Matt Chandler is a walking miracle and he is also one of the most gifted communicators whose passion is that we all would know and worship the triune God rightly, that both our minds and hearts would be full of and shaped by Him, and that we all would experience a life-transforming experience upon encountering Christ and the realization of His atoning sacrifice. Currently, Chandler serves as Lead Teaching Pastor of The Village Church in Dallas, Texas and he also is the president of Acts 29, a network of churches planting churches. Here, he brought a fresh vision to the organization, mapping out four specific hopes for its future: (1) plant churches who plant churches, (2) be known for holiness and humility, (3) become radically diverse, and (4) be serious about evangelism and conversion. Chandler has also written four other books: The Mingling of Souls, Recovering Redemption, To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain, and Creature of the Word, which would make a great companion book to The Explicit Gospel, as it looks how the gospel impacts all the Church is and does. Chandler claims this book first examines the rich, Scripture-based beauty of a Jesus-centered church, and then provides practical steps toward forming a Jesus-centered church. This reading analysis will first assess Chandler’s methodology and approach on the topic of the gospel message and will then evaluate his two vantage point supposition, which he asserts are, “Both necessary in order to begin to glimpse the size and weight of the good news, the eternity-spanning wonderment of the finished work of Christ.”
The Explicit Gospel reads much like a discourse to remind the reader of the importance of the gospel message, which in today’s world is being watered down and neglected in many churches, leading to people being, as Chandler coins it: “dechurched.” Chandler sets out to show, “It is a call to true Christianity, to know the gospel explicitly, and to unite the church on the amazing grounds of the good news of Jesus. It is inspired by the needs of both the overchurched and the unchurched, and bolstered by the common neglect of the explicit gospel within Christianity.” This indeed is a valiant endeavor; one in which he breaks down into three parts. The first part is called “The Gospel on the Ground,” which “Traces the biblical narrative of God, man, Christ, [and the human] response. [It is here] we will see the power of grace for human transformation, beginning with God’s needless self-sufficiency and culminating in a sinner’s Spirit-abled response to the good news.” Part two then looks at “The Gospel in the Air,” which evaluates how Paul synthesizes human salvation to cosmic restoration in his letter to the Romans. Ultimately, Chandler establishes there is but one gospel, but to fully comprehend it, two vantage points are needed. “The Gospel on the Ground” allows a believer to fully understand the work of the cross and how it not only captures, but also resurrects dead hearts. Then, “The Gospel in the Air” reveals how the atoning work of Christ was part of God’s plan of redemption from the beginning.
Part one begins by looking at the person of God and as Chandler explains, “The deeper we go into God’s glory, the deeper we will find ourselves in the precious work of Christ on the cross.” God has chosen to reveal Himself to His children through two ways: general revelation, which is everything He has created, and special revelation, which is everything recorded in Scripture, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In this section, Chandler illuminates God’s transcendent creativity being infinite, just as He is, and while we require things to make more things, God makes something out of nothing. God knows all, He is completely self-sufficient, and He is also completely sovereign over everything. Chandler explains, “From Him and through Him and to Him are all things, [which] means the origin of everything that exists and will exist can be traced back to the hands of God and no further.” Next, Chandler demonstrates humanity’s propensity to make everything about them and he paraphrases Herbert Lockyer, who said, “The Bible is for us, but it is not about us,” meaning the main purpose of Scripture is to reveal the foremost desire of God’s heart is to bring glory to His name. Humans are hardwired for worship, but what he or she chooses to worship is up to the individual. This is a slippery slope and can easily lead to idolatry if God is not kept first.
When looking at man, Chandler reveals two characteristics of God that Paul uses in Romans 11:22. The first is His loving-kindness, which most are familiar with, but the second is His severity. Chandler cautions, “Failing to note the severity of God is attempted theft of all He is due. To discount, disguise, or disbelieve what God does in response to the falling short of His glory is, in itself, falling short of His glory… All sin, then, is deserving of the severity of God, and no one is exempt from this.” The justice of God demands sacrifice because there can be no forgiveness or remission of sins without the shedding of blood. Here, the Lord’s holiness is contrasted with His wrath as Chandler explains, “The chasm between heaven and hell is illustrative of the chasm between God and us. He is glorious; we are not. He is holy; we are not. He is righteous; we are not. And this chasm between God’s total perfection and our total depravity deserves the chasm of stinking, smoldering Gehenna.”
