Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review - The World-Tilting Gospel

Introduction


Only a few months ago I suggested to a student to step away from brand new books and read some books from men of antiquity who have proved to be useful, orthodox, non-heretical, and able to stand the test of time; instead of a flash in the pan. This was in response to infatuation with the "radical", "mystical", "save the world", "the Holy Spirit looks just like me", "be the most innovative and relevant pastor ever" books that are flooding out of christianity like a broken sewer line. I have read my fair share of those books, fortunately from a need to know basis on what heresy is being peddled in print so as to be able to head it off to students; but I decided to then take my advice to this student personally, and planned to not read any new authors for a while. Beloved, I can tell you that my recent dive in the works of John Owen have been hugely edifying and quite a jump from writers who "almost" get-it, to a man who has been motivating Christians towards holiness and good works for centuries.

But then I saw that Dan Phillips was releasing a new book (books actually, but I've only read his first one), on one of my favorite verses, turning the world upside down. The book is called The World-Tilting Gospel. I was hesitant to buy it, based on my previous advice, but then the news came out that it was released on Kindle quite a bit earlier than the planned release date, and I read some excerpts and then I was compelled to buy it and read it. I'm very glad I did, and I recommend everyone who is reading this review to do likewise, it is a fantastic book, and one that I pray finds its way into the libraries of many pastors, teachers, evangelists, and those who should be.

The Good

I honestly expected this book to have a flavor somewhat like David Platt's Radical, only much better. I had that expectation solely on the title, I thought it would include things like, "How are you going to turn the world upside down if you've built your future on it?" or things like that, I don't know why I had those expectations, since I'm a long time reader of Phillips' blog, but I definitely expected things like that based on a solitary verse in Acts 17:6 and a similar one in Acts 4:31. I expected great things from Phillips, and honestly, he far surpassed my expectations in ways I could never have expected.

First of all, this book is a rock-solid polemic for Calvinism. Phillips spends just the right amount of time showing how hopeless Adam is, how hopeless mankind is in Adam, and how hopeless we are in ourselves, then he exalts Christ as the Saviour who entered hostile territory to seek and save that which was lost. Dan's look at the gospel, utterly scriptural, is Calvinism, and if you don't understand either the gospel or Calvinism, this book will give you a firm foundation in both, because as Spurgeon said, "Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else."

Second, Phillips masterfully defines the differences between justification (being declared righteous), forgiveness, and regeneration. I knew the difference going in, but the way which Phillips describes each edified me and I gained both sermon-illustrations and a clearer understanding of the amazing things Christ did for believers on the cross. Everyone from a new believer to a seasoned pastor will benefit from this section.

Third, this book contains great expositions of texts, mainly Genesis 3 and John 3, both of which I've already used in my own ministry. Beloved, if the only thing this book contained was these amazing expositions, I would recommend it, and it contains so much more.

Fourth, Phillips doesn't make an error it seems almost every Christian writer is making recently, to tell his readers what they should be doing with the information in their books with selfish detail. Phillips keeps it nice and broad, recognizing that the gospel pours forth good works, but that different Christians are equipped and gifted to work in different ways. Refreshingly Phillips doesn't tell his readers to sell their house, fight the sex-trade, dig wells in third world countries; he tells his readers to preach the gospel, specifically one of my favorite quotes from the book, "It is that Gospel, and not our methods or programs, that is the saving power of God for everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16). It is the best you have to give anyone. Grasp it firmly. Live it robustly. Give it profligately, in Christ's name. And just watch things start to shake and shift." (Kindle Location 5776) Readers will certainly be motivated to do more good with the gospel by Phillips' book than similar books that tell people where they should be working, regardless of their gifting.

Fifth, this book goes after the "Let go and let God" error with zeal for the truth and shreds errors that probably every reader will have heard without recognizing their danger. I always knew I didn't like the "Let go/let God" language but I had never really thought about why. Phillips shows that the gospel is a call for action and that you as a believer ought to, "bless those who curse you, serve one another, go out from the unclean, love your wives, love one another strenuously, flee immorality, work out your salvation, train yourself for godliness, keep yourselves in God’s love, hold fast what you have . . . Does any of that sound like 'Let go and let God'?" (Loc. 4112) The message of this book, which is really the message of the Bible, will strengthen believers and send them out to minister the true gospel to the world. I pray that through this book the following will be true for all who read it,
Show me a person focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ—never tiring of learning about Him, thinking about Him, boasting of Him, speaking about and for and to Him, thrilled and entranced with His perfections and beauty, finding ways to serve and exalt Him, tirelessly exploring ways to spend and be spent for Him, growing in character to be more and more like Him—and I will show you a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit. (Loc. 5120)
The Bad

I don't want this to sound like just a commercial for this book, so I do have to include a nitpick I have. Over the past few years the Christian community has had its discernment piqued to multiple Bible translations used in a single book. When an author steps away from a single translation, red flags should appear everywhere to the reader. This is usually a sign that the author is making an unbiblical point which he needs a bad translation to support, and so jumps from the KJV to the CEV to the AMP to the Message to the NIV and occasionally to their own translation (think N.T. Wright).

Phillips jumps around a lot, but it's for a totally different reason. He genuinely knows what the Greek says, and he wants the point of the passage to be transmitted most accurately to the reader. I did not disagree a single time with any of his translations, and I checked most of them, because honestly, red flags shot up everywhere for me when I saw multiple translations being used.

While I commend Phillips for his desire to get the biblical author's point across, I am worried that readers may be inclined to doubt the veracity of their translation, wondering if they need to learn Greek just to understand their Bibles; wondering if any translation is correct.

Honestly, Phillips says things in this book that most modern authors are not saying; they are great things, biblical things, world-tilting things, things which the "radical" crowd utterly misses, and I would hate for a reader to think Phillips had arrived at those things because he found them in the original languages, things which had been lost in translation. In actuality, these things are actually included quite perspicuously in your ESV Bible, your KJV Bible, your (1st gen) NIV Bible, your NASB Bible, RSV, NRSV, NKVJ, Holman, NLT...etc. etc, you only need to read your Bible looking for the author's intention to see them.

If there is one opportunity for major improvement in The World-Tilting Gospel, my opinion is that a writer does much better to stick to a single translation, only correcting its translation when it is blatantly wrong or ambiguous, so as to ensure lay readers that their Bible translation is trustworthy, because most are.

Conclusion

The World-Tilting Gospel is a masterful summary of the message of the Bible and Christianity. It makes an amazing case for the importance of recognizing man's hopelessness, God's saving grace, the extent of that grace, and the motivation for Christians to be preaching and living this message while being strengthened by the Holy Spirit.

There is really nothing new in Phillips' book, but the straightforward way in which he presents this message is sure to open the eyes of readers to the veracity of the Sovereignty of God and the bonded will of man; to the utter perfection of God's plan and his power to save. The cross of Christ comes alive to be not just be an afterthought in a Christian's past, but first it radically impacts the believer's life, and then the world in which that believer lives.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wonders why their Christianity has not turned their life or community upside down and who wants to see the gospel make a difference in their life and the lives of those around them, and to anyone who wants to understand the message of the Bible.

In an age where most new Christian books are anything but Christian, The World-Tilting Gospel is a light shining in the darkness, exalting Christ, making grace amazing, and motivating Christians to take the true gospel and impact their world with it. Dear reader, I hope you will do just that.

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