‘Gospel’ – this is a word which is thrown around by many Christians, but often with little understanding of what it actually means.
For some ‘gospel’ simply means a sermon which mentions key words such as blood, death, cross, nails, sin, forgiveness, heaven and joy everlasting. For others ‘gospel’ means incarnational living and has little to do with any message. Still others use the term ‘gospel’ to legitimise extravagant use of money.
Now I think the gospel certainly includes those things mentioned above, but it is much, much bigger. Below are my top five reads on the gospel (so far) that have helped me understand this bigger picture of the gospel.
1. Greg Gilbert – What is the Gospel? (2010) This is an excellent introduction to a fuller understanding of the gospel. This book is a contribution to the Nine Marks series, and is of the same calibre as other Nine Marks publications. It is a relatively short book, and accessible – this makes it a great resource for giving away or reading with others. Gilbert is a pastor, but writes with clarity and humour. This would be the first book I would give to someone asking the question ‘What is the gospel?’ because Gilbert provides a clear and articulate answer.
2. Don Carson – What is the Gospel? – Revisited in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in honour of John Piper (2010)
As is suggested from the title this is an essay as opposed to a book. However, the only problem with this is that it is no
t long enough. The book as a whole is well worth purchasing with helpful essays on a range of topics. Carson’s essay is of benefit for those who wish to broaden their understanding of the gospel. In it he undertakes a word study of gospel words and their cognates. While fully aware of the pitfalls of word studies he effectively demonstrates their usefulness and in the process gives us a faithful picture of what the New Testament describes as the gospel.
3. John Chapman – Know and Tell the Gospel (1998)
The strength of Chapman’s book is most certainly the practical side. Chapman is a gifted evangelist, and in this book he quickly illustrates what the gospel is (know) before moving on to offer help in how to share the gospel (tell). I have often come across books which do one or the other, the problem I find with them is the gospel I am taught to know does not always translate well into the gospel I am taught to share. This is why Chapman’s book is so important, he teaches us what we must know and then proceeds to teach us how to share what we must know. Additionally, he covers the spectrum of one to one conversations to evangelistic sermons. This book is a great asset to any library.
4. Matt Chandler – The Explicit Gospel (2012)
Anyone who has come across Chandler cannot deny that he is a funny guy, but he is so much more. This book contains some material from Chandler’s sermon series’ and would cover some of the same ground that Gilbert covers in his. However, there is one aspect to this book which has not been covered in most of the above mention books, namely, the cosmic nature of the gospel. Chandler calls this ‘the gospel in the air’. What he means is creation, fall, reconciliation and consummation – in other words the big picture of Scripture, the grand narrative. This gives us a much wider understanding, and a much bigger view, of the gospel. It is worth its price just for this section of the book!
5. Tim Keller – The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith (2008)
As I have said in a previous top five posts, most things (if not all) by Keller are well worth reading. Why has this book come so far down my list then? Well it has come so far down my list because it is not explicitly a book on the gospel. Rather, it is a book exploring the issues surrounding the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. However, as you can appreciate there are many gospel themes connected to the parable of the prodigal son. Keller’s contribution to the discussion on what the gospel is, is more about who it is for. In this book he shows the necessity of the gospel for both the younger and older brothers, for both the rite-off and the self-righteous.
There are four more books I would like to mention. These haven’t made it into the list because they don’t explicitly answer the question ‘what is the gospel?’ However, they do aid our development of a wider understanding of the gospel and so should be read with that in mind.