Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Gospel by J.D. Greear @jdgreear (Book Review #60 of 2015)

Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary
(The first thing I note is for Kindle readers: For some reason, Amazon isn't saving/displaying my highlights for this book as with other books, so I don't have location references with the quotes below. I'm not sure where the fault is here, it simply does not appear on the Your_Highlights page, the history skips over this book for some reason.)

My church went through the video and study guide series version (Gospel Revolution), but I missed out on most of it so I read the book instead. This book has a good intent and message, but Greear unfortunately follows in the footsteps of many putting out books in the perish-or-publish mentality today, writing as if he's had an epiphany no one else has had and ignoring the works of countless Christians who have written on the subject before. There is some value in writing using modern humor and terminology, but in Greear's critique of churches today and telling of personal anecdotes really takes the focus off of the magnitude and infinite worth of God, which is definitely not his intent.

For example, This is a quote from Greear that is something Piper has written volumes on, and Piper quotes Jonathan Edwards and Augustine:
"Learning to be satisfied in Jesus will free you to enjoy everything else. Being fulfilled in Christ means that you no longer depend on other things for life and happiness. That means you can enjoy them, because you are no longer enslaved by them. The prospect of losing them doesn’t terrorize you. And you can say 'no' to them when they are not God’s will."

I recommend the reader instead check out other works like A. W. Tozer's Attributes of God (compiled from Tozer's sermons) and John Pipers' Desiring God and Future Grace as a much more powerful look at how awesome God and the Gospel are. Those books do a much better job at magnifying God, in my opinion. Oswald Chamber's My Utmost for His Highest is also great at reminding us of the greatness of the Gospel and our inadequacy.  In contrast, Greear's book leaves one with the sense of "am I doing this right? Maybe I should try harder." Grear quotes his "BFF" Tim Keller a lot, partially attributing his epiphany to Keller's sermons and writing. So, I'd recommend the Keller works and sermons referenced over this book as well.

Grear's audience is basically churches in the Southern Baptist Convention. Grear grew up in the SBC, lived for two years as a Journeyman with the IMB in SE Asia, but apparently did not really discover the Gospel until afterwards when apparently he was exposed to the teaching of Tim Keller. His intention is to help individuals and the local church give up their tendencies towards working for God's approval and recognize that it is already given, and can only come from, Christ's sacrifice.

"True religion is when you serve God to get nothing else but more of God."
"God could not love me any more than He does right now, because God could not love and accept Christ any more than He does, and God sees me in Christ...'Neither do I condemn you' precedes 'go and sin no more.' We almost always try to reverse those. We say, 'If you can manage to go and sin no more, then God will accept you.'"

He is now pastor of the The Summit Church in NC, and his description of the giving and service-oriented nature of his congregation make it sound truly unique; Raleigh gives Greear a public service award in the book because his church members are found "everywhere" there is a need in the city. I do wonder, however, how stratified his church is across racial and income lines.

I found Grear's chapter on idolotry to be good, it really summed up the message of Brad Bigney's Gospel Treason well. It also quotes heavily from David Powlison, as did Bigney.

"You worship whatever it is you deem most essential for life and happiness."

There is also a chapter responding to what Greear sees as the imbalance of those pursuing a give-it-all-away lifestyle after reading David Platt's Radical (he sent the chapter to Platt, who dialogued with him about it, before publishing). Greear notes that looking at the NT as a whole, it's hard to come up with hard-and-fast rules for tithing, income level, going overseas, etc.

"The New Testament goes to meticulous lengths to avoid prescribing an amount believers should give. For example, in the gospel of Luke, at least three times Jesus commends a different amount."

He shares six principles about money that "we should hold in reverent tension," including that God delights in our enjoyment of His gifts and that Jesus' radical generosity is both model and motivation for us to do likewise. Nonetheless, wealth-building can be wise. I found these chapters to be mostly void of a theology of work.

My biggest concern was that he ignores the role of the church community in making decisions on personal financial matters. The church should be a safe place to talk about financial matters. If you're not sure if the house you're building is too big or whether you should sell or donate your old goods, then you should be able to talk to your small group or pastor about it. The Church in Acts modeled generosity and "sharing all things in common" required some transparency about what they had. That aspect is absent from most SBC churches, in my observation, and is missing from Greear's book as well. Likewise, we should not just preach the gospel to ourselves, as Greear recommends, but to each other as well.

Another concern is on the "commandments" chapter. Greear writes that we are obedient out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us, but Piper argues strongly in Future Grace that this is not enough. We can't just run our cars on yesterday's gas, we have to keep filling up by understanding what God is doing and is going to do for us in Christ Jesus.

He closes a book with a "fear" that it might contribute to a growing "self-righteousness among younger theologians who feel like understanding gospel-centeredness makes them more special in the eyes of God (oh, the irony!). I don't mean to come across that way in this review, I just wish people would spend time with older, wiser theologians who wrote long ago rather than try to reinvent the wheel.

I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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