to be in the Scriptures.”
In the name of cultural views of tolerance, there is the danger of abandoning evangelism. We will realize that sin is not managed, but must be killed. This requires the message of the gospel. He has a good illustration about mowing weeds. The weeds of society need to be removed by evangelism and the conversion of people. Changing laws, while good, is insufficient to really change a culture.
“Sealed in my heart that day was the truth that unless the gospel is made explicit, unless we clearly articulate that our righteousness is imputed to us by Jesus Christ, that on the cross he absorbed the wrath of God aimed at us and washed us clean- even if we preach biblical words on obeying God- people will believe that Jesus’ message is that he has come to condemn the world, not to save it.”
The final chapter addresses the issue of moralism. Chandler tells his own story, and how many of the churches he was a part of as a young person. He is fair- recognizing that perhaps the blindness of his own heart is the culprit- as he notes the prevalence of moralism in the place of gospel preaching. He then explains grace-driven effort and how we are to fight sin as Christians. And we must make effort. He quotes D.A. Carson as noting that people don’t drift into obedience, but into disobedience. This is the law of spiritual entropy. Spiritual growth requires grace and effort. Not just any effort, but grace motivated and empowered effort. Such effort is rooted in our justification, our new identity in Christ and the reality of our union in Christ. We make use of the means of grace, particularly the Word of God, read and preached. The Evil One brings up our sin to condemn us, but the Spirit works to convict us so we repent and comfort us with the promises of the gospel found in Scripture. Such grace driven effort, he says deals with the root of sin in our heart and not just the fruit of sin in our behavior. We address the issue of our desires, not just our actions. Our affections change, he notes in dependence upon John Owen, as we behold the glory of Christ by faith. This, again, brings us back to Scripture.
So, in this final section Chandler warns of of the dangers of emphasizing one aspect of the gospel over the other. And then shows us how the gospel is to operate in our lives so we don’t fall into the trap of legalism. This last chapter is vitally important. Churches both conservative and liberal fall into the trap of moralism (aka legalism), just with differing standards. The former stress personal morality while the latter stress corporate morality (social justice). The gospel brings the two together. This section, while good, was too short. I wish there was more there.
Overall, the book was very good, though the latter 2/3rds are the real strength. It presents much to think about. It demonstrates a good working knowledge of the human heart. So it is not just theoretical. It is practical. It does what he wants us to do- makes the gospel explicit.