Explicit Gospel Review (Winner of Best Gospel Book by an Inflatable Dancing Man)

Matt Chandler--author of The Explicit Gospel

Introducing the 1/60 best books on the gospel. A 62-week long series.

The title. It is a joke.

See, there is something you need to know about Matt. He’s tall. Like six five. And lanky–long in arm, long in fingers and long in legs.

I knew this back when I first heard him preach via podcast in 2009. I think I saw a picture of him hunched over a lectren made for a normal person.

Poor guy.

But I never saw him preach live or on video. That is until this past May when a buddy sent me a link to the Code Orange sermon. I watched the video and it just shocked me.

Shocked me for two reasons.

One, he never looks at his notes. Ever. And two, the way he moves. He’s got his two feet planted, and then he weaves his arms and hands and body in the air when he speaks.

And I couldn’t help but think that he looked like one of these:

 Inflatable Dancing Tube Man

Be honest.

Watch the first ten minutes of that video and tell me he doesn’t look like an inflatable dancing man when he speaks.

The other thing about Matt you have to realize is that he is an excellent communicator. He has an exceptional command of the Bible and shares compelling illustrations to drive home his points. Plus, he never looks at his notes, never loses his place and never misses a transition.

It’s truly a marvel to watch.

That he’s such a marvelous communicator, though, makes we wonder what role Jared Wilson played in the production of The Explicit Gospel. Makes me wonder why they had to pull him in.

It surprises me that Chandler would have/need a co-author. I emailed Jared Wilson to find out, and this is what he said:

My role was mainly to take Matt’s sermon transcripts and shape them into book-quality chapters. This involved editing and a little bit of contribution in the way of some illustrations and quotes.

Jared then pointed me to an article: 6 Steps to Turning Sermon Transcripts into Books. You’ll learn that this is not Jared’s first time at being a co-author. It’s simply the first time a pastor chose to put his name on the book.

This jives with the word on the street about Matt Chandler: he is a very humble man. He will give credit where credit is due.

I’ve seen the sermons and I’ve read the book. The voice is true to Chandler, but the book is obviously an expansion on the sermons, and thus Wilson’s contribution to the project. So, it only seems natural to refer to the book as both Chandler’s and Wilson’s.

So, from here on out the author of the Explicit Gospel will be Chandlerson.

Gospel on the Ground

This book is divided into three parts: the gospel on the ground, the gospel in the air and applications/implications.

We start with a low-grade primer on God–his transcendence, omniscience, self-sufficiency and self-regard–that revolves around Romans 11:33-36:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Chandlerson then skims through man’s place in the cosmos (which is actually more about man snubbing God’s severity, justice and righteousness), which sets us up for Christ: “where God’s kindness and severity meet.”

God’s response to the belittlement of his name, from the beginning of time, has been the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on a Roman Cross.

They then spend the remainder (and bulk) of Part 1 explaining our response and responsibility to the gospel. This is entry-level gospel stuff. Nothing new here.

Gospel in the Air

Part 2 cracks open an often-neglected side of the gospel–what Chandlerson calls the gospel in the air.

In essence, the gospel in the air is that the gospel isn’t intended just for the reconciliation and rebirth of man. It doesn’t terminate on individual salvation. It’s also intended for the reconciliation and rebirth of all things–the universe as a whole.

Trees. Mountains. Oceans. Suns. It will all be restored to its proper state–Eden. And that creation is now corrupted and cruel is supposed to make us wonder, “What in the world has happened to this place?”

Enter the Fall.

I liked this chapter, but there is an  unfortunate departure into scientific apologetics. Chandlerson wants to knock science off it’s exalted perch, skewer evolution and define what is meant when the writer of Genesis says, “In the beginning.”

It seems out-of-place for a gospel proclamation.

There are other pieces that feel out-of-place, too. Like when he quotes the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, philosopher of science Karl Popper or social gospel theologian Walter Rauschenbusch.

Even Augustine (or N. T. Wright for that matter) seems like a stretch. Of course I’m thoroughly underestimating Chandler. I guess he will always be a dyed-in-the-wool evangelist with a heavy bent towards Puritans to me.

But the digression into apologetics is short-lived.