Upon establishing the chasm that exists between God and His children, Chandler demonstrates Christ became the bridge back to restoring communion with the Father. However, this came at a great cost, as crucifixion was the most humiliating and painful way to die and the Romans had perfected this practice as they conquered the known world. This section does a good job pointing out, “The cross of Jesus Christ was not some surprise, not some plan B, but rather the plan known about within the Godhead since the beginning.” Upon the realization that Christ died so that humanity’s sins might be forgiven and that the relationship with the Lord might be restored, a response is then required on the part of humans. Here, even a choice not to choose or accept this offer is still a choice. In Matthew 12:30 Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Faithfulness and obedience are the keys in a proper response and it was truly enlightening and a little frightening to read that eighty-five percent of the Old Testament contains language saying either, “I am destroying you” or “I am going to destroy you.” The response of faith is the only thing that will overcome the fallen and rebellious nature of humanity and the gospel demands a response. One of the primary things that stands in the way of a response of faith is a hardened heart and this is demonstrated throughout Scripture, but as Chandler states, “No heart can ever be too hard for God, [so we must] live through faith, and die through faith. Everything else is garbage. Even works of righteousness, if not done through faith, are works of self-righteousness and therefore filthy rags.”
Part two looks to “The Gospel in the Air” and begins with the creation account or general revelation. Chandler speaks to a variety of scientific theories and emphasizes that “The context of the gospel message is not our benefit or our salvation; the context of the gospel is the supremacy of Christ and the glory of God.” Creation and nature are essential means by which God has chosen to reveal Himself to the world and over the course of history science has been used to prove and disprove the existence of God. Scripture has also come under scrutiny, but Chandler rightly explains, “The aim of the Scriptures is to direct our worship to the one true God of the universe, and the universe itself is designed not to occupy our worship but to stir our heart of hearts to behold its God.”
The fall of man introduced sin into the world and R. C. Sproul defines sin as cosmic treason. While we were created in the image of God and were meant to bring glory to Him, original sin has corrupted and defiled everyone. Adam and Eve’s sin has, as Chandler puts it, “Created a shalom-shaped hole in our hearts, and no matter how much we throw in there, and no matter how long we try filling it, nothing will satisfy but [Jehovah Shalom.]” As each person searches for love, happiness, meaning, and belonging, if they are not looking to find these in God, they will never be fulfilled. Only when reconciliation happens with God and Christ is put first in a believer’s life will the worship of the Creator supersede the worship of creation. When Christ reconciles a believer, Chandler states, “We are no longer enemies of God and we are reconciled to reconcile.” This means being a part of the universal church and allowing the explicit gospel to transform our vision and mission of the church. When this happens, evangelism and discipleship will become priorities and not something that just randomly happens because as Chandler states, “The single most loving act we can do is share the good news of Jesus Christ, that God saves sinners.”
In part three, Chandler provides some wonderful implications and applications, and illustrates, “When we look at the “Gospel from the Air,” through the grand narrative of the Scriptures, we see that the gospel is not just about God’s forgiving us of sins and giving us eternal life, but also about what we are being forgiven for and what eternal life is like.” Some dangers that must be watched for in a “Gospel on the Ground” too long approach are: missing God’s grand mission, having a singular rationalized faith, and having a self-centered gospel. Each of these is a slippery slope and must be guarded against. Some dangers in a “Gospel in the Air” too long approach are: syncretism, a Christless gospel, culture as an idol, and abandoning evangelism. When dealing with moralism and the cross, Chandler talks about the weapons of grace at our disposal. “The first weapon of grace is the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13), the second weapon of grace is the word of God (2 Timothy 3:16), and the third weapon of grace is the promise of the new covenant (Hebrews 9:15).” Combined, these weapons allow the believer to fight sin and become the first component of a grace-driven effort.
The way Chandler presents the two vantage points was enlightening and the section on the fall of man and the glory of God was also explained brilliantly. By understanding that grace is getting something we do not deserve: the forgiveness of sins and salvation, while mercy is not getting what one deserves: punishment and eternal separation from the Father, the believer can truly begin to appreciate all God has done and not done. Chandler further explains, “The grace of God by definition is unearned. You cannot deserve it… Grace is a free gift given to someone who has not earned it and cannot earn it.” Scripture reveals the wages of sin is death and Chandler’s illustration of Gehenna was profound. While most associate this word with hell, it is also a reference to a ravine on the south side of Jerusalem. Horrible atrocities happened here, making the area, as Chandler puts it, “A stinking, smoldering place of destruction and neglect. The image to hold in our mind is putrid and repulsive [and these extremes represent] the slightest falling short of God’s glory.” This illustration of the effects of sin will be hard to forget!
Pertaining to the satisfactory sacrifice of Christ, Chandler hit the nail on the head when he says, “If we do not understand the bad news, we will never grasp the good news.” The problem he identifies is many people have major problems with the suffering and brutal slaughter of Jesus, despite this act being a major foundation of the Christian faith. Only Jesus could satisfy the debt for all past, present, and future sin. He who knew no sin became sin and sacrificed Himself as the Lamb of God in a Yom Kippur fashion. The Day of Atonement is a perfect example as, “One goat absorbs the wrath of God toward sin and is killed. The other goat, the scapegoat, is vanquished into the wilderness, carrying away the sins of Israel.”
