What is the gospel of Jesus Christ? What is the gospel period?* Perhaps no question is more important than that. The balance of life and death, restoration and reconciliation, hope and joy all hang in the balance. It is imperative that the Church affirm and proclaim the message once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). The gospel is central to the Church and is the rock by which the Church is built on (see Matthew 7:24-29; 16). The fact that many within the Church are debating this issue should be a serious cause of concern.
Being that the gospel is a primary issue, to have the bold title "the gospel according to Jesus" should jump off the shelf at us. By suggesting that this book contains the timeless gospel is not to be taken lightly. As a result, I sat down and read Chris Seay's latest book The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith that Restores All Things.
The question then is; is the true, lasting gospel presented here? My answer: close, but no cigar.
I must say at the outset that Seay does not deny the gospel, but at the same time, he fails to present the gospel. Seay tries to guard against false gospels, but at the same time fails to clearly lay out the true gospel. Seay wants to combine justification with restorative justice (a favorite phrase of his). The author does not see how a true Christian that understands the message (or gospel) of Christ and not care about the poor or dying.
It is tempting at this point for the reader to think that this is yet another postmodern social gospel book. It isn't that. The author goes out of his way condemning the social gospel and clearly saying that the social gospel is no gospel at all. At the same time, the author doesn't want us to just think that the gospel is just about "getting our butts into heaven." No. It is more than that. It has its social elements, but it is not just social. It does deal with our eternal souls, but it is not just eternal. Seay seeks to offer a balance.
But here's the problem: in his attempt to clearly lay out the gospel the author fails to emphasize or clearly discuss the gospel - Jesus Christ's death and resurrection accompanied with our belief and repentance. It is amazing how the author misses this. At times I found myself shouting "Yes!" only to then shout, "Where's the cross? Where's the resurrection? Where's the call to repent; truly repent based on the cross and resurrection?"
This does not mean that the author doesn't mention the cross, the resurrection, or repentance. The author does. But, the author failed to clealry lay out substitutionary atonement as the basis of our salvation. Seay discussed sin (though he could have saved other things, but that's another issue), he discussed Christ, he discussed justification (though missing the point in some places), and he discusses the kingdom. But in all of this, the atonement is simply lacking.
As a pastor (like Seay) who is deeply concerned with our members understanding the gospel (as is Seay) I am concerned that the author fails to mention the gospel at its core. I applaud the author's effort to avoid dangers of the gospel and on a whole he does a fairly good job, but avoiding heresies isn't good enough. He failed to clearly declare what the gospel is. Certainly the gospel has implications and it is right to discuss them. But unless the cross and resurrection leads us towards repentance and self-denial it is not the gospel.
The author loves to quote guys like Martin Luther and even John MacArthur (who has written an important book with a very similar title called, The Gospel According to Jesus: What Is Authentic Faith?) but in such quotes, the author fails to present the gospel that such men have and continue to boldly proclaim. Instead of discussing sacrifice, submission, slavehood, self-denial, even self-hatred, the author discussed poverty, injustice, and consumerism. We will not understand why and how to serve the poor and the greedy unless we proclaim the foolish message of the cross. Such a message calls us to sacrifice. Not sacrifice of our money, but a sacrifice of our lives. This goes beyond social issues, but to our very core. We must look at Christ on the cross. We must live like Christ at the resurrection. We live and die by those events. The cross. The resurrection. Period.
So though the author attempted and came close, no cigar can be awarded and this deeply concerns me. We can debate and disagree on eschatology and even baptism, but let us not miss the gospel and I fear that this book, as are many others, miss that central message. The gospel. Adoption through propitiation.**
I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
* I make this remark because many try to separate the message (read, "gospel") of Jesus from the message (gospel) of Paul and the early Church. I reject this. The gospel of Christ is the same gospel as proclaimed by the early apostles and continued to be preached by the Church throughout the centuries.
** This definition of the gospel is taken from JI Packer, Knowing God.
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