A conversation over Skype just now with the Girlfriend about the movie Troy and Orlando Bloom, who played Paris in the movie:
Girlfriend: “It’s so stupid. He starts a war because he thinks a guy’s wife is pretty and he decides he wants her. Then he’s wimpy and doesn’t want go and fight his own war because he’s a wuss. Then his brother has to go out and fight his war for him, because he’s being a wuss.”
Me: “So why do you like him again?”
Girlfriend: “Because he’s pretty.”
I recently reviewed Matt Chandler’s newest book The Explicit Gospel and noticed a common theme throughout it: the overwhelming emphasis on penal substitutionary atonement.
I realize this can be defined in a few ways, depending on the crowd, but here is how it’s used in Chandler’s book: on the cross, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God and satisfied it, paving the way for guilty people like me and you to be saved from hell. This made me uncomfortable.
Chandler focuses on this at the expense of everything else Jesus did. There was no mention of how the death of Christ served as a type of Passover sacrifice, despite the fact that the Passover serves as the religious setting in which Good Friday took place. There’s little mention of how the cross relates to the defeat of Satan. There was no mention of how we are united to Jesus through our faith and baptism, and because of that union, we have died with Christ and will live with him.
I like to think of Atonement theories–explanations of what Jesus accomplished through his death–like the windows of a house. Look through a particular window, and you’ll see a room. Look through the other windows, and you’ll get other perspectives. These perspectives don’t cancel each other out. They compliment each other. They give you a better view of the entire package.
Acting as if only one Atonement theory explains everything accomplished on the cross is like looking into only one window and thinking you’ve seen the entire house. This is a weakness not only in Chandler’s book but also in any church setting in which one aspect of the cross is emphasized at the expense of the others.
I think in many cases, this has more to do with allegiance to a particular theological system than it does to scriptural arguments. I had a pastor once tell me that Jesus paying the price for our sins was the most important thing that happened on the cross because it’s how we are reconciled to God; everything else that Jesus accomplished on the cross was secondary. It wasn’t a biblical distinction he was making, as there was no verse he could appeal to in order to rank what Jesus did. He meant well, but he was defending a system in that moment. He’s hardly the only one who does this. We’re all open to that risk.
There’s no reason we can’t celebrate Jesus dying for us even as we remember his sacrifice as a deathblow against Satan and as an example to be modeled in our own lives. And when we focus on one and ignore the others, we miss the entire package and we’re worse off for it.
The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler – A Review
When I was a Calvinist Christian in college, I used to wish that Matt Chandler would write a book. Back then, the pastor of The Village Church in Texas had not yet reached the fame of John Piper and Mark Driscoll, and I found his sermons both humorous, sharp, and incredibly insightful.
Things have changed since then—specifically, I’ve changed. I’m no longer a Calvinist for various reasons, so I was curious about what I’d think of Chandler’s new book The Explicit Gospel, published by Crossway in February 2012. I’ve heard enough sermons and read enough books from Chandler’s theological camp to know with what I agree and disagree.The following review will provide a brief overview of the book, as well as some bullet points as to what I liked and did not enjoy.
Chandler’s book focuses on two elements of the Gospel: the Gospel in the Air and the Gospel on the Ground, which respectively focus on both the cosmic and personal aspects of God’s saving message about Jesus.
The first section is about the personal nature of the Gospel, and here, Chandler focuses on how we as humans were made to worship but have turned our affections toward things other than God, who made all things for His glory. “It’s not for nothing that the Reformers championed soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)—the Bible screams it from every hilltop and rooftop and into every crook and crevice!” (Chandler, 35).
We’ve defamed His great name and deserve death and hell. Says Chandler:
“The universe shudders in horror that we have this infinitely valuable, infinitely deep, infinitely rich, infinitely wise, infinitely loving God, and instead of pursuing him with steadfast passion and enthralled fury—instead of loving him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength; instead of attributing to him glory and honor and praise and power and wisdom and strength—we just try to take his toys and run.” (pg. 40)
Chandler goes on to explain that we have been saved because, on the cross, Jesus absorbed the wrath of God against sinners so sinners could be saved. Chandler also connects Jesus’ death to the sacrifices of the Old Testament.
The section “Gospel in the Air” focuses on the cosmic scope of Christ’s work, specifically his death and resurrection, and how that relates to God wanting to save the world from death, sin, and the devil. I’m more fond of this section than the first, partly because Chandler attempts to locate the story of salvation within the narrative of the Bible (a story that includes Israel and the prophets and is recorded for us in the Old Testament).
The remaining chapters explore the dangers of focusing too much on the personal and cosmic aspects of the Gospel, respectively, as well as a warning against what the author calls “moralistic, therapeutic deism”, which is the belief that “we are able to earn favor with God and justify ourselves before God by virtue of our behavior” (pg. 203).
