The “gospel” has become somewhat of a buzzword in evangelical circles. It’s a funny thing because the gospel is at the very center of the Bible and God’s redemptive purposes. So it’s counterintuitive to claim the very idea that the gospel has become a buzzword. Christ-followers knowingly or unknowingly validate a ministry, band, or organization by attaching the label, “gospel.” In most cases, this approach is a good measuring rod of the validity of anything or anyone which claims to adhere to the historic Christian faith. But in some cases, it is a mere word that carries no more meaning that a sticker on a product. In this sense, the word becomes another piece of Jesus junk. Thankfully, the book under consideration does not fall into the later category.
The Gospel by Ray Ortlund is the latest in a series of books in the 9Marks series, edited by Mark Dever. I’ve read nearly all the books in the series. They’re all good and are chock-full of sound biblical counsel. Each of the books is designed to help establish and nurture healthy churches. I commend each book to pastors, leaders, and Christ-followers who love the church and have a passion to see Christ’s glory penetrate the nations. It’s almost unfair to compare the books because each one stands alone and is an important contribution. Having said that, Ray Ortlund’s book stands head and shoulders above the others.
Ortlund establishes the beauty of the gospel in the introduction: “God, through the perfect life, atoning death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, rescues all his people from the wrath of God, with a promise of the full restoration of his created order forever – all to the praise of the glory of his grace.” With this definition of the gospel in place, the author defines the purpose of the book, namely -“to show how Christ puts his beauty into our churches by his gospel.”
The first sentence in the book provides a framework for the rest of the journey through this wonderful little treatise: “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace.” He adds, “Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly.” Unfortunately, many churches reflect the later. But Ortlund is not deterred. In a short chapter devoted to expositing John 3:16, he unpacks the wonder and majesty of the gospel of grace. The gospel is compared to other so-called hopes that are offered up in the marketplace of ideas. But the conclusion is simple: “Every other hope is based, explicitly or implicitly, on how deserving we are. Only the Christian gospel is based – clearly, boldly, and insistently – on how loving God is to the undeserving.” In short, “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture, and it matters.”
Ortund maintains the gospel is for the church: “The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace where good things happen to bad people.” As such, the author guides readers through a stunning exposition of Ephesians 5:25 – “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Again, the culture is ultimately affected by the power of the gospel. It is the gospel that makes us holy. It is the gospel that makes us acceptable in the sight of a holy God.
The author draws the attention of readers to the comprehensive nature of the gospel. The new heaven and earth are presented. In other words, as Ortund writes, “This present heaven and earth, will be renewed. God will restore this creation that he made, owns, and loves – this creation where we ourselves feel at home.” At the end of the day, the gospel produces a culture which is brimming with hope – the hope that Christ will make all things new!
This is a book worth reading and re-reading. It is a book that needs to be absorbed and assimilated into the fabric of every local church. The Gospel should be placed in the hands of new believers and veteran believers. It should be gifted to non-believers who express an interest in the gospel.