October 2010

At this time in the history of the church we can celebrate as we have unanimously agreed on the core message and content of the gospel!  Or not, says Greg Gilbert in his new book What Is The Gospel? Right from the start he states, “What is the gospel of Jesus Christ?  You’d think that would be an easy question to answer, especially for Christians. My sense is that far too many Christians would answer with something far short of what the Bible holds out as ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ’ (pg. 15).”  Unfortunately, after all the time the church has had to study the Bible there is still confusion as to what the core teaching of the gospel is.

Gilbert gives the four-fold outline through which he lays out the gospel:

  1. Who made me, and to whom are we accountable?  (God)
  2. What is our problem?  (man)
  3. What is God’s solution to that problem?  (Christ)
  4. How do I come to be included in that salvation?  (response)

First, God is the righteous creator.  Gilbert rightly contends that if you don’t get God right then you will not get the gospel right.  “Everything starts from that point, and like an arrow fired from a badly aimed bow, if you get that point wrong, then everything else that follows will be wrong too (pg. 40).”   Since God has created us He has the right to tell us how to live.

Second, at the end of the sixth day of creation God said it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).  When we look at the world around us we realize that creation (man included) has fallen far short of the original goodness in which God created everything.  The problem is that man has sinned against God.  Gilbert states,

Sin is the breaking of a relationship, and even more, it is a rejection of God himself – a repudiation of God’s rule, to whom he gave life.  In short, it is rebellion of the creature against the Creator…….In all the universe, there was only one thing God had not placed under Adam’s feet – God himself (pg. 48-49).

Third, though man has rebelled against his Creator, God has reached down in grace and provided a way of salvation out from under the curse of sin.  A way to restore the broken relationship man’s sin has caused.  That way is in the person of Jesus Christ.  From the beginning of the Bible God has promised to send a redeemer (Gen. 3:15).  God has promised to rescue mankind and bring us back into a right relationship with him.  John the Baptist states it succinctly when he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).”  In this vein, Gilbert strongly supports the doctrine of substitution – that Jesus stood in our place of condemnation before God for our sins (pg. 68).

Finally, though Christ has done all the work of the promised Messiah – the Redeemer – there is still a response that is needed.  “Repent and believe  the good news” is the call of Jesus and the NT writers says Gilbert (pg. 73).  A person must put faith in the person of Christ and the message of the gospel, not merely an idea.  Faith is reliance in Jesus “to secure for us a righteous verdict from God the Judge, rather than a guilty one (pg. 75).”

After laying out this four-fold presentation of the gospel Gilbert moves to a discussion of the kingdom.  First, it is God’s redemptive rule.  It is “more a kingship than a kingdom (pg. 87).”   Second, the kingdom is here (Matt. 3:2).  Third, the kingdom is not yet completed but will be when Jesus comes.  Fourth, for one to be included into the kingdom one must respond to the King.  Finally, as a citizen of this kingdom we are called “to live the life of the kingdom (pg. 96).”   This life is lived as one is part of the church and in the world.

Overall I loved the book but there are two issues that stand out to me.  First, there seemed to be some slight inconsistency in Gilbert’s already/not yet articulation of the Kingdom.  He defines the kingdom as a kingship (or ruler-ship) and not a kingdom.  He affirms that the kingdom has come (I take this to mean it has been established) but then later says,

The fact is that we as human beings are not able to bring about the establishment and consummation of God’s kingdom……the kingdom promised in the Bible will only come about when King Jesus himself returns to make it happen.  Christians will never bring about the kingdom of God.  Only God himself can do that.  that heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven; it is no  built from the ground up (pg. 92-93).

At one point he affirms the presence of the kingdom but then says it will not come until Jesus returns.   It is either partly here or it is not, right?  It seems that to Gilbert it is not established because it is not a kingdom realm- as in a present physical location on earth.  Surely it is not consummated yet and will not be until Jesus returns.  Neither does the church itself bring it into existence or consummation.  Jesus establishes the kingdom himself and consummates it.  The kingdom grows as the gospel goes.   I think I see what Gilbert is saying but I also think he could have been clearer.