What I Liked:
– Chandler is absolutely right that there is nothing we can do to add to our own salvation, whether when we first receive or if we’ve been walking with Christ for a while. It’s a common trap for us to think that we need to do something to impress God, when there is in fact nothing in the universe He doesn’t have and thus cannot be bribed with anything. Says Chandler:
“Christ’s work demands the response of faith, but we want to make donations. … [We’re] trying to offer God good behavior so he’ll like [us].” (pg. 65)
– The presentation on the cosmic scope of the Gospel was worth the read and, in my opinion, the stronger half of the two Gospel presentations in the book.
– This might be my favorite quote from the book and I wanted to share it here:
“From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade into Eden. It is our key into a better Eden, into the wonders of the new-covenant kingdom, of which the old was just a shadow. The cross is the linchpin in God’s plan to restore all creation. Is it any wonder, then, that the empty tomb opened out into a garden?” (pg. 142–143)
– In his chapter “Fall”, Chandler uses Ecclesiastes to show what happens when people are in exile and lack shalom. This book is rarely used in such a presentation, and Chandler makes good use of it. (I also remember that he preached through this book a few years ago. The sermons might still available on podcast.)
– In the last chapter, Chandler uses an illustration of a parent watching their child take his/her first steps to describe how God sees us. I really enjoyed this metaphor.
What I Didn’t Like:
– While Chandler believes in such crucial doctrines as the Incarnation and Resurrection, he overwhelmingly focuses on the Cross as how Jesus saves us. Now yes, I believe that Jesus died for our sins and we are made right with God through him, but I think more time and energy could have been given to other crucial doctrines, too.
– Chandler pits “religion” against “gospel”, a dichotomy that, in my experience, is used only by Christians to prove they aren’t religious. On page 121, for instance, the author writes,
“Religion practiced apart from faith in Christ is called self-righteousness in the Bible, and not even the perfecters of self-righteousness themselves, the Pharisees, qualified for God’s kingdom.”
(No citation is given to show where the Bible describes religion in this way.)
I don’t think the problem is religion; I think it’s corrupt religion. This false distinction between Christ and religion is repeated by plenty of people, so the original fault doesn’t lie with Chandler. But still, I was disappointed to see it used.
– In the “Creation” chapter, Chandler goes on a tangent against the theory of evolution and says that while you can believe the earth is old, you cannot believe that humans descended from another species. By the time Chandler finished talking about this particular subject, I still wasn’t sure why he included it in the book. (In public-speaking contexts, Chandler can occasionally go off on tangets, but still …) The argument of the chapter and the book was not helped in the least by it.
– Regarding the “Response” chapter: this was not, as I had expected, Chandler’s call on people to believe the good news. It was a presentation of several different things: God’s sovereignty in salvation; the idea that people can preach the Gospel and remain faithful to God even if their efforts seem worthless; the effects of the Gospel; and the necessity of saving faith. I thought this chapter was a bit all over the place; it needed to stick to a central point and stay there.
I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I would, despite the problems that I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. If you’re in Chandler’s theological camp, then there’s much in this book that you’re going to enjoy (or, at the very least, with which you’ll agree). If you’re not part of that camp, then you can still pick it up, but like me, you might be frustrated with some of the directions the book takes, even if you agree with the overall message.
Disclaimer: I am a part of Crossway’s blog reviewer program. In exchange for a review posted both on my blog and another online retailer’s website (such as Amazon), I receive a free copy of a book. I do not get paid for this service, and I am in no way obligated to give it good marks just because I didn’t pay for it.
(H/T Tastefully Offensive)
I’ve heard this in churches throughout my life: Jesus’ use of the word “abba” is a cry of intimacy, as the word means “daddy.” And we have been given the Spirit of Christ and the cry for our Abba comes forward from our hearts.
J. Daniel Kirk’s post on context points “abba” in a different picture. I thought his points were worth posting here, because they contradict the common understanding of this word in Christian circles:
Ancient Jews, both in the biblical eras and in the Second Temple Period, spoke of God as Father, addressed God as Father in worship and prayer, and did so in contexts where they were looking for deliverance in particular (among other things).
- To address God as Father was not scandalous.
- To call on God as Father was not an expression of heretofore untold intimacy.
- (And, point 3 is for free: the Aramaic word abba is translated for us in the NT every time it appears. And every time it is translated with the Greek word for “father,” πατήρ, not one of the Greek diminuitives that would be the equivalent of “daddy.” In other words, if abba means something like “daddy,” that point was lost on Mark and Paul. But I digress…)
If I may add something, the idea of God being a Father to people was not something Jesus invented.
When Moses was commanded to tell Pharaoh to release the Israelites, he was to inform the Egyptian ruler that Israel was God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22).
The heir of David would also be a son to God, who in turn would be a father to the king (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89).
We should all be grateful that, in Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God and been reconciled to our Father after a lifetime of loving evil. We who have been baptized in Christ are sons and daughters of the Most High. He is our Abba.
I only wanted to write about this today because sometimes our spiritual family embraces teachings that aren’t true–such as the one Kirk debunks in his post–and it’s good to have our thinking challenged.