Introducing the 6/60 best books on the gospel. A 62-week long series.
Gimmick isn’t deragatory. It’s marketing jargon for something that makes a product stand out from competitors.
Think toy in cereal box. Easy-grip handles on toothbrushes.
J. D. Greear has his own gimmick. More on that in a minute.
Why Another Contemporary Book on the Gospel
Joining the ranks of most evangelicals, J. D. Greear begins his book Gospel: Rediscovering the Power That Made Christianity Revolutionary with the notion that the gospel is missing from the contemporary church.
Sure, we have Christians. We have Bible studies, accountability groups, sermons, worships and ubiquitious mission trips.
None of it matters if we don’t have a love for God. All that amounts to cosmetic change–and not a heart change. We need a return to Jesus. Not religion.
Why Religious Change Doesn’t Work
What we try to pass off as church and conversion really amounts to functional saviors–in other words, idols.
And then there is religious duty.
Religion pours on the duties (conversion pours on the mercy and grace of God), which can lead to pride or despair. Pride that we are achieving our performance goals. Despair that we are failing our performance goals.
Think of it this way: religion is active. We do. On the other hand, true Christianity is passive. Things are done to us.
That is the gospel.
Introducing the Gospel Prayer
Greear’s gimmick is his “Gospel Prayer,” a short, four-sentence prayer that will help you center yourself on the essence of grace.
Naturally, in a market flooded with books on the gospel Greear needs something to make his book stand out from others. He also needs a way to divide his book up. The Gospel Prayer accomplishes both needs.
The problem with the prayer, however, is that it feels contrived and subjective. Better to build your argument on an objective or historical blueprint.
Furthermore, although it’s not nearly as tacky as the Prayer of Jabez, it does comes across as just another bauble I have to contend with. Keep in mind: that statement is coming from someone who may be suffering from gospel book fatigue.
The Gospel and Self-Esteem
Greear says that our species has a bent for performance-oriented religion shouldn’t surprise us: we are wired for works. We seek approval from man. Our identity is rooted in their admiration of us.
Greear points out Jesus’ temptations with Satan in the desert as evidence. The devil deals in performance. He also croons in our ears–and can sound a bit like the Holy Spirit. What is he saying? We need to pay. And we need to pay through performance.
It was at this point that I started to take notice of the repeated mention of the twin words “approval” and “acceptance.” This is self-esteem language, and clearly language of our time.
This could go either way. Greear is either contextualizing the gospel or he is conforming to culture. He never says. And he could’ve been completely unaware of this tendency.
We’ll let it slide.
The Parts I Loved
One of the innovations I enjoyed in this book were his idol detecting questions. A series of eight questions that exposes what you most value in life (this might be worth the cost of the book).
The chapter where you will find this test also produced my favorite line in the book:
What good is earthly fame if you are famous only to a bunch of nobodies?
Dang. For someone who struggles with an obsession with fame, I couldn’t help but groan. (And to think that I’m a nobody! The gall!)
There was an excellent handling of Christian generosity, too. On average, about 40 percent of the twenty-one pages in that chapter are covered with pencil or highlighter. It is a rather expert examination.
He balances the chapter on audacious faith (another cultural relic referring to American optimisim and our presumed right to do impossible things–i.e., the human potential movement *sticks finger in throat*) with “But If Not…” a chapter taking a clue from Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego who said God would rescue them, “but if not…,” a recognition that there are times in our lives when God does NOT act.
Expect for the Gospel Prayer, this is not the most orginal book. In fact, each chapter bears an almost undeniable echo of such authors like John Piper, Mark Dever, David Platt and Timothy Keller.
But that doesn’t matter. Greear doesn’t claim to be original. In fact, he confesses a fascination for Tim Keller and his ideas–a fascination so strong that Greear’s not sure where his ideas end and Keller’s start.
If you are a Keller fan, you might recognize when this happens in the book.
For me that meant I could speed through much of this book. Until, that is, I reached a rather intriguing section on evaluating churches like Charismatic and Reformed, and how the local church changed the community in Acts.
Sadly, the “Revolutionary” in the sub title is overplayed. It’s never given a clear or full treatment. It’s only assumed.
And one final thought: the book exhibits a fair amount of self-examination (his own failure to find assurance of salvation), personal anecdotes (particularly about his time as a missionary in an Islamic country) and worn-out Christian cliches (Les Misérables as the premier example of grace begetting grace).
What is interesting is that so far there are zero instances of self-examination or personal anecdotes in any of the older books I’ve reviewed (Owen, Baxter or Alleine). Puritan authors are unapologetic in their single and solitary communication of biblical truths. Not the slightest scent of self-conciousness or subjectivity.
Modern writers (I am equally guilty) are little more sensitive. I guess.
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