The World-Tilting Gospel

October 7, 2011 — 3 Comments

Dan Phillips is perhaps best known for his posts at the team blog, Pyromaniacs, but he also has his own personal blog to boot. He’s a graduate of Talbot Seminary and has taught extensively on the book of Proverbs and the sovereignty of God.

In this book, he has constructed a easy to read explanation of the Christian worldview. Phillips’ style is very conversational and this is a book I would be comfortable giving to some of the youth in our church or even some of my high school students. While the books seems best aimed at that demographic, it really is for anyone who wants an accessible treatment of the general contours of a biblical worldview and why it matters.

The book is split into four parts, each one oriented around a specific question:

  • Who are we?
  • What has God done for us?
  • How do we get in?
  • How to we get going?

One might incorrectly glean from the orientation of these questions that this book is pretty man centered. Actually reading it though, one would see a book that is richly God-centered in its presentation. Part one is about how we were created by God; part two is about what God in Christ has done for us; part three is about how God through Christ and the Spirit reconciles us to himself; and part four is about how God in Christ and by the Spirit has given us all we need for life and godly living.

Phillips digs in deep to many areas of the Christian worldview throughout this book. His focus has a practical thrust as you might have gathered from the above outline. In his culminating chapter (not a concluding one, but a culminating one) he explains

We are about to synthesize all that we’ve seen together from a different angle, put it together, and distill the essence of how the biblical Gospel worldview we’ve learned positions us to be world-tilters and barrier-busters.

The primary aim of this book has been to gain strategic intelligence. That is, we have focused on “What?” and “How?” and “Why?” Our discussion has been about truths, about ideas, about how we see and approach our world (p. 276).

Because “ideas do have consequences” Phillips closes with 9 ramifications of the Gospel, which can help move the reader “into serious, world-tilting engagement with the Gospel.” They are:

  1. God is over everything (God is the only being with aseity to use a theological term)
  2. Sin is a massive, universal, nightmare factor (and our central problem)
  3. The world is not self-defining (Its Creator defines it)
  4. Meaning and fulfillment cannot be found within the world (in an ultimate beyond this life sense)
  5. We mustn’t reason from “is” to “should (because the world is out of whack, see #2)
  6. We must reason from “designed,” “commanded,” and “re-created” to “intended” (because #1 entails a yet to be realized purpose)
  7. Jesus Christ is the most important person, event, and figure in all of history (period)
  8. In Christ and through the cross, we have been given all we need for godly living (and cross is shorthand for death, burial, resurrection, and ascension)
  9. The vast bounty of God’s provisions for us in Christ enables and obliges us to get on with it to his glory

As Phillips said in the beginning of his book,

The greatest need of the church today is a strategic, full-orbed, robust, biblical grasp of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and its transformative implications. We don’t need more glitz or glamour, better marketing, snazzier decor or entertainment. We do need a whole-Bible grasp of the Gospel (p. 19).

With that intention, Phillips is working toward an end that is similar to Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel. While these books however have different foci, they are in some ways complementary. Both place an emphasis on the importance of the biblical story, and both spend considerable amounts of space dealing directly with the biblical text. I would say Phillips’ book is more thorough though, especially since he covers the whole scope of the biblical story in more detail than McKnight. Theologically, Phillips and McKnight are not exactly on the same page, though I think they are both affirming the same basic gospel. They just have different emphases and different nuances they want to bring to the reader’s attention. Phillips is writing to remedy a lack in the church, while McKnight is writing to remedy a confusion he sees in the church.In the end, I think a reader would benefit from reading both books side by side with the “discerning, but teachable spirit,” that Phillips urged his readers to have (p. 22). Sparks may fly between the two, but I think that’s a good thing.

Overall, I think this is a great book to use to introduce someone to the biblical gospel in a way that moves through the story of the Bible in a seamless manner. This isn’t a theology textbook, but its packed with biblical and systematic theological reflections. Phillips exegetes numerous passages of Scripture and doesn’t shy away from tough texts. He also doesn’t try to cram things together in a way that fits a system, but rather follows the ebb and flow of Scripture.

All of this makes for a great book, but I do have just a few reservations. To be clear, I think I would put these in the “would make the book better” rather than the “this book is deficient because these things are absent” category. Especially in light of the recent issues with The Elephant Room, I would have liked the book to have a more Trinitarian focus, especially in the chapters that touch on the nature of God. The attributes Phillips picks in the main chapter are God’s holiness, his love, and his wisdom, all attributes that must be in the mix in a book like this. But the Trinitarian nature of God really isn’t dealt with until chapter 13 which discusses the Holy Spirit. I would have liked it to be more front and center, because it may be something the reader walks away without a really clear grasp on. That, and I think is the focus of the book is on the biblical Gospel, then the Trinity should necessarily be heavily in focus.

The other concern, and maybe a less important one, is that Phillips lists only two towering truths regarding our redemption: justification and regeneration. I would have added adoption, and would have seen all three of those as implications of our union with Christ. This may just be my own preference and shouldn’t be judged as failing of Phillips’ book. He handles both justification and regeneration masterfully (chapters 7 & 8 respectively). I just would have liked to see them exposited within the framework of our union with Christ and more said about our adoption as sons and daughters of God.

Beyond those two concerns, neither of which represent a fatal flaw to the book itself, I think this is a great book and one that I would highly recommend to you if you’re looking for a readable, informative, and relentlessly biblical account of the Christian worldview that tells the story of the Gospel. As I am looking into starting up a discipleship program, this may end up being one of the primary books I have people read right off the bat.

Nate

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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

3 responses to The World-Tilting Gospel

  1. Nate, I really appreciate your reading and engaging TWTG so thoroughly and thoughtfully. Your reservations are noted. Kregel very graciously accepted and processed a manuscript significantly larger than they’d requested; yet even so, I can’t argue with anyone who suggests that other themes could have been developed. My hope was to strike at and build a center that would accommodate and head towards all the rest.

    As to the Elephant Room issue, I’d love to write something like that. I’d only offer this, not in defense but as a thought: I do think TWTG applies to the Elephant Room controversy in raising the question of how someone can be embraced as a “Christian leader” who is not known for proclaiming that Gospel, the Gospel of the Father sending His Son to redeem sinners, and His Spirit to baptize and indwell them. The book would be undone without that Gospel-centric, Trinitarian framework — and so, I’d argue, would any “Christian” ministry.

    As I say, just a thought, truly; not an argument.

    Thank you again!

    • Dan,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, I think you did strike at and build a center that could easily be more Trinitarianly expanded on. I tried to be tentative in my criticism since I still don’t really see it as a fault, but more just something I would have liked to be different.

      Good point about TWTG and the Elephant Room, I can see how it connects to the whole prosperity gospel issue, and by implication the Trinitarian fumblings of Jakes. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

      Thanks for writing such a good book!

      Nate

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