Review of Matt Chandler’s Book: The Explicit Gospel

by Phillip on April 29, 2012

This review was initially posted on Amazon. It elicited a host of comments. We found the most interesting were by those folks defending Chandler’s view on hell on the basis of an Arminian free-will theology! It was a bit unsettling when it was explained to them that Chandler believed in salvation through predestination/election and that his theological position did not allow for “free-will”!

Ironically Chandler himself makes a fairly powerful case for Christian Universalism in his book The Explicit Gospel.

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In this review I give a sum of the book, highlight specifically Chandler’s “Explicit Hope of the Gospel”, and end with some constructive criticism regarding his final conclusion of how the supreme glory of God’s name is attained. Chandler is a compassionate voice for the gospel and a stellar communicator.  He is also a missional leader with a missional heart and I would therefore expect that he would invite questions and positive criticism by a sincere reader.

I hold Chandler in high regard and have been enriched tremendously by what he has written in this book. But I will make a case showing how I view his conclusion as problematic.  I have taken his words very seriously and I desire to give a clear and legitimate presentation why Chandler’s book should be read critically and not just “swallowed whole.”  Most importantly my criticism is applied to the very crux of the book: that the Gospel is God’s passion for His own glory.  I agree 100%. But I don’t believe the Bible agrees with how Chandler concludes God will ultimately secure that glory.

SUMMARY OF BOOK:

Matt Chandler, a neo-Calvinist, addresses the urgency to define the Gospel clearly against our post-modern landscape.  One of his personal challenges has been to communicate the Gospel to those in the Bible Zone who have been inoculated by a concept of the Gospel that isn’t the Gospel or isn’t an accurate view of it. This has led to an ASSUMED Gospel message and not the EXPLICIT  proclamation and living of it.

Throughout the book, Romans 8 is given as backdrop for Chandler’s vision to see the Kingdom of God as a balance between what he calls a “Gospel on the Ground” (the good news of the transforming work of grace in one’s life) and the “Gospel in the Air” (the good news of the restoration of a fractured creation/cosmos). Both visions are needed to avoid the imbalances that lead toward the “slippery slope” of another gospel. Chandler gives a well balanced treatment of the creation/science debate and I also benefitted greatly from his unpacking the wisdom of Solomon’s “all is meaningless”.  Now on to what I saw as an astounding presentation of the gospel of hope…

THE GOSPEL OF HOPE:

Chandler’s ability to communicate the balance between the Kingdom that is ALREADY working in individual lives and at the same time NOT YET as the creation is still “groaning”, is the powerful contribution he makes through this book.  The themes of restoration and reconciliation remarkably unify the Story of God as he weaves the good news of restoration throughout his chapters on God, Man, Christ, [our] Response, Creation, and Fall.

Take a look at what he says about the following:

GOD’S GLORY:

“Because a God who is ultimately most focused on His own glory will be about the business of restoring us, who are all broken images of Him. His glory demands it.” (32)

RESTORATION:

“At the end of the biblical story, the gospel’s star figure says, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’ (Rev 21:5).  If His word is true, we must take His references to ‘all things’ seriously.  As Lloyd-Jones says, ‘the whole universe is involved.'” (90)

“The designation “KINGDOM” itself tells us that the gospel is God’s plan not just to restore mankind, but to restore ‘all things’ for mankind’s enjoyment, Christ’s lordship, and His triune self’s glory.” (107)

“We need to realize that God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s fall.” (quoting Hoekema, pg 159)

“The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation.  What is corrupt will be declared ‘very good’ again. (35)

Chandler further speaks of the scope of CHRIST’S LORDSHIP AS COMPLETE CONQUEST OVER SIN AND DEATH AND that His vision and plan is to guarantee its accomplishment.

REGARDING THE SCOPE OF THE ATONEMENT he considers it to be applied to “all mankind” so that “his iniquity could be carried away”.  The result of the atonement says Chandler is that the new world is “paid for” and that it will result in nothing less than the “reconciling all things to Himself”  (Col 1)  (pp 157,161)

Chandler also rightly proclaims that THE HONOR OF CHRIST’S NAME IS ABOVE ALL: “From beginning to end, the Scriptures reveal that the desire of God’s heart is not our salvation but rather the glory of His name…God’s plan is for it to be supreme everywhere in the world.”  (34-5)

In addition he makes clear that THE PURPOSE OF ELECTION is to serve and bring the message of reconciliation to the world and “be a light to the nations”:  “In essence, we are reconciled to reconcile” (144)

Finally in this CONTEXT OF “THE RESTORATION OF ALL THINGS,” he clarifies that the apparent fire and destruction of the earth in Peter’s epistle is not final but rather redemptive and purifying:

“We should not see the fire and dissolution Peter speaks of as annihilating creation but refining and remaking it.  Think of how a blacksmith heats up a piece of metal to soften it before hammering it into shape.”  (165)

Chandler rightly admonishes us not to miss “God’s Grand Mission” by saying, “It is not usually in the affirmation of a truth that someone goes down the slippery slope, but in the denial of corresponding truths….it is dangerously easy to take one truth to the exclusion of the whole of what God has revealed.” (177)

We are thankful that Chandler has explicitly and powerfully portrayed God’s Grand Mission of redemption, restoration and reconciliation of all things.  But now we come to our constructive questions: how can you fit his above paradigm into the following statements also made by Chandler?  (without contradicting all of the above vital parts of the Story of God?)

