This is the sixth in a series of book reviews Cornerstone is publishing on our WordPress site. This week’s review is on The Gospel by Ray Ortlund. The idea is to encourage our readers to soak themselves in Gospel-centered literature this summer. Let the break from school not be a break from our Father in Heaven.
I often find that the word “Gospel” has lost its meaning in the modern church. In the past, I used to understand the term to represent the notion that Jesus died on the Cross for my sins and that I can be forgiven of the sins I committed if I believed in Him. That much is true of course, but it sorely misses out so much of what the Gospel truly is. When we only talk about the parts of the Gospel which pertain to us individually, we tend to subconsciously neglect the communal and relational aspects of it. In “The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ”, Ray Ortlund addresses this issue by showing how the Gospel is lived out in the local church.
Ortlund aims to encourage readers to start what he calls a “Gospel culture” which permeates the local church. Rooted on sound doctrine, this Gospel culture is one where members of the local church serve each other and thus display Christ. As Ortlund puts it,
When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, the church will be powerful.
Ortlund divides his book into two; the former dealing with the relevance of the Gospel on three levels: individual, church and Creation. The latter section of the book deals with application and the problems one would face in living out the Gospel life. Each chapter is also an exposition of a Biblical verse, where Ortlund does exegetical and hermeneutical work to show the reader how the verse should be understood in light of a Gospel culture. These verses range from the typical, Sunday school verse of John 3:16 to the tricky and usually avoided Revelation 21:5. It was refreshing to recap on the fundamental Biblical truths of the Gospel and also to be exposed to the less talked about corporate aspect of the faith.
Far from being an idealist, however, Ortlund recognizes the many issues churches will face in trying to produce a Gospel culture. For one, he rightly identifies a tension that many churches today face, whether to focus on producing sound doctrine or a culture of grace. Ortlund writes,
Every one of us is wired to lean one way or the other—toward emphasizing doctrine or culture… Left to ourselves, we will get it partly wrong, but we won’t feel wrong, because we’ll be partly right… Truth without grace is harsh and ugly. Grace without truth is sentimental and cowardly.
Reading the above warning was quite the wake-up call for me as I have always been a proponent of right doctrine who believed that it naturally leads to the right culture. I never entertained the possibility of “harsh and ugly” doctrine without grace emphasized. It was important for me to understand how the preaching from the pulpit, as important as it is, is not the be all end all of a church service. Rather, the culture of grace between members of the local church living out the Gospel is an equally, if not more, important aspect of the church that should never be neglected.
I would definitely recommend this book to everyone: the seeker confused by what he sees in churches, the new believer hungry for a clear and concise explanation of the Gospel and the old believer jaded with the modern church scene. Ortlund’s final chapter centers around Revelation 14:4,
They follow the Lamb wherever He goes.
Ortlund calls us to follow the example of Jesus and shape a Gospel culture in our local churches. Friends, let us consider and hold fast to the truth of the Gospel and let it take center stage in our lives, relationships and worldviews. As members of the body of Christ, let us display the beauty and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus.
The Gospel is available in most Christian bookstores and online at https://www.crossway.org/books/the-gospel-case/