[Note: if you found this post wanting to know what the Christian gospel is please click here. If you are interested in the book review continue reading.]
According to Amazon.com Greg Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? measures a diminutive 7.1×5.1×0.6” and weighs in a 7.2 ounces.
I’m not a fan of little books.
I don’t pretend that my disdain for little books is anything reasonable. As a matter of fact I think this is probably an unhealthy reaction to the dinky little super-Christian books that started popping up when I was younger. You probably know them yourself: The Prayer of Jabez, Secret of the Vine, or something of the like. As a result I came to equate small books, particularly those accompanied by a great deal of hype, with all that is wrong in contemporary Evangelicalism.
Now, as a rule I devour any publication by the 9 Marks organization so when I first saw online that this particular book was being released I rushed to add it to my Wish List. I’m a Christian and thus a big fan of the Gospel; any book dedicated to examining this subject is going to grab my interest. My interest went a bit further also as a few years back I had conducted a blog project (gone now) on the very subject “What is the Gospel?” I had participated in one too many online “debates” (read: throw-downs) that assumed we all meant the same thing when using the term “gospel” which I was convinced is anything but accurate. At the time I often thought to myself how much I wished someone in Reformed circles would release a contemporary work on the gospel so that, even if not definitively defining the gospel, we’d at least have some common ground to work from. As a result I saw Gilbert’s book as a title that couldn’t get published fast enough. We needed this kind of book. So yes, I was excited.
Remember that I said I added it to my Wish List as soon as I heard that it was coming out? Thing is, I didn’t check the dims. Thus it was with a paradoxical combination of glee and disgust that I found Gilbert’s book amongst the first pile given away at Together for the Gospel 2010. It’s always exciting when you get a Wish List book for free (or greatly reduced cost) but there was this measly little tome lying atop a stack of what was quite obviously (by their size, natch) more significant writings. Mentally I shuffled What is the Gospel? to the back of my mental To Read list.
Thankfully I ended up reading this book more quickly than I anticipated.
What is the Gospel? made its way with me to work one Monday and I vowed to read at least one chapter a day. I figured at that pace I’d knock it out quickly (remember: little book, itty bitty pages) and could move on to bigger and better – weightier – volumes.
I was gratefully surprised to find that Gilbert’s book has a significance that far exceeds its physical dimensions. I don’t say that because Gilbert covers any radically new ground. As a matter of fact one of the strongest aspects of the book is that the author stays so tightly focused on a Biblically-established course. In remarkably concise fashion Gilbert moves from categories familiar to most Christians: What Does the Bible Say to God the Creator to Fall of Man to Jesus the Savior to The Appropriate Response (you can see the Creation > Fall > Redemption categories clearly here, a fact Gilbert acknowledges).
What I find remarkable is that Gilbert can cover fairly well-worn grown in a way that doesn’t seem derivative or copy-cat yet still communicate grand truths in a very conversational way. (As I have always admired Mark Dever’s ability to do this very thing I was not surprised to read at the end of the book that Gilbert considers Dever his mentor. I’m more than a little jealous, by the way.) I would be very comfortable putting this book in the hand of unbelievers, young Christians, and mature believers – as a matter of fact I plan to do that very thing. Again, the text is very accessible and direct yet covers all the ground that I would hope would be contained in a book bearing the title What is the Gospel?
After walking us through the categories mentioned above Gilbert takes a minute to touch on what it means to live as a Christian (the Kingdom), why it is important to say Cross-centered in our thinking and speaking about the Gospel, and finally a closing word about the power of the Gospel. These elements too are not novel but do present some of the fundamental implications of the gospel in a fresh way.
So who do I recommend this book to? Honestly, anyone who speaks English. I read an unfavorable review on Amazon (note: the only one) that accused Gilbert of taking too long to get to the gospel and assuming a church context that is not readily understandable. I wonder if this reviewer read the same book I did. From beginning to end there is rich, gospel-centered truth that is as accessible (actually, more so) than the local newspaper. Yes, there is a discussion of the church (what do you expect from a 9 Marks book, particularly one about the Gospel) but nothing that is foreign or strange to a reader even remotely familiar with Western culture.
For the Pastor please take a minute to read this. It will remind and confirm and refresh you in the truths of the Gospel, a renewal we all need. Then, pastor, go buy a bunch to give out to your church. The Bible clearly indicates that the gospel isn’t the introductory course in discipleship, one to be learned then set aside to go to deeper topics. We need to hear the gospel regularly and repeatedly. We need to think about the gospel and its implications. We need to talk about the gospel with believer and unbeliever alike. This book will contribute to all those things. Furthermore, putting it in the hands of your congregation will not only encourage thought and conversation on the gospel but I dare say that if your membership roll isn’t as regenerate as it should be you will see fruit in conversion as well. What I just wrote is entirely applicable to the lay Christian as well. As for me I find myself sometimes the object of curiosity when someone, whether family or new acquaintance, asks about my job as a minister. From now on when someone asks me what it is that I believe as a minister guess which book I’ll put in their hands first?
So now all that remains for me is to figure out the best way to get a bulk discount on these. Surely that won’t be too hard; there can’t be much production cost in a piddling little book like this…