By Matt Chandler
Matt Chandler writes a hit-and-miss work on the Gospel, full of sharped barbs that are occasionally convicting but are mostly mean-spirited and glitzy.
I really, really, really wanted to like this book. And indeed, I found parts of it absolutely brilliant. But we get a version of Matt Chandler here that hardly sounds like himself.
So the good: The best parts of the book are Chapter 6, Fall, and Chapter 7, Reconciliation. You get an epic scope of the human condition plus a God-scaled view of God’s work through us on earth. Pastor Matt’s unique voice, even when he’s on rabbit trails, will you keep you engaged. The rundown on Solomon is a tour de force of wit, vivid imagery, and a piercing look into the wrongness of our souls. And our mission through the cross is clearly outlined while avoiding a legalistic prison.
Certainly Chandler can write. He’s not exactly quotable but his style is clever, captivating, at times brutal. He is theologically sound in every which way, and despite some critics bashing his Reformed angle, he backs it up with Scripture. Just as in his preaching, he is one of the most biblical pastors out there.
I loved the last couple stories of Matt Chandler overcoming the guilt of his former life and the heartbreaking account of his friend Kim. He has preached these before, but to see it in written form with extra details was stirring. He really brought home how the Gospel works here.
The book also accomplishes a very grand view of history, and when Chandler takes you to the “Air,” he really does take you there. You’ll find some of your paradigms about the Christian life changing, particularly with our God-given tasks as servants in the story of God. It’s humbling and exciting, and as the title suggests, the book truly outlines the entire explicit Gospel.
However, there are three main problems with the book that injure it beyond recovery.
1) The most glaring problem is its arrogant tone. Matt Chandler in preaching is bold, daring, and convicting. Matt Chandler in writing can be brash, jarring, and condescending.
I wanted to pretend this wasn’t true. I wanted to think I was being unfair, over-sensitive, or reading with a preconceived filter. But alas, Chandler never gets over sounding like a pompous, perfect know-it-all.
He continually categorizes people in such a way that, whether it’s his intent or not, he creates two groups: Those who get it and those who are morons. He steps on all his grace-cards. This is the first Christian book I’ve read that uses the word “dummies.” There is hardly any grace for those over-churched, non-gospel-preaching, Scripture-twisting sons of hell. No attempt at trying to be understanding, not even a weak disclaimer to sympathize with the ignorant. Such demonizing will quickly make you arrogant because you begin to think, “Well thank God I’m not like those idiots. I actually get the gospel.”
I understand that Pastor Matt is zealous to protect people from heretic error. It’s a noble motive in a day of weak Bible-teaching. But unlike authors such as Jerry Bridges or Tim Keller, who at least try to understand all angles of the issue and constantly humble themselves, Matt Chandler writes like a rogue juggernaut. He is shooting from both hips on all sides. He does not come off humble at all.
This is such an intellectual-ego-boost that for this reason alone, I cannot give my wholehearted recommendation for the book.
On that note: I believe Pastor Matt is a gracious man. At the Resurgence Conference in Orlando of 2011, during the Q&A, an anonymous question came in and the group of pastors onstage ridiculed the question. Matt stepped in and actually answered it, and later that night my friend and I spoke about how gracious Matt was to redeem that moment. The next day, Pastor Matt addressed the very incident, saying that we really have lost our compassion for our neighbor. It only confirmed he was the real deal.
Which is only more confusing because the entire book felt like those pastors who ridiculed that poor guy.
While I understand that Pastor Matt is an aggressive, no-holds-barred, uncompromising man of God, I got a sense he was trying to keep it right with his Reformed buddies. Sort of like an old guy showing off at the playground that he’s still got it, or that maybe he has a free pass to be abrasive because he’s “earned it” with his hearers. In book-form, this does not work. It comes off too many times as ugly, insensitive, and just plain being a jerk. I can’t read Matt Chandler’s heart, but I did read his book.
The last few chapters alleviates the tone a bit and Chandler begins to sound more like himself. He finally shows understanding for how errors could happen, but by this point the message is damaged.
2) Like most of the new Reformed works about the Gospel, there is a key piece missing: the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The Good News should result in an intimacy with Jesus and not be used as an instant jump-off point to grab the Gospel implications. Chandler, like many Reformed guys, quickly skips over who Jesus is, thereby making an unbalanced work about what Jesus does. Both sides need details, but every work on the Gospel (except for Tim Keller’s King’s Cross) is in a hurry to get to the theological results.
So then, the book is very much a tenuous, rushed glob of Bible verses including a huge exposition on Solomon’s life and the Creation account, but little about Jesus himself. The book feels like a rock skipping on the surface of the water, occasionally hitting a great depth, but mostly an airy broad journey of highlights.
Add to this that Chandler is great at talking about sin but falters when he talks about Jesus, and you can see the emphasis.
3) Lastly, the book has a confused audience. At times he says something akin to “We should be preaching this,” while other times he says, “If you’ve been to church all your life,” and such confusion is like hopping back and forth across a border, a la Homer Simpson.
When I attended the Explicit Gospel tour, Matt Chandler mainly seemed to be talking to disenfranchised churchgoers. He had a warmness for them that I could understand as a pastor, so I was heartily convicted. But the book doesn’t have that same kind of sensitivity, and readers will experience whiplash.
I absolutely love Matt Chandler. Much of his preaching in my early days of being a pastor rescued me from some serious error. I’d be the first to defend him if someone called him ungracious. But his book, while great in so many parts, is dragged down by so much snobbery. I know this couldn’t be Pastor Matt’s intentions, and if you can excuse his tone, there is still much to learn from him here.