Greg Gilbert's What Is The Gospel? little book is packed with helpful information. It delivers on answering the question by which it is titled.
Gilbert begins this little book by stating this question should be an easy one to answer. Certainly it is something all Christians should find agreement on, right? A book such as this should "be completely unnecessary. It's like asking carpenters to sit around and ponder the question, What is a hammer?" (Gilbert, p. 15).
But it is necessary.
Gilbert's experience matches my own. If you ask Christians the simple question, "What is the gospel?" you will get varied responses. Many of these responses fall well short of the biblical testimony. Gilbert sets out to bring some clarity and substance to the question.
Greatest Strengths1. The Outline. Gilbert traces the gospel testimony throughout Scripture and looks for an outline to follow, not simply a recitation on basic facts or content. I think this is an element that sets this book apart from other attempts to answer the same question. It's not that this book ignores content. Quite the contrary! However, it looks for an overall outline of how that content is connected throughout the varied proclamations of the gospel recorded throughout Scripture.
The outline of God-Man-Christ-Response is informative and helpful. It is a faithful outline that can be followed by Christians as we proclaim the gospel to the world.
2. The Flexibility. This is related to the first point. Once the outline is established in your mind, the follower of Christ has the freedom to expand each element as necessary for the context. Gilbert gives examples throughout Scripture of certain preachers who spend more time on certain elements than others based on their context.
If we are equipped to proclaim on each element, we can follow the lead of the Holy Spirit in emphasizing which aspects of the gospel are more needed. We can also be sure that we are not leaving necessary elements out simply because it seems like other aspects need to be emphasized. A particular witnessing situation may require more or less time spent on the God element, for example. If the outline is understood, I can be free to expand and dwell on this element before quickly touching on the remaining elements to ensure a complete proclamation.
3. The Need For Further Study. Some may consider this a weakness. I consider it a strength.
Sometimes evangelism methods can claim to be exhaustive. As a result, the Christian can be deceived into believing that once the method is memorized and the content is assimilated, you're good to go. No further growth is needed.
Gilbert's model presents an outline that is well-suited to a lifetime of further biblical study and growth. As you saturate yourself in the Word of God you will be better equipped to expand on each and every element of his suggested outline. The more you study, the more helpful the outline becomes. Not because it gives you the content to say but a coherent way of organizing the content of the gospel no matter how much content you have hidden in your heart from your own study.
4. What The Gospel Is Not. Gilbert also takes some time to address many of the incomplete ideas of the gospel that are featured predominantly in popular theology. It was good to include this to both address what the gospel is and what it isn't.
Greatest WeaknessWhile the length of this book can be viewed as a strength (it's pretty short), there is a possibility that someone may conclude this study is all you need to know. Not only does Gilbert address the gospel but he deals with a very important related topic: the kingdom of God. This second study could be a book all on its own.
Likewise, as Gilbert addresses some of the incomplete gospel ideas (a strength) I felt he could have given them a lot more attention than he did.
I tend to like longer explanations. I understand that this weakness in my view will be a strength to many others because it makes the book more readable and accessible to a wider audience. I tend to think that those who agree with Gilbert from the beginning will be most likely to appreciate the shorter length. For those who are inclined to disagree with Gilbert, however, I'm not sure that his short engagement with ideas held near and dear will convince those in error to change their minds and agree with him.
ConclusionWhat is the Gospel? is not as thorough as Paul Washer's book series on the same topic. However, that is not really a criticism or a weakness. It's a strength. Gilbert has done something that very few authors have done - he took the important topic of the gospel and made it very accessible. In my opinion, this short read is an excellent primer and a good giveaway to those just learning about the gospel.
It has also served very well as we have equipped people to preach the gospel in many contexts, especially for those desirous of learning to proclaim the gospel in public.