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What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

Ever wonder what the big deal with the gospel is?  Do you find yourself curious about the good news these Christians keep going on about?  Perhaps you already think of yourself as a Christian, but no one ever really explained the gospel to you.  If any of these questions reflect your experience, then present book is for you.  Taking it as the title of his new book, Greg Gilbert tackles the big question: What is the Gospel?  Writing with biblical integrity and clarity, Gilbert has produced a brief and highly readable volume that will certainly prove valuable to the Church by answering its central question.  

Gilbert, who is an assistant pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington DC, introduces the book by contrasting competing accounts of the Christian gospel.  This highlights the central problem his book aims to address, namely that those who would consider themselves “evangelical” do not agree on the content of the gospel, the evangel.  Gilbert makes it his goal, then, to provide a biblical account of the gospel with the aim of clearing away confusion brought on by competing interpretations of the good news.  

Taking the Bible to be the authoritative and trustworthy Word of God, Gilbert proceeds to outline “Four Crucial Questions” that the biblical authors see answered in the gospel: (1) Who made us, and to whom are we accountable; (2) What is our problem; (3) What is God’s solution to that problem or how does God save us; and (4) How do I come to be included in that salvation?  Gilbert draws heavily on Romans 1-4 in articulating these crucial questions.  He then proceeds briefly to demonstrate that these questions appear throughout the New Testament.  The four questions can be abbreviated in the framework of God-man-Christ-response.  Gilbert takes the following four chapters (2-5) to explore each question in depth concluding that the gospel addresses the problem that though every human being is made in the image of God, we have all sinned against God and are thus accountable to him and liable to judgment and condemnation.  But God in his great mercy came to us in Christ, who offered himself as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sinful rebellion against God and in so doing took God’s wrath against us upon himself in the cross.  His perfect innocence was vindicated by God through his bodily resurrection and exaltation to the highest place in all creation, and he now promises the hope of forgiveness, righteousness, and eternal life to all who repent and believe in his name.

Gilbert goes on to devote a chapter (6) to the question of the kingdom.  This is a very helpful chapter given the current climate in much of evangelicalism to sometimes focus more on the kingdom than the king.  Gilbert reminds us that the kingdom will not be consummated until Christ returns and that without relying completely on King Jesus, no one can find a place in his kingdom. 

Chapter 7 interacts specifically with three insufficient takes on the gospel.  Gilbert takes on the claim popularized by N. T. Wright that the gospel is “Jesus is Lord.”  Gilbert rightly responds that the message of Jesus’ lordship is essential to the gospel message, but it is not the “whole sum and substance of the good news” (104).  A partial gospel is not the true gospel.  He also argues that the motif of “creation-fall-redemption-consummation” is not the gospel.  It is, of course, a good way of summarizing the overall story of the Bible.  But the gospel focuses precisely on what God has done in Christ to bring this great story to its conclusion.  Last, Gilbert argues that “cultural transformation” is not the gospel.  The gospel may result in some culture transformation, but we must not confuse the resulting effects of the gospel with the message itself.

The final chapter (8) provides a fitting conclusion to the book by considering “The Power of the Gospel.”  The gospel brings us to repentance and belief.  It provides rest and joy.  It leads us in loving the people of God who have been rescued through it, and it motivates and energizes the Church’s mission to the world.  Ultimately, the gospel increases our longing for our Lord and the realization of his kingdom.

Why is this book important?  Because the gospel is of first importance (1 Cor 15:1-4) and because the gospel is the power of God for salvation for all who believe (Rom 1:16-17).  Without a clear understanding of the gospel, we cannot faithfully proclaim the message through which God has sovereignly determined to save the world.  That is big enough and important enough to take the time to get it right.  This book will greatly aid us in that responsibility.

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