Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Selfish Gospel @9MarksOnline @nextchristians @christianaudio @caReviewers

The latest book I got to review for christianaudio's reviewer program (meaning I received a complimentary copy) was Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel? This book is actually part of a series from 9marks, going in-depth about what that organization considers to be the nine marks of a healthy church, as argued by Mark Dever.

I actually finished this audiobook over a week ago, but I didn't feel any urge to get a review out quickly because I really didn't care for the book. I was also trying to figure out good ways to positively engage with it.

The purpose of this tome is to answer the question of the title: What is the Gospel? Gilbert makes the excellent point that Christians are fragmented in our definitions of what the Gospel is. While I see that (generally) more as an element of different people emphasizing different aspects of the Gospel, Gilbert seems to almost take offense that there is not a simple, unified definition. His writing seems to question the salvation of people who do not understand the Gospel in the same way he does of Penal Substitutionary Atonement as paramount.

He begins the book by arguing that the Gospel is larger than most people make it to be, a statement with which I agree. However, he quickly simplifies it to issues of salvation. I find it somewhat interesting that his book was offered to review at the same time as The Next Christians, which I loved. The latter does a much better job at explaining how the Gospel is much more than simply salvation from Hell.

In any case, I think I found some of the reasons I had problems with Gilbert's text. First of all, he states that as Christians, we value the Bible as infallible and inerrant, thus taking a literal view. This is a big theological assertion, as the majority of Christendom does not view Scripture as both infallible and inerrant. This is an example of how Gilbert implies that if one does not interpret Scripture the same way he does, that individual is not actually a Christian. There are people who take this view. I am not one of them and feel very strongly about this.

This approach to Scripture shapes all of his interpretations, which is where my problems begin. With a literal view, people often approach the Bible from a "plain meaning" perspective, assuming they understand it from a simple reading. Therefore, explanation is not often needed. Gilbert exemplifies this approach by providing evidence for his statements by simply stating, "see Revelation," without additional explanation.

While he makes some good points about the Gospel, this approach of simply citing Scripture without providing his interpretation of it makes his arguments unsupported, in my view. Further, I simply disagree with his reading of many elements of Scripture because I do not approach the Bible as inerrant.

I believe many other things should be considered to help us understand the Bible, including tradition, intuition, science, etc. These things should not supersede the Bible, but they are relevant, as the Bible is not always clear. Gilbert, however, argues that relying on tradition, intuition, etc. for truths, leads to unanswered questions. And he indicates that unanswered questions are unacceptable. This is an area with which I strongly disagree. I think God gives us many unanswered questions, and that is not a problem. In fact, it creates a rich space for growth. And ironically, Gilbert uses the Bible the same way the people he criticizes use tradition and intuition--just accepting what they have been told and not critically engaging it to find Truth.

One of the things Gilbert frequently says is that the Good News of the Bible is that we can be rescued (I agree). However, he says, that unless we know we need to be rescued, it's not good news. So we need to emphasize the sinful, wicked nature of people to point out how depraved they are. I disagree with this. Most people I know actually know very well how much they need help. They don't need others reminding them. That just makes things worse. And sometimes the way we find out we need help is by getting the help and getting out of the situation.

In any case, Gilbert seems to emphasize how we need to know how the Gospel is Good News for me. Not for other people. For me. There's a selfish feel to it, in my opinion. In many ways, he presents what Gabe Lyons describes in The Next Christians as a view of doing good for the most people rather than for all people. Jesus and the Gospel definitely focus on emphasizing good for all people, not just a few. While only a few may take advantage of it, they do not only offer it to those few.

So therefore, cultural change is a powerful thing that is very holy and central to the Gospel. Gilbert argues that cultural transformation is not part of the Gospel. However, the way he describes it seems to be more related to Lyons' description of cultural Christians, those who take Christ in-name-only and look like the culture. In contrast, the restorers are people who are deeply connected to Christ and want to restore the world and the culture to God's hope and dream for the world in a way that will benefit all people. That's a powerful and True Gospel.

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