Four delightful books answer four Gospel questions
A few weeks ago, former President (and former SBC member) Jimmy Carter was asked, “Do you believe that grace ultimately applies to people who don’t presently believe in Jesus?”His answer, though not a surprise, was nonetheless troubling.
He said, “Yes, I do. I remember two things. One is that in John 3:16, which is probably the best known verse in the Bible – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” And Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, said we should love our neighbors, but also love those who despise us and hate us and our enemies. So, the opportunity for everyone to be saved through the grace of God with faith in Christ applies to everyone. And I have been asked often, you know, in my Sunday School classes, which are kind of a give and take debate with people from many nations and many faiths – what about those that don’t publicly accept Christ, are they condemned? And I remember that Christ said, “Judge not that ye be not judged.” And so, my own personal belief is one of God’s forgiveness and God’s grace. That’s the best answer I can give.”
That may be the best answer Carter can give, but it is not an answer that passes the test of Gospel fidelity.
More importantly though, what kind of answer would the people in our own churches give to such a question? Does a person really understand the Gospel at all if they believe that Jesus Christ is one of several ways of salvation? Are Evangelicals united in a biblical understanding of the gospel? How did the gospel penetrate our lives in the first place? We use the term “gift” to describe the gospel, but what exactly is it that we have been given?
Here are four delightful books, each of which answers some of these Gospel questions. First, in writing “Is Jesus the Only Savior,” James Edwards answers the battle cry of religious pluralism. He explains the 21st century challenges, but upholds the historic Christian position of believing in Jesus Christ as sole Savior of the world.
Second, R.C. Sproul tackles the question of Evangelical unity in “Getting the Gospel Right: The Tie That Binds Evangelicals Together.” Originally released in 1999, this book was written as an explanation of the doctrinal statement called “The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration.” Sproul contends that in order to be faithful to the Great Commission, we must get the Gospel right. This book makes for good reading on both the Gospel and on the need for Christian unity.
Third, John Ensor wrote “The Great Work of the Gospel” to explain the “outworking grace” of God in the salvation of sinners. How does the “great work” of salvation come to us, and what does the work of Christ do to us for the remainder of our lives? Pouring forth in praise and glory to God, Ensor takes familiar Gospel themes and gives us something fresh and full of life. This is fast becoming a favorite book of mine.
Finally, in “God is the Gospel: Meditations on God’s Love as the Gift of Himself,” John Piper argues that the Gospel is not really about the blessings God gives us, but is instead the radical truth that God Himself is the gift. He writes some very penetrating questions –
“If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there? And the question for Christian leaders is: Do we preach and teach and lead in such a way that people are prepared to hear that question and answer with a resounding NO? How do we understand the Gospel and the love of God?”
So, how would we answer these questions? How would the people in our churches answer them? If we get the Gospel wrong, we have lost everything. These four books, saturated with Scripture as they are, are a helpful means of thinking through the definition and application of the Gospel. (Scott Lamb pastors Providence Baptist Church in St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To respond to this review or to read about other books, visit www.wisdomofthepagescom.)