“…Hell ultimately exists because of the belittlement of God’s name.” (44)

Q:  Will the belittlement of God’s name be rectified by a sentence of ETERNAL BELITTLEMENT of God’s name by billions of God-haters cycling sin and self-worship forever?

“When this ultimate worth is attributed to anyone or anything other than the one, true triune God of the universe, it is idolatry.”  (36)

Q:  Will the Sovereign Holy Creator of the universe allow most of His creation to cycle in unholy idolatry forever or did He mean what He said when He declared that, “At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father”?

I also noted how Chandler’s Calvinism (inconsistently) allowed for a redemption applied to all mankind yet in the end Christ’s work on the cross is not deemed effectual but a failure for most of God’s image bearers.

Chandler states that the gospel is about “His lordship over the chaos of fallen creation”  (138) yet he leaves the Story of God concluding with billions consigned to an eternal chaos of rebellion to God. Question:  Where is God’s sovereign cosmic glory if most of His image-bearers are never going to worship Him but in fact hate Him…forever?

Again, I gained a tremendous amount from this book but I challenge any reader to consider these contradictions and find out if he is not indeed “denying corresponding truths” and missing God’s Grand Mission of Redemption and neglecting his own advice.

See  “Open Letter to Tim Keller” for similar discussion

SEE COMMENTS for above quotes in context…
admin April 30, 2012 at 1:22 am

More quotes by Chandler:

RESTORATION:

“The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared ‘very good’ again. (35)

LORDSHIP:
In the spirit of Abraham Kuyper, Chandler recognizes the scope of Christ’s Lordship:

“Therefore, there should be no square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which we don’t say, ‘His!’ …This is the missional mindset: believing and living as if God’s reconciling work is true in every space we find ourselves in.”

“…the Gospel is about His lordship over the chaos of fallen creation…His conquest of sin and death.” (138)

“…’Deo Gloria’: glory to God alone! The glory of God is God’s vision and His plan for seeing it fulfilled.'” (35)

THE SCOPE OF THE CROSS APPLYING TO ALL MANKIND AND THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE :
“…Christ’s atoning work is reconciling all things to Himself.” (157)

“The iniquity of man is placed upon the head of Jesus so that, at His physical death, the iniquity of mankind would be carried away. This is what is meant when John the Baptist proclaims his gospel: ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.'”

“On this side of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension we live in the tension of the new world being PAID FOR but not completely rolled out.” (161, emphasis mine)

“…the whole gospel must be explicitly about the restoration of God’s image bearers and also about the entire theater of His glory, the entire cosmos.” (111)

“The gospel of Colossians 1 is epic; it posits a cross that is cosmic. We see that the peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers ‘all things’. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God AND the brokenness between earth and heaven.” (142)

THE ABSOLUTE HONOR OF HIS NAME FOREVER:
“From beginning to end, the Scriptures reveal that the desire of God’s heart is not our salvation but rather the glory of His name…God’s plan is for it to be supreme everywhere in the world.” (34-5) (note: he is reflecting Piper here and we believe he is saying that because we are made in His image our salvation restores the worship of His name as in Phil 2: “every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus is Lord to the GLORY of God the FATHER”. His glory and our restoration are intrinsically woven together.)

THE PURPOSE OF ELECTION:
“In essence, we are reconciled to reconcile.” (144)

“…Israel was meant to be a light to the nations. The prophets would talk, often at great length, about all nations being drawn into God’s kingdom so that it would encompass the whole earth.” (161)

GOD’S PURPOSE OF FIRE AS REDEMPTIVE:
“We should not see the fire and dissolution Peter speaks of as annihilating creation but refining and remaking it. Think of how a blacksmith heats up a piece of metal to soften it before hammering it into shape.” (165)

Jon May 30, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I found it interesting that most people don’t realize that Chandler is a Calvinist. I have attended an A29 church for several years and their official statement of faith reflects a more Arminian doctrine, ie., Jesus died for the whole world and God is waiting on man’s response etc., This is true of Chandler’s Village Church.

However Chandler confesses clearly to be a “5-Point Calvinist” which means he believes that Jesus’ atonement was “limited” to a few human beings called the “elect.” This is called the doctrine of predestination.

Here is Matt Chandler revealing to John Piper that he is a 5-Point Calvinist (he explains in the first few minutes):

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/interviews/john-piper-interviews-matt-chandler-part-3#/watch/full

He says, “the Arminian God is a different God.” That is pretty bold. He does admit in this interview the tension his Calvinism created but how he learned to live in it comfortably. I think Chandler’s inconsistency and tendency to vacillate between both Arminianism and Calvinism points to an irreconcilable tension solved only by embracing both (as is stated here on this website): The God who wants everyone to be saved must be the same God who is powerful enough and loving enough to bring it to pass.

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