‘The Explicit Gospel’–Book review

“No man goes back to saltine crackers when he’s had filet mignon. And even this truth is further revelation of God’s grace, because it shows that he doesn’t need us; rather, he wants us.”
– Matt Chandler

What really is the good news that Christianity talks about?


Matt Chandler wants to clarify both what it is and what it is not in his book The Explicit Gospel. It’s not being “good enough” or “avoiding bad enough” to deserve heaven, even though many believers, even those who’ve been to church all their lives, think it is.

“At vacation Bible school in a little Baptist church, I met the arch-nemesis of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This simple song about God hating liars created in me what it aimed to: a desire not to lie in order to win the affection of God. I would battle believing this false gospel for years to come without even knowing it.

“ . . . Very early on, it became clear to me that I wasn’t a good enough spiritual athlete to make the team. It became crystal clear, as I tried to do good, that I just didn’t have the legs for it.”

What Chandler makes explicit—and what the Bible makes explicit—is that the good news has everything to do with God and his goodness and nothing to do with ours.

“This world is not present, spinning and sailing in the universe, so that you and I might be saved or lost but so that God might be glorified in his infinite perfections. This is a revolutionary claim, I know. It jostles our hearts and unsettles us.”

So while he doesn’t break new ground in this book (the good news is over 2,000 years old, after all), he does a good job of reminding us of the basics. Because we even forget those.

And the basics include that we’re not here as some “missing link in God’s emotional experience.”

But we are here to reflect back the glory of God as he transforms us more into his image. Chandler emphasizes that throughout his book (reminiscent of John Piper in his books as well—a huge plus for me).

“It is God who is deep in riches, God who is deep in wisdom, God who is deep in lovingkindness, and God who is deep in glory. Not us. This is the message of the Bible.”

If you like personal stories, you’ll find them in The Explicit Gospel as well. Chandler includes many anecdotes to drive home his points (he’s actually a little too verbose for me, a little too folksy—but that’s just my idiosyncrasy. Plus, I listened to the audio book last year, so I’d already heard the stories.)

He also spends a good bit of time on the “gospel on the ground” versus the “gospel in the air.” “If the danger of focusing too long on the gospel on the ground is essentially sectarianism, the danger of focusing too long on the gospel in the air is definitely syncretism.” That might be helpful to some, but it wasn’t necessarily to me.

But personal preferences aside, the basics are laid out clearly. And while we may stretch after deeper theology (nothing wrong with that—I do that too; it’s good), the basics are enough—trusting in God’s goodness and not our own. That’s good news for all of us.

Here are some favorite quotes:

“We each may be saved as an individual life, but we are not saved to an individual life.”

“If you add to or subtract from the cross, even if it is to factor in biblically mandated religious practices like prayer and evangelism, you rob God of his glory and Christ of his sufficiency.”

“The spiritual power in the gospel is denied when we augment or adjust the gospel into no gospel at all. When we doubt the message alone is the power of God for salvation, we start adding or subtracting, trusting our own powers of persuasion or presentation.”

“The essential problem of all mankind is not a lack of resources but a lack of holiness.”

“We must abandon the idea that there is condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! We must abandon the idea that our sins pile up on some scale that will earn God’s punishment when tipped, as if Christ didn’t take this wrath from us already on the cross.”

“The marker of those who understand the gospel of Jesus Christ is that, when they stumble and fall, when they screw up, they run to God and not from him, because they clearly understand that their acceptance before God is not predicated upon their behavior but on the righteous life of Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death.”

* * *

Thanks to Crossway for the review copy of this book.

12 thoughts on “‘The Explicit Gospel’–Book review

  1. Rick Dawson

    As a pastor friend once noted in a Good Friday service years ago, when Jesus said “Do this in remembrance of me”, He knew how quickly we forget, and Peter proved that point all too well – yet he was restored. May we be restored this season as well, in the remembrance of what the Gospel is.

    Good post, Lisa! Thanks – yea, though you make my reading list expand beyond measure, I will not fear. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good lesson there from your pastor friend. We do tend to forget even the simplest things, sometimes especially the simplest things in our quest to tack on more “intellectual” things. May we never tire of going back to grace!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m with you both: my to-read list needs to stop growing until I can catch up a little. 🙂

      Chandler is very conversational throughout the book, so if you like that, you’ll be happy with his style.

  2. tcavey

    Love that last quote! So glad you shared this. I want to always run toward God, even if I don’t like the storm I’m going through. I can trust in Him even when everything else crumbles.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That last quote affected me too. It’s such a sign of great love and trust when we run toward instead of away from. I’m still thinking about that one…

      (And I’m enjoying your book already. I’m halfway through!)

  3. Jean Wise

    I hadn’t heard of this book so loved reading about it. What a great collection of though provoking quotes too. I think my favorite was the first one you blocked in at the top. A great visual reminder too. Thanks Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love that cracker quote too. 🙂 Reminds me of Piper’s analogy:

      “When faith has the upper hand in my heart I am satisfied with Christ and his promises. We do not yield to the offer of sandwich meat when we can smell the steak sizzling on the grill.”
      – John Piper, Future Grace

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