The Gospel – what is it? by Alistair Hornal
'Every home group would be richly blessed by running a series based on material like this in the coming year'
The Gospel – what is it?
By Alistair Hornal
Reviewed by Terry Young
One of the encouragements of the contemporary book scene is the number of titles offering a big picture of the Bible that are starting to emerge. This is the latest one that I have encountered.
I suppose I had better start with a declaration of interests: I know Alistair, Partnership UK has published some of my books, and I am on its subscription list, so I got my copy, gratis. But I didn’t want to review this purely as a piece of cronyism…
As soon as I saw the title, my interest was piqued since I’ve become ever more convinced that what we believe as Christians is both simpler and more complicated than we usually acknowledge. Most of our Bible study seems unbelievably trivial, especially when we are presenting the faith to enquirers or new Christians, so I was hoping for a more thoughtful approach to the basics of the faith.
The Nobel Laureate, Richard Feynman, is one of my heroes (not for his theology which was sadly atheistic, but) for his clarity of thought and the way he articulated complicated ideas. Around 60 years ago, Caltech put him in charge of a physics course for freshmen, and the result – The Feynman Lectures on Physics – is now legendary. What most people don’t realise is that while he was renovating physics for undergraduates, the freshmen dribbled out of the theatre.
However, it didn’t empty, because his faculty colleagues drifted in. My guess is that it became the oldest crowd to sit a freshman course!
And there is a scent of that to Alistair’s book: it looks like an introduction for beginners but moves rapidly into broader territory. If you want a crisp ‘how to’ formula for becoming a Christian, Alistair is not your man. Likewise, if you want to hop around a few key verses in 15 minutes, this will prove a disappointment. Despite the swathes of blank space for you to write your own notes, the small print at the bottom of most pages, and down the sides of some, contains the meat of the exercise. Somehow, Alistair introduces challenges in translation and key current debates in theology without loading the reader down.
Don’t read this if you don’t want to spend time in the major and minor prophets; don’t read it if you don’t want to think too critically about how the ‘gospel’ presented in the synoptics and the writings of Paul and even Peter, fits together and yet how each writer contrasts with the others; don’t read it if you want a crib sheet at the end to see if you got it right – there isn’t one!
I’m submitting this review because I think every home group would be richly blessed by running a series based on material like this in the coming year. In the right hands, Alistair’s slim volume would support an 8-week discussion-based study series and help Christians to think and talk through what it is they believe. There is a richness to the sparse layout that would fuel a deeply rewarding dialogue amongst a mixed group of new and mature Christians.
Our cookie-cutter evangelism has left us with the idea that the Gospel is a private deal between God and me, mediated in some way by what Jesus did and what the Holy Spirit does, that frees me from eternal punishment and might make me a little easier to live with in the meantime. This may be true as far as it goes, but it is woefully inadequate for making the most of the coming year.
This year, take a little time to enjoy what God has prepared in the Gospel and to live a life of joyous thankfulness, as a result.
Professor Terry Young is an author and member of a Baptist church. He set up Datchet Consulting which combines his experience in industry and academia.
The Gospel - what is it? can be ordered from Partnership - churches networking for mission