Sublime Chapter on Shalom

The chapter on the Fall answers the question of why there is suffering in this world, and then demonstrates that sin is ultimately a cosmic treason.

And this is why a whole gospel must be explicitly about the restoration of God’s image bearers and also about the restoration of the entire theater of his glory, the entire cosmos.

Their text is an exposition on Ecclesiastes. That is, futility. Quite fitting.

The diamond in the rough for this chapter, however, and quite possibly the second half of the book, is their exposition on the term shalom–the state of creation in harmony with God’s holiness.

The idea of shalom worked into the teaching on Ecclesiastes and you’ve got an exciting bit of text. It would be a flawless chapter if not for the introduction of one of the most irritating metaphors of Christianity: the God-shaped hole in our hearts. The Chandlerson version is the shalom-shaped hole in our hearts.

I get it, but ick.

The second half of the book is strained, but winds down with some soul-stirring talk of reconciliation and, ultimately, consummation. In the end, the gospel of Jesus is epic. Death is defeated, we are reconciled to God and the entire universe is restored to its former glory.

This is the explicit gospel. The epic gospel. A gospel scaled to the enormous glory of God.

Neglect either portion and you get a skewed gospel. One that slides into isolationism and selfishness. One that slides into harmony with culture and even abandons evangelism.

Either are deadly.

The Unrelenting Metaphors

Any long-term student of Chandler is likely familiar with Chandler’s unapologetic tendency to get in your face. He is not afraid to speak the truth.

You get that in this book.

You are also probably familiar with Chandler’s clever use of metaphors (and hyperbole, but more on that later). Perhaps the cleverest metaphor has to be his recent comparison of the diagnostic purpose of an MRI with the diagnostic purpose of the Law in a study on Galatians.

An MRI will expose our cancer (if we have it). The Law will expose our sin (which we will have). These are diagnostic tools. They aren’t meant to provide a cure, yet many Christians treat the Law as the cure.

We sin, and instead of running to the cross we run to the Law, saying, “Okay, I will do this and this and this and not do that and that and that.” Chandler says that’s like having cancer and running back to the MRI for treatment.

Clever, eh?

You’ll get similar illustrations in The Explicit Gospel. However, these metaphors seem to pile up and the shtick gets old. Maybe it’s because I read the book in two-and-a-half days, but these illustrations began to wear on me.

Some are clever.

Now put on a cup, dude, because it’s about to be big boy time. (Matt’s rendering of Job 38:2-4: “Dress for action like a man.”)

Some are s0-so.

No man goes back to saltine crackers when he’s had a fillet mignon. 

Some are hilarious.

Eventually, though, he (Solomon) got tired of waking up in the back of a chariot on his way to Mexico with a new tattoo. 

Yet, his best one comes late in the book when he is mocking moralism. It is hyperbole at its best:

If you listen to Journey, you’re going to do meth and kill your parents. So don’t listen to journey.

Fans of Chandler will be pleased to know that one of his best illustrations–Jesus Wants the Rose–is in the book. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work nearly as well as on video. In fact, I had to go back and re-watch the video to make sure that Wilson got it right.

He did. It’s just the weakness of the book form.

Conclusion

Brad Lomenich, Executive Director of Catalyst, said The Explicit Gospel was “a roadmap and wake-up call to our generation to grasp the full, expansive, and true gospel story.”

I’ll give him that. It hardly has the teeth of a Owen or Baxter, but it is a book for our time, so worth a study.

Here’s the blog post that inspired the The Explicit Gospel.

While you’re at it, check out these better reviews: The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (Jared Totten) and The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson (by Aaron Armstrong).

Have you read The Explicit Gospel? What did you think? Share your thoughts. Brutal and all.

Comments

  1. says

    Hey man, enjoyed your review of the book. Funny thing about Matt—the reason you don’t see him looking at notes is because from what I could tell seeing him at a Lifeway Chapel a few months back, he doesn’t have any. Unreal.

    Really appreciated you giving a shout-out to my review as well. All the best!

    • DemianFarnworth says

      Aaron, that is unreal. The sermon that you saw…was it on the explicit gospel? Or was it new material? My guess is that he knows the EG like the back of his hand. Thus, no notes. New material, though, I hope he uses notes…otherwise he is not human. :)

      You probably all ready figured this out, but I really enjoyed your review, too.