Grand Rapids: Kregel
315 pages, paperback, £11.99
Dan Phillips is best known as a Christian blogger, contributing both to his own site, and the world renowned Pyromaniacs. His posts at either location are always articulate, often provocative and are consistently God-centred. Many have come to appreciate his writing style and his theological stance, and so the news that he had earned a publishing contract for two books in 2011 was welcome indeed. Along with an extended treatment of Proverbs, Dan has authored The World Tilting Gospel, and it is on this title that the following review will focus.
The World Tilting Gospel is a book about us, God, salvation, holiness and basic Christian living. Over the course of 300+ pages, Dan Phillips skilfully steers his reader through what the Gospel is, what it means for us, how we can come to appropriate it, and the difference it makes in our lives. The basic contention behind the book is that the Gospel as first preached by the Apostles turned the world upside down (hence the 'world-tilting' part of the title) and that when properly understood, it can do exactly the same today. Behind the book is a burden that,
'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 or more programmes, snazzier decor or entertainment. We do need a whole-Bible grasp of the Gospel' (p.19)
The World Tilting Gospel goes back to basics and back to the beginning, taking the reader on a tour of biblical doctrine starting with God's work in creation, through man's fall, and God's plan of redemption. Part one of the book deals with our identity as sinners, part two God's plan of salvation, part three the means of becoming a Christian, and part four the realities of Christian discipleship and growth.These issues are handled in astonishing detail for a popular book, but the truths are expressed in terms that are at once orthodox and freshly phrased. Phillips is all too aware that the Gospel can easily be diluted or polluted by popular misconceptions, and he creatively sets out how people can misunderstand and misappropriate the Gospel in subtle ways. In slightly Bunyan-esque tones the author paints a picture of Bud Goodheart who simply wants God to rubber stamp his self efforts; Lodowick Legup who complements what God has done in the Gospel with his all important 'decision'; and Misty Call who is caught up with self-surrender as a means of spiritual fulfillment. These cameos nicely frame the need for a book of this kind, making the plain Gospel plain, in a world (and a Church!) which has a tendency to airbrush it or reduce it to manageable proportions.
The soteriology of The World Tilting Gospel is soundly Reformed, putting God at the centre and presenting Man in his utter depravity and deadness to God. Through extended argument and extensive quotation from both the Old and New Testaments Phillips paints a chilling and faithful picture of where sin took us, stating that 'we cannot understand what God has done for us, or wants for us, until we come to grips with where Adam put us, what sin has made us' (p.71).
One of the pleasing features of the book is that it often takes the reader along an unexpected road to reach a familiar destination. The plan of salvation presented in the chapters begins, not with the process by which we come to Christ, but the person who deigned and designed to save us: God Himself. Phillips takes God's holiness as his starting point and from there builds a coherent picture of what God's love and wisdom in salvation truly mean in the light of His hatred of sin. This refreshing route planning is also witnessed in the outline presented of God's salvation plan, where there is a refusal to jump into New Testament teaching without laying the important ground work of Old Testament promise and foreshadowing. This allows readers who might be familiar with the doctrines of grace to find themselves surprised afresh by the audacity of God's saving work, and allows new converts to get a thorough biblical grounding in what it means to be saved.
Chapters 7-8 of the book are central (physically and theologically) setting out as they do the grand truths of justification and regeneration. These are extended treatments, which achieve that most difficult of things - deep truth presented with lightness of touch. I am so grateful that these chapters appear in a book of this kind, as they teach rich theology in a popular way - opening up to the reader the enormity of God's miracle of grace in bringing us to Himself.
The closing chapters of the book (Part Four) handle the complex and convoluted area of Christian growth. Phillips portrays a number of misunderstandings about how we can come to know holiness in our lives. Gutless Gracers, Crisis Upgraders and Muzzy Mysticism are the terms used to describe antinomianism, second-blessing doctrine, and Keswick style surrender teaching respectively. The author effectively dismantles these approaches to holiness but in so doing provides a positive picture of what santification is. Chapter 13, which deals with the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us into the likeness of Christ is nothing short of exhilarating, showing the dynamic resources the believer already has for living the Christian life. The final chapter of the book forms the overall teaching from doctrine to practical living into an organic whole, showing the difference that an appreciation and appropriation of the true Gospel will bring. When understood and applied the Gospel of Jesus Christ truly is 'world-tilting'.
My one criticism of the book is the absence of an in-built study guide. As a Pastor I am keen to start working through The World Tilting Gospel with some folks by way of discipleship and questions/discussion starters would have made an excellent book into a highly usable resource. A study guide is currently under construction, and it is to be hoped that it will become available soon so that the riches contained in the book might be mined by many, and discussed in a disciple-making way among God's people.
I highly recommend this book. It is a readable and reliable guide to how God saves sinners, and makes Christians holy. My abiding impression as a reader is that these are issues that have marinaded in the mind of the author over many years, and which now find mature, biblically nuanced, expression. Phillip's grasp of doctrine, biblical languages, and how to communicate in energetic prose make this a book which anyone will find easy and challenging to read.
The Gospel was always designed to be world-tilting - Dan Phillips shows us why, and how we can know its transforming power in our lives and churches once again.
For those seeking to purchase The World Tilting Gospel in the UK the Book Depository appear to be the only supplier. They offer a discount on the cover price and free delivery (see here).