The Explicit Gospel: A Response
- Tuesday, June 19, 2012
I teach at a Christian school that is also an open school, meaning we do not require students to come from Christian families when they enroll here. So I often think about our responsibility to communicate the gospel to these students, but I also want to do so in a way that is appropriate to our educational mission. After all, we are a school and not a church camp. To Chandler’s credit, I came away from reading his book with a renewed sense of mission – making sure we are explicit in our communication of the Gospel.
The second reason Chandler’s book intrigued me was his discussion of “the gospel in the air.” I like his outline of creation, fall, reconciliation, and consummation. In fact, I use a similar outline when I try to tell “The Christian Story.” However, there are two great omissions in Chandler’s Explicit Gospel.
First, his emphasis on human depravity will not convince seekers. Students often ask me about Ghandi’s self-giving work or about the examples of moral living they see in non-Christians. To Chandler’s credit, he does have a response – the problem is that in spite of doing some things right, so-called “good” people choose to worship something besides God expressed through Jesus Christ. Yet I fear that answer will fall emotionally flat. I wish Chandler could have spent time discussing how humans were originally created in the image of God (he briefly mentions the concept on p. 111). My argument: although that image has been marred by sin, enough of it is still present that even the worst among us can occasionally do something right. I also believe that placing the image of God as a fundamental concept in a gospel presentation helps with possible objections to Jesus as both human and divine. Genesis 1-2 shows us that God and humans are not diametrically opposed, but instead there is a connection. At minimum, God put his stamp of approval on humankind, calling our ultimate progenitors “good.” Additionally, God can express his will through human beings – giving them explicit work to do which includes managing His creation. Ironically, Chandler mentions how some reformed commentators sometime overemphasize depravity to the point of neglecting human worth. I fear that if someone only read select chapters of his book, Chandler would be open to that critique as well.
My second critique is that he does not make enough of the resurrection when he discusses Christ in part one or reconciliation in part two. Chandler’s central focus is on the death of Christ as a necessary and perfect sacrifice. Yet he leaves out a discussion of what Paul says to be of “first importance” and that without the resurrection Christians are to be pitied above all other people (1 Corinthians 15). Chandler does not completely ignore the resurrection, though. He discusses resurrection bodies in his chapter on consummation, and he references 1 Corinthians 15 at least seven times, but I find the lack of extended discussion about Christ’s resurrection to be curious. (Let me admit some bias here. Much of my personal faith is predicated on the central belief that the resurrection was a historical event. If I were to lose that conviction, I’m not sure I would be able to any other Christian convictions).
Those two critiques aside, there are several things Chandler does well. I appreciate his emphasis that we are “reconciled to reconcile” (p. 143). Also, he responds to possible “slippery slopes” in discussions of grace and law or grace and works. He wisely responds to warnings against slippery slopes that a “slope is not a cliff” (p. 175). I take these remarks to remind readers that the Bible does require us sometimes to hold ideas in tension, and it is just such tensions that keep us from slipping into disastrous errors.
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