In the section “response to the gospel is not the gospel” Chandler makes a clear distinction between needing to divide the gospel and response, otherwise we compromise both. D. A. Carson writes, “The kingdom of God advances by the power of the Spirit through the ministry of the Word. Not for a moment does that mitigate the importance of good deeds and understanding the social entailments of the gospel, but they are entailments of the gospel. It is the gospel that is preached.” For some, the way Chandler presents this section may make some people uneasy, but as Chandler states, “If we confuse the gospel with response to the gospel, we will drift from what keeps the gospel on the ground, what makes it clear and personal, and the next thing you know, we will be doing a bunch of different things that actually obscure the gospel, not reveal it.” A church that does nothing but events and outreach can be five miles wide, but only one inch deep when it comes to impactful life transformation, so balance is key.
Rick Warren was so right when he said, “If you read only one book this year, make it this one. It is that important.” One of the first takeaways was found in the person of God. As a result of who God is and everything He has done, worship should be the natural response, since worship is the attributing of ultimate worth to something. However, as Chandler illustrates, “Something has gone wrong with our wiring” and instead of worshipping God and putting Him first above all things, many people whether consciously or subconsciously are worshipping something of than God by what they say and what they do. Ultimately, anything placed before God is an idol and this can be people, places, or things, so it is imperative to do a moral inventory and evaluate where one’s time, talents, and treasures are being used, because that is where their heart will be too.
The fact that we are never not worshipping was a profound declaration and as Chandler demonstrates, “Our thoughts, our desires, and our behaviors are always oriented around something, which means we are always worshipping – ascribing worth to – something [and] if it is not God, we are engaging in idolatry.” There is no way to sugarcoat this principle and it is impossible to turn off the worship switch in our hearts. Timothy Keller explains it perfectly, “When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it ‘co-dependency’ but it is really idolatry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, I will feel my life has meaning, I will know I have value, and I will feel secure.’ There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”
The final takeaway came as Chandler described how, “A grace-driven effort attacks the roots of our sin, not just the branches. Grace is a heart changer, because the heart is where behavior comes from and wherever our heart is, that is where our actions will follow.” This is an area that must be continually guarded. He uses the example that right under the desire for pleasure is lust, but in reality lust is generally just a symptom of a more central perversion of the heart. The grace-driven effort attacks the cause, not just the symptoms, whereas moralism just tries to pacify the manifested behavior. Fear of God is another motivator behind grace-driven efforts and is something many have unfortunately lost sight of. A grace-driven effort is rooted in pursuing holiness, which allows the believer to not just forsake sin, but as Chandler puts it, “Being dead to it… [because] the person who understands the gospel recognizes that, as a new creation, his [or her] spiritual nature is in opposition to sin now, and he [or she] seeks not just to weaken sin in his [or her] life but to outright destroy it.” These grace-driven weapons and strategies are game changers and will lead to a life embodied by the explicit gospel.
Chandler’s approach in writing on this topic was refreshing and demonstrates just how complicated the church has made the gospel message. Whether intentional or not, it is the reality the church faces today. By separating the spheres of the gospel, Chandler has shown how the “Gospel on the Ground” operates at the micro level, while the “Gospel in the Air” operates on the macro level. Then, by examining the glorious truths behind God’s plan for salvation and redemption from multiple vantage points, Chandler adequately lays the foundation with the biblical narrative and the human response and reveals the grand display of God’s glory in reconciliation, made possible by the supremacy and atoning work of Jesus Christ. The Explicit Gospel is well suited for new believers, as well as biblical scholars, and is an invaluable tool in the endeavor to know God, our purpose, and how each person has a part to play in God’s plan of redemption in the universal church. It is a true call to Christianity and has the ability to unite the church; where in the past division and strife has been the prevailing paradigm.
The Explicit Gospel. By Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2012, 237 pp. $14.99 (Paperback).
Carson, D. A. Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2010.
Chandler, Matt and Jared Wilson. The Explicit Gospel. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2012.
Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, NY: Dutton, 2009.
The Village Church Website. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/about/matt-chandler/ (accessed July 21, 2017).
 The Village Church Website. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/about/matt-chandler/ (accessed July 21, 2017).
 Matt Chandler and Jared Wilson, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2012), 17.
 The Village Church Website. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/about/matt-chandler/ The Explicit Gospel (accessed July 21, 2017).
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 16.
 Ibid., 21.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 32.
 Ibid., 41.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 48.
 Ibid., 57.
 Ibid., 64.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 85.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 103.
 Ibid., 120.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 143.
 Ibid., 151.
 Ibid., 172.
 Ibid., 210-212.
 Ibid., 213
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 43.
 Ibid., 42.
 Ibid., 58.
 Ibid., 61.
 D. A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Publishing, 2010), 68-69.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 83.
 Ibid., 36.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 103.
 Timothy Keller, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters (New York, NY: Dutton, 2009), xviii.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 213.
 Chandler and Wilson, The Explicit Gospel, 216-217.