Second, in the second to last chapter, Gilbert goes after what he calls Three Substitute Gospels.  To Gilbert, these other gospels decentralize the cross in their understanding of the gospel.  Of particular notice to me is his inclusion of the creation-fall-redemption-consummation narrative as a substitute gospel.  He agrees that it serves well as a narrative grid to interpret Scripture but states it “has been used wrongly by some as a way to place the emphasis of the gospel on God’s promise to renew the world, rather than on the cross (italics mine, pg. 106).”  While some may use it as such, I don’t think enough people use it in that way so as to warrant including it in the substitute gospel category.  I personally use it as both an interpretational frame-work and a grid to run the gospel through (focusing on cross and the death, burial and resurrection of Christ along the way).

Those two caveats aside (which I may be splitting hairs on) this is a great presentation of the gospel  a good refresher!   I will definitely turn to this book as an introduction to the gospel message for those who ask.


Fatherlessness is reaching pandemic proportions.  In Fatherless Generation: Redeeming the Story John Sowers gives us an account of the devastating effects of fatherlessness and how we can stop it.  Through personal experience, the experience of others, statistics and years of experience, Sowers shows us how the life changing effects that losing a father can have on a child both at young and old ages.

Sowers argues that “rejection is the defining characteristic of the fatherless generation (pg. 19).” While we all experience rejection on our lives whether it be at work or school, rejection in the home from our fathers has far reaching and deep consequences.  A father provides stability, leadership, identity formation, relationship formation and helps to shape our view of God our heavenly Father.  When the father is absent all of these things and more are lost.  Sowers continues, “Perhaps the worst thing about rejection is living with the knowledge that someone has chosen to turn his back on you (pg. 19).”  Sowers shows how this idea of rejection is played out in the music of each generation.  Much of the rage and edgy behavior that many music artists display is their way of dealing with the loss of their father.  So why do so many of these record sell, asks Sowers,

This is more than loud music. More than mosh pits and star worship. More than flashing lights and smoke machines.  Something deeper is going on here. A soulful identification is taking place, even if most of the listeners cannot articulate it (pg. 22).

One of the effects of fatherlessness is the constant running from the shadow of your absent father.  Many children, boys in particular, try so hard not to be like their runaway father.  Yet, there is something magnetic about their lost fathers such that many kids will follow in the same destructive lifestyle.  Sowers notes,

In our anger, we convince ourselves that we will never live for his ghost. Yet, in spite of our best efforts, we are driven by our rejection, just as those who are driven to please him.  The ghost reminds us who not to be, which defines the framework of who we are to be. Our identity is shaped by our defiance (pg. 26).

This mindset in turn results in the development of shame.  A fatherless child feels shame because they believe the lie that there is something wrong with them which caused their dad to leave – to reject them.  These thoughts of shame and inadequacy follow us into every area of our lives. We take them to work, to church, to school and to play with our friends.  This shame is not only a mindset but it is a physical demeanor.   The roots of shame truly run deep.

Not only do children work out their issues of fatherlessness through music, they do it through movies as well.  Sowers points to the movies Elf and Fight Club as classic examples of how boys whose fathers have left deal with the rejection.  Many movies portray gangs which are predominately formed by fatherless boys looking for acceptance, leadership and identity.  In relation to gangs and authority Sowers notes,

A fatherless child often rebels against authority, for it represents the sacred position his father once held.  Authority is something to be avoided, mocked, or scorned (pg 47).”

This rejection of authority follows a child to school as they sit in a classroom and are attempted to be taught by a teacher.  It follows them to the job place and results in joblessness time and time again.  Once distrust for ones father is developed, distrust for all authority is soon to follow. When fatherless children reject authority they in then turn to sex, drugs and violence as means dealing with their hurt and shame.  Sowers gives a wealth of statistical information that links many of the ills of society to fatherless children.

Amidst all the devastation that fatherlessness produces there is hope.  Sowers is president of The Mentoring Project which seeks to link mentors with fatherless children in hopes of redeeming their lives and changing the course of their lives and thus the course of their communities.  Sowers gives great theological and practical advice on how mentoring can be effective in reshaping the identity of a fatherless child.  Theologically, we are to turn fatherless children to the perfect Father God is.  Practically, the church must take upon itself the task of coming along side fatherless children and discipling them.

I commend this book to anyone who has kids with friends who are fatherless, youth workers, pastors, teachers and of course mentors.  Your eyes will be opened and hopefully your heart as well.