Greg Gilbert (MDiv, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He has authored books such as the new Who Is Jesus? and James: A 12-Week Study.
I used Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? in discipleship with a brother over a few weeks. It is a short, accessible introduction to the gospel. The book begins with some various ways that the gospel is defined in today’s books and sermons. He covers a large array of viewpoints on what certain people think that the gospel is all about. It is from that array that Gilbert hopes to come to a more biblical understanding of the gospel within the book.
The biblical gospel…is like fuel in the furnace of worship. The more you understand about it, believe it, and rely on it, the more you adore God both for who he is and for what he has done for us in Christ, (p. 21).
Gilbert then encourages us to go to the Bible as our authority as to where we should ascertain an understanding of what the gospel is. Walking through Romans 1-4, he points out how the Apostle Paul explains the gospel. He breaks it down to four crucial questions that Paul answers through his presentation of the gospel:
1. Who made us, and to whom are we accountable?
2. What is our problem? In other words, are we in trouble and why?
3. What is God’s solution to that problem? How has he acted to save us from it?
4. How do I – myself, right here, right now – how do I come to be included in that salvation? What makes this good news for me and not just for someone else? (p.31)
This culminates, as the last question points, to a proper response, which Gilbert points out that Peter explains in his sermon at Pentecost: repent and believe, which is evidenced by the act of baptism.
Gilbert then takes us to God as Creator, which establishes his authority over his creatures. Yet, God is not just the Creator, but a Holy and Righteous Creator, which distinguishes him from any other form of creator or god that is on the marketplace of religions. From there Gilbert moves through the four questions to the subject of man and his problem of sin. Man has broken his relationship with God in rebellion through sin. This is the startling contrast of a predicament that man finds himself in, a rebellious creature shaking his fist in the face of a Holy and Righteous Creator.
If we reduce sin to a mere breaking of relationship, rather than understanding it as the traitorous rebellion of a beloved subject against his good and righteous King, we will never understand why the death of God’s Son was required to address it, (p. 52).
That of course leads to the need for a remedy to this situation if man ever hopes to be restored in relationship to God. That remedy is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He became the first and last God-man, being fully God and fully man and was born of the virgin Mary. He lived a perfect life, free of sin. He died a criminal’s death that he did not deserve, but he did so as a substitutionary sacrifice in the place of sinners. Jesus did not however stay dead. On the third day, he resurrected, coming out of the tomb in which he was laid by the power of the Holy Spirit.
A righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled. The curse was righteously executed, and we were mercifully saved, (p. 69).
This good news, this gospel requires a response from every person that hears it. The response that God calls us to is that of faith and repentance. The faith that is spoken of in terms of a response is not an easy believism or that one simply agrees that these events took place. This response of faith is such that the hearer believes that he or she is now a partaker of the benefits of the work of Christ, namely that those who believe are considered righteous before God because of Christ. Gilbert says, “Putting your faith in Christ means that you utterly renounce any other hope of being counted righteous before God,” (p. 79). This then leads to repentance, which Gilbert points out is an acknowledgement of Jesus’ kingship and lordship over those who believe in him. This leads to a steady, lifelong hated of our sin and subsequent war against it. Gilbert points to the Apostle Paul’s words that true believers will perform “deeds in keeping with repentance,” (Acts 26:20).
Once he finishes the four question framework from earlier, the last three chapters of the book focus on the kingdom, the cross, and the power of the gospel. His explanation of the kingdom is fivefold: the kingdom of God is God’s redemptive rule over his people, the kingdom of God is here, the kingdom of God is not yet completed and will not be until Jesus returns, inclusion in the kingdom depends entirely on one’s response to the kingdom, and to be a citizen of the kingdom is to be called to live the life of the kingdom. This chapter, though brief, is a helpful approach to the kingdom in a world, as Gilbert points out, that seems to be all over the place as to what the kingdom is. It also helps show how the gospel is related to the kingdom.
In his chapter on the cross, he seeks to encourage that we keep the cross at the center of the gospel. He does this partially be dispelling three “gospels” that do not in fact keep the cross at the center. The first is that “Jesus is Lord” is not the gospel. While the statement Jesus is Lord is absolutely true, it is not the whole sum of the gospel. The second is Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation is not the gospel. He points out that this is a great summary of the Bible, but it is not in fact the gospel. Lastly, cultural transformation is not the gospel. At the heart of Gilbert’s point in this section, he is trying to argue that the gospel is not primarily about changing the world, but about redeeming God’s people. He offers some critique against those that he calls transformationalists and says, “I think the optimism of many transormationalists about the possibility of “changing the world” is misleading and therefore will prove discouraging,” (p. 108). He does agree that the forgiven and redeemed people of God do indeed bring change to the world, but that is only accomplished through the cross. His main concern is that cultural transformation can for some, become the main thrust of the gospel, which in fact it is more of a byproduct of the gospel, but not the gospel itself.
Gilbert finishes with a chapter to encourage and challenge Christians to believe in, celebrate, and keep the gospel central to their lives. Christians should be encouraged to spread the gospel to the world, which begins with those right in front of us. He also calls for non-Christian readers to take serious the claims of the gospel and respond rightly.
As you might be able to tell, this small book packs a punch. I found it quite useful to use for discipleship and enjoyed reading it for my own edification. I particularly liked the chapter on the kingdom. The book would also be a great resource for a new Christian or someone checking out Christianity. It presents the good news of Jesus Christ faithfully and in an understandable way. I commend it to you!