I coached high school tennis in the late 80’s. One of my most vivid memories is my team’s disdain for fundamentals. The first day of practice I told my players to “drop their rackets.” Shocked and perplexed, they wondered what we could possibly accomplish without a tennis racket. “The first week of practice, we will focus on fundamentals, footwork, teamwork, and conditioning,” I said. The groans were deafening!
I am convinced that fundamentals are key in any sport. Fundamentals are critical in the business world. And fundamentals are essential when considering biblical Christianity.
It seems to be fashionable in the church these days to not only neglect fundamentals but to arrogantly dismiss them. I hear it all the time as people bemoan the ancient creeds and confessions. I hear it when people react negatively to theological terminology. And this reaction to the fundamentals of biblical Christianity has led to a steady erosion of the gospel.
For these reasons, Greg Gilbert’s What is the Gospel? is a vital book. It is a return to the fundamentals, a return to the gospel message. This is not a social gospel, a health and wealth gospel, or a gospel that promises mere “fire insurance.” This is the gospel that makes demands: “Take up your cross and follow me” (Luke 9:24). This is the gospel that makes an astonishing claim: Jesus came to rescue sinners from hell (John 3:36). Gilbert unpacks the gospel message by rehearsing the fourfold scheme popularized by Mark Dever: God, man, Christ, response.
The gospel begins with God. This God is the creator. He is holy and righteous and commands people to glorify him.
Man is a sinner and is separated from God apart from grace. He is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-3) and is in desperate need of salvation.
Christ who is fully God and man came to rescue sinners from hell by standing in their place on the cross as a substitute, bearing the wrath of God, reconciling his people to God, and redeeming them from the slave market of sin.
Sinners must respond to the gospel. They must repent and believe (which are two sides of the same coin). Gilbert writes, “Repentance is not just an optional plug-in to the Christian life. It is absolutely crucial to it, marking out those who have been saved by God from those who have not.”
What is the Gospel? is a very basic book. But it is also a very important book. We live in a world where few understand the core message of the gospel message. Gilbert’s book cuts through the fog of health and wealth “gospel”, the non-lordship “gospel,” and the cultural transformation “gospel.”
Utilize this little book in discipleship for new believers and membership classes. Give copies to unbelieving friends. And re-read this great book and become refreshed by the reality of the gospel!