Matt Chandler starts with a quote from Dave Harvey, “The gospel is the heart of the Bible. Everything in Scripture is either preparation for the Gospel, presentation of the Gospel, or participation in the Gospel” (11).
Chandler gives us a tour of the two sides to the gospel story.
- “The gospel on the ground” – God’s grace that transforms individuals.
- “The gospel in the air” – God “makes all things new” transforming all creation.
The Gospel on the Ground: God, Man, Christ, and Response.
Matt Chandler emphasizes God’s preeminence by quoting Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” (23). Chandler encourages us to respond to God’s absolute power and knowledge with reverence. Rather than respond to his incalculable God-ness with our slide rules and flowcharts, we would do better to worship him with reverence and awe (27).
Chandler reminds us that the Bible is primarily written for us, not about us. We are allergic to the idea that everything exists, including us, not for ourselves but for the glory of God. We get the ultimate joy when we worship God because we were wired for worship. That’s why the Westminster confession says “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
What happens when we attempt to hijack God’s story about himself and rewrite it with ourselves at the center? (39) We have tried to steal God’s glory for ourselves and this has evoked God’s wrath. To discount the enormity of God’s severity, as if we aren’t really that bad and really deserve mostly kindness, is to discount the enormity of God’s holiness (44). Basically, to seek our glory is to seek our damnation (47).
The chasm between heaven and hell is illustrative of the chasm between God and us (48). Though it is important to acknowledge hell, you cannot scare anyone into heaven. Heaven is not a place for those who are afraid of hell; it’s a place for those who love God (49).
Until we feel the weight of God’s severity… we won’t know the weight of his kindness. As Thomas Watson said, “Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”
The place the gospel holds out for us is where God’s kindness and his severity meet (54). The cross is the intersection of God’s love and justice. The beauty of the cross is found as we look at how Jesus willingly laid down his life so that we don’t have to.
Chandler quotes Chan Kilgore, “True gospel preaching always changes the heart. It either awakens it or hardens it.” Chandler warns against a form of Christian moralism that generally follows Christ’s teaching with no intention of submitting your life fully to God and chasing him in Christ (70). Michael Spencer says that it’s “a spirituality that has Jesus on the cover but not in the book.”
Chandler warns us against trying to make Christianity so cool that everyone wants in. Only the unadjusted gospel is the empowered gospel (82). Chandler believes that a true presentation of the gospel demands a response. They are going to respond in belief, or their heart is going to become more and more hardened toward God (84).
The Gospel in The Air: Creation, Fall, Reconciliation, Consummation
Every aspect of creation, from the largest galaxy to the tiniest burst of flavor in food or drink or seasoning, radiates the goodness of God. Everything declares that “in the beginning, God made me…” But what he created to be good was not created as an end in itself but was given to us as good in order that we might be driven to worship him (102).
“Creation care” is a valid aspect of being responsible stewards of God’s good gift, but it makes creation worship way outside the bounds of acceptability (104). God made everything good as a way to reflect his goodness and as a reminder for us to worship him; then everything was messed up.
Chandler quotes JRR Tolkien, “Certainly there was an Eden on this very unhappy earth. We all long for it, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our nature at its best and least corrupted, it’s gentlest and most humane, is still staked with the sense of ‘exile’” (121).
We long for heaven on earth but we can never attain it. This elusive search for happiness is the driving force behind everything we do. We long for something more, but it can’t be found on this earth. There is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment. You have to look beyond the sun (130). CS Lewis puts it best, “We are half hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Everything on this planet is simply too broken to truly satisfy.
The gospel of Jesus is epic (137). We each may be saved as an individual life, but we are not saved to an individual life. We stand as part of God’s restoring of all things (143).
If the gospel does indeed have profound ramifications for “all things” we should expect our mission to have implications for cultures, systems, and structures (150).
Believers are primarily on offense, not defense. Gates are defensive by design. So when Jesus says, “I’m going to build the church, and the gates of Hell won’t prevail against it,” we are being told that evangelism, discipleship, justice, social aid, the engaging of God’s people with his plan to renew creation– all of that and more, done in the power of the gospel slams into the gates of hell (153).
We are able to approach the subject of the end times with joy and wonder, with great expectation and hope, because we better glimpse the grandeur of God’s plan for the cosmos (157).
Escape from earth doesn’t seem to be all that great concern… Jesus inaugurated the kingdom in his first coming, but he hasn’t consummated it yet. You and I live today in the tension of this already – not yet world (161). Chandler encourages us to serve whole heartedly, living with an eternal perspective and realizing that Jesus is coming back to make all things new so we can use this life to prepare for the next.
Implications and Applications
Chandler encourages us to keep the multi-faceted nature of the gospel in front of us so that we don’t slip into heresy or complacency. A lack of the true gospel will translate to a lack of mission and ultimately the death of the church. That is why many liberal churches have been steadily losing ground. God’s story of redemption has Christ at the center and his glory as its chief concern. Missing this makes the gospel man-centered (188). A man-centered gospel does not hold God’s power.
The other error to avoid is focusing only on deeds and the mission, seeing those as a way of salvation. Good deeds will never replace our need for Christ. In our attempt to “be the gospel,” it is possible to forget the true gospel. The gospel is a message, not something you do.
Moralistic, therapeutic deism is the idea that we are able to earn favor with God and justify ourselves by virtue of our behavior (203). To avoid this, we must preach the gospel to ourselves, because the gospel not only saves us, it sustains us (209). We live the Christian life in the same way we received Christ by faith in the gospel.
May we never assume that people understand this gospel but, instead, let’s faithfully live out and faithfully proclaim the explicit gospel with all the energy and compassion our great God and King has graciously given (222).