This review first appeared on The Gospel Coalition.
This is the golden age of publishing books that are gospel-centered. And rightly so. Very few Christians would doubt that the gospel should be central to the spiritual formation of individuals and at the center of the church as a kingdom community. There is no arena of life outside the purview of the gospel; there is no area of life the gospel does not speak to. Therefore, Christians should make it their habit to reflect on the good news of the gospel deeply and often.
C. S. Lewis once pointed out that the danger for many Christians is that long exposure to the miraculous truths of God’s Word can eventually become commonplace. The gospel is “the old, old story,” but it should never feel like “the same ol’ story.” The good news that saves you is also the good news that sustains you throughout your Christian journey. As J. A. Medders writes in the opening pages of his new book Gospel Formed: Living a Grace-Addicted, Truth-Filled, Jesus-Exalting Life, “We grow by the gospel, we grow in the gospel, and we grow with the gospel.”
For this reason we should welcome voices that help us re-angle the light of the multifaceted gospel to shine on our hearts in a fresh way. Jesus’s declaration that “it is finished” should echo off every corner of our lives in perpetuity. Medders, lead pastor of Redeemer Church in Tomball, Texas, is a trustworthy guide in helping us meditate long and hard on what it means to, as his subtitle states, live a grace-addicted, truth-filled, Jesus-exalting life.
The best way to approach this book is to take your time. This is how it’s intended to be read. While you could speed through it quickly, it’s best to let each chapter stand alone as part of the journey.
In the introduction Medders shares his personal correspondence with some of the most respected living scholars, pastors, and writers on the question “what is gospel-centeredness?” Reading Jerry Bridges, Matt Chandler, Sam Storms, Doug Wilson, Russell Moore, and others explain their understanding of gospel-centