Matt Chandler | Interview by: Matt Smethurst
Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church outside Dallas, contends in his first book—The Explicit Gospel—that the gospel is a message too precious to be merely assumed. It deserves to be proclaimed, in all of its fullness, with unashamed and glorious explicitness.
But what is this “explicit gospel”? Is it a message about me or a story involving grander, even cosmic, implications? Matt Smethurst corresponded with Chandler about his contribution to the ever-growing well of gospel-centered literature.
The Explicit Gospel comes out amid a flurry of good books on the gospel (e.g., J. D. Greear’s Gospel, Tullian Tchividjian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Jared Wilson’s Gospel Wakefulness). What makes your contribution unique?
Each of those books comes at the gospel from a different direction. That’s the beauty of the gospel. It’s big enough that we can keep coming at it and seeing really beautiful things. I try in The Explicit Gospel to look at it up close (individual salvation) and then pull way back and look at it from 30,000 feet (meta/mega-narrative). I’ve found that unfortunately a lot of people want to pick one of those perspectives and ignore or vilify the other. I’m trying to build a bridge between brothers and sisters who love the gospel and maybe pull both back to a more robust and less reductionist view of the gospel.
You write, “[There's an] ache bigger than all of us. We need a redemption bigger than all of us.” How has your experience with cancer affected your understanding of this truth?
The journey with cancer simply let me feel that truth more deeply. As a pastor who has gone into parts of the world that are oppressed and under the weight of injustice, I’ve seen and heard the ache from plenty of people. I really empathized with it, but not until I was told I had a terminal, incurable disease did I felt the full weight of that ache.
Is being “missional” different than being neighborly, loving, and evangelistic?
I believe there’s a difference, although being “missional” has all those components, and if you're not being neighborly, loving, and evangelistic, you’re most definitely not being missional. Ultimately, we are a sent people who, being reconciled by God, are given the ministry of reconciliation. The question then has to become, What is God reconciling in Christ? The answer from Scripture is everything. The implications of that answer should ripple through our lives and call us to intentionality. How we relate to family, friends, co-workers, our cities and towns, the poor, the nations, as well as how we handle injustice and oppression, are all opportunities to join God in what he is doing. In the process we are sanctified, and our joy increases. The results of our intentional living aren’t up to us, but the call to living that way is Spirit-empowered.
You write, “[Our] mission becomes vague when it stays zoomed out.” What do you mean?
That sentence comes in a section where I’m explaining the dangers of picking a perspective instead of letting the gospel remain full and robust. For our brothers and sisters who operate exclusively in what I call the “gospel in the air,” there is a historic tendency to get away from the atonement and our need for faith and repentance. What can end up happening is a perverse exchange of the transformative work of the gospel for acts of kindness extended to those in need. I argue that we need to “zoom out” to see all that God is doing in the reconciliation of all things in Christ, but that the atonement is the gravitational pull that keeps us from spinning off into space.
What cautions would you give to young Reformed folks who have been awakened to the supremacy of God and the grandeur of the explicit gospel?
My hope would be they wouldn’t swing the pendulum of their perspective too far in either direction. I wrote chapters on the dangers of not including both perspectives because there are legitimate hazards to swinging too far either way.
Matt Smethurst is an assistant editor for The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.