Recovering the Real Lost Gospel: Reclaiming the Gospel as Good News by Darrell L. Bock (B&H, 2010).
Recovering the Real Lost Gospel is an outstanding resource for growing in your understanding of the gospel. In just 136 pages, Darrell Bock surveys a wide range of biblical texts, offering the reader a broader perspective on the gospel than we usually see. If you’re looking to dig deeper into the gospel, this is a great place to begin.
According to Bock, we’ve lost something of the gospel today. It’s not that we’ve lost the gospel entirely. But we have lost something important. As Bock explains:
When I hear some people preach the gospel today, I am not sure I hear its presentation as good news. Sometimes, I hear a therapeutic call – that God will make us feel better or proposer more. Other times, I hear so much about Jesus paying for sin that the gospel seems limited to a transaction – the removal of a debt. Or perhaps I hear it as a kind of spiritual root canal. Still other times, I hear a presentation that makes the gospel seem more about avoiding something from God versus experiencing something with Him. Other presentations make me think Jesus came to change politics in the world. (p. 2)
So Bocks’ main concern is that ”the church has become cloudy on the purpose of the gospel” (p. 2). And that’s tragic.
His primary concern is that we’ve focused too much on one part of the story: the cross. And in the process, we’ve turned the gospel into a mere transaction, a ticket into heaven. Instead, he contends that we need to see the cross as the center of the gospel, but not the whole message. There’s more to the story.
So this book is really an attempt to survey how the Bible itself describes the gospel as a way of helping us all see that there’s more to it than we usually recognize.
What I Like
1. The Beginning. I love that Bock started his gospel study at the beginning of the story: Genesis. As I’ve argued before, I don’t think you can really understand the gospel unless you see how it connects to the overall story of what God has been up to from the very beginning. And Bock grounds the gospel in God’s creative purposes.
2. The Cross. And I completely agree that although the cross is absolutely central to the gospel, we make a mistake when we present the gospel as though it were only about saving individuals from their sins. That is good news. But there’s more good news that we need to hear. And Bock does a great job showing the the cross can be the hub of the story without losing sight of the rest of the story.
3. The Spirit. Bock also emphasizes the Spirit throughout the book. One of the greatest weaknesses of many gospel books is their neglect of the Spirit. But Bock is quick to point out that the gospel is only good news if you understand it as a story of God creating a new relationship with his people in and through the Spirit. Chapter 4 in particular is an outstanding discussion of grace as central to the Gospel, and the gift of the Spirit as central to a biblical view of grace. That chapter alone makes the book worth reading.
4. Repentance and Faith. Finally, Bock does a nice job discussing how we respond tot he gospel through repentance and faith. Bock points out that these are really two sides of the same coin – distinguishable, but inseparable. And, although I thought he could have made it a bit more clear, he does emphasize that repentance involves a radical change of mind about who God is followed by a significant transformation of one’s actual life. The order there is important. If we define repentance as the change itself, it’s easy to slip into viewing repentance as a work, something that we need to accomplish in order to be worthy of salvation. But that’s not how it happens. Personal transformation is absolutely a part of the story, but only as a consequence of the gospel, never its precursor.
What I Don’t Like
Overall, this is a great, little book. But let me offer a few comments on some weaknesses I see in the book.
1. OT Background. Although Bock did a great job grounding the gospel story in Genesis 1-2, I thought the OT background of the story was still a little weak in places. He pays almost no attention to the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, partly because he probably thinks this part of the story gets overemphasized in many gospel accounts, and he says next to nothing about the Mosaic covenant and the role of the Law in this story. These are all key elements of the story that he really needed to address in more detail.
2. Resurrection. Bock does deal with the resurrection, but he presents it merely as the “vindication” of Christ’s work. In other words, the resurrection is God’s declaration that he has accepted Jesus’s sacrifice and declared him to be the Messiah. But for the biblical authors, the resurrection seems much more significant that this. Paul connects the resurrection directly to our justification (Rom. 4:25), and he argues that without the resurrection, we have no hope (1 Cor. 15). Throughout the NT, the resurrection seems much more central to the gospel than its mere vindication.
3. Imputation. Interestingly, Bock says nothing about “The Great Exchange” – i.e. Christ taking our sins on himself and imputing his righteousness to us. Regardless of what you think about the doctrine of imputation, it’s startling that he doesn’t even address the idea and its key verses. Now, this is probably because he thinks that this kind of “transaction” approach to the gospel is overemphasized today. And he’s right. But that doesn’t mean that the solution is to ignore it entirely.
4. So What. Bock says almost nothing on the significance of the gospel for everyday life today. Like many, Bock focuses on the gospel as the story of how salvation begins. But, other than affirming that personal transformation is a necessary result of the gospel, he says very little about how the gospel should shape the rest of one’s life.
But, despite these reservations, this is outstanding book that I highly recommend. Bock has done an impressive job of packing a lot of great material into a very small package. And unlike some books about the gospel, this one manages to stay readable and accessible. If you’re looking for a good way of pressing further into the gospel, this is a great resource.
[Thanks to B&H for providing me with a review copy of Recovering the Lost Gospel. And this review was originally published over at Trans·formed.]