I admit, I don't often read nonfiction, and when I do, it's usually because Greg recommended that I read it. Sometimes after I've read several novels, I feel like I need to read something real and true, just to get myself grounded in reality before diving back into fiction again. As usual, I asked Greg what I should read, and as usual, he suggested a winner.
I honestly think everyone should read this book. No joke. If you only read one book this year, read the Bible. If you read two, read the Bible and Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary. (And if you read three, add my BFF's upcoming book, Inseparable: Who I Am, Was, and Will Be In Christ.) In Gospel, J.D. Greear says a lot of things I've heard and read in the last few years, but I love the way he says it. He's a smart guy, he's got degrees and he pastors a big church, but he talks and writes like a dude that I could be friends with if I knew him.
If you've read this blog at all (other than my silly posts about movies and stuff) you'll probably understand why this book spoke to my heart. It makes the claim, very simply, that everything we do as Christians is inspired by the gospel, motivated by the gospel, and empowered by the gospel. Put simply: it's all about Jesus. Not about following a bunch of rules to check off all the boxes to make sure that we're saved and that God loves us. Not about being a good example to the rest of the world about how we ought to live. Not about living in fear that God will strike us down if we obey. Because of Christ's completed work on the cross, we can live in freedom to do the good things that God actually created us to do, because He loves us and we love Him, and because Christ made all of that possible. Greg just started a sermon series on Romans and one of the verses that keeps sticking in my mind is Romans 1:16, "For
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for
salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the
Greek." The gospel is the power that saves us and makes us new. The gospel. Not our own lame efforts.
Greear's theology is definitely what people would call "Reformed," that is, among other things, he has a very high view of God and His sovereignty. He believes that everything God does is for His own good, that He is in control of all circumstances, and that He has a plan and purpose in every event that unfolds. Some people have issues with the Reformed crowd, but if I'm being honest I count myself as one of them in most points. This perspective that God is big enough to handle my issues, my inconsistencies, and my circumstances, whether or not I understand what He is doing, is okay with me. I don't expect to understand God, so it doesn't bother me that sometimes I don't. I like things to make sense, to have a logical order to them, to be scientific and formulaic, so I can explain them. But some things defy explanation. My faith tells me that even when things don't make sense to me, they make sense to God. If I could see things the way He does, I would understand why they are the way they are. I can't always see them that way, but I have faith that He does, and sometimes that just has to be enough. The gospel is God's plan for the world, the central theme of His story, and an incredible picture of who He is and why He is so great and unfathomable that we simply must call Him God.
The book is arranged in three parts: A basic introduction into the gospel and what Greear calls "The Gospel Prayer," a detailed look at the parts of The Gospel Prayer, and ways that the gospel answers some of the questions we often have about life and Christianity. It also addresses how we often come at the gospel from a backward perspective, focusing on actions and behavior rather than on God's work in Christ. It suggests caution toward many of the ideas we have been taught in churches about "doing things for God," noting that while it is good to do good things, the reason why we do them should be motivated on our love for God which flows from our belief in the work He has done, not because we want God to love us for what we do.
In the chapter on gospel-centered churches, Greear does a masterful job of breaking down many of the "types" of churches that exist today, while ignoring confusing denominational labels. With each type of church, he points out the areas those churches often focus on instead of the gospel. While most of those areas of emphasis are not bad, and Greear actually agrees with and applauds many of them, the problem happens when churches replace the gospel with their favorite sacred cow, whether it be prosperity theology, the filling of the Holy Spirit, Calvinism, or anything else. The chapter on the church is, in my opinion, one of the most important chapters in the book. But if you skip the other chapters and read it first, or alone, I think you'll miss the point.
Now for the part where I tell you why everyone should read this book. It's not because it's brilliantly written. The writing is good but I'm rather particular about such things and I found several problem spots (also I read it on Kindle and the formatting isn't spectacular). It's not because I agree with everything Greear says, although throughout most of the book, he says what I would like to say, only he says it better. A few times I thought, "Well, I'm not quite sure about that ..." but I believe he's right on in his presentation of the gospel and its vital importance in the lives of both believers and unbelievers. This book lays out, relatively simply, what the gospel is, how it changes our hearts and lives, and what that change can look like when it's lived out in our homes and job and communities. Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, if you've ever wondered what Christians believe or why they do the things they do, read this book. I think (and I pray) that if you read it all the way through with an open mind and a humble heart, it might just change your life. It might just change mine.
What about you? Have you read this book? What did you think? Any recommendations for what I should read next?