As I sat down to read The Gospel, another of the new mini-books from IVP distilling Stott’s classic The Contemporary Christian into readable books on related but distinct topics, I was excited. By the time I finished, I was more excited than before about the Gospel, and slightly more puzzled about the packaging of this miniature series.
Firstly, though, the good stuff. If you can’t be bothered to read my full (short!) review then hear this: The Gospel: a Life-Changing Message is probably the best short introduction to the gospel and it’s implications for the whole of life that I have read thus far. Accomplishing in less than a hundred pages what other books attempt to do in multiples of that length, Stott (lightly edited by Chester beautifully unpacks what the gospel is, and what it’s acceptance and application means for individuals and the wider world/creation. Core to Stott’s understanding of and articulation of the gospel is of course the death of Jesus on the Cross, but I was particularly encouraged by his presentation of the Resurrection, particularly with reference to it’s possibility and power:
“Thus the resurrection of Jesus assures us of God’s forgiveness, power and ultimate triumph. It enables us
– to face our past (however many reasons we have to be ashamed of it), confident of God’s forgiveness through him who died for our sins and was raised;
– to face our present (however strong our temptations or heavy our responsibilities), confident of the sufficiency of God’s power;
– to face our future (however uncertain it may be), confident of God’s final triumph of which the resurrection is the pledge.
The resurrection, precisely because it was a decisive, public, visible act of God within the material order, brings us firm assurance in an otherwise insecure world”
Another particularly powerful part of this book is Stott’s masterful unpacking of what the most simple Christian confession, ‘Jesus is Lord’ actually means. The simplicity and depth of that beautiful confession, and the way that Stott shows how profoundly relevant and radical it is today, is arguably worth the cost of this little book. If you want to understand the gospel, the joyful, bible-shaped and Jesus-focused gospel of evangelicalism and historic Christianity, this is a helpful book. I would even suggest that in some contexts it may be helpful for Christians to read through with non-Christian friends, just so that friends are clear what it is we as Christians actually believe, rather than ‘the gospel gets you to heaven when you die’ or ‘be good’, etc.
My only niggle with The Gospel is now going to be an ongoing niggle with this miniature series of books. In distilling one book (of the two editions of The Contemporary Christian I already owned, the most recent [with study guide] is well over 400 pages!) there is of course some overlap. This is forgivable, but the conclusion of The Gospel and The Disciple seemed to me to be literally identical. Now I may be wrong (and there is nothing to condemn in the content of the conclusion, only a niggle over its repeating!) but this seems to me as somewhat of a missed opportunity. This aside, the fact that Stott’s beautiful teaching is available again in what is otherwise a really excellent bit of publishing, is a blessing to the church. I hope it will be widely read, and will probably return to it when thinking about the great themes of the gospel.
John Stott’s classic The Contemporary Christian has been transformed into five short readable books. I’ve been given review copies of each, and they connect to each other and engage with key issues in a most excellent way. If you’ve liked this review, you may also like the other books in this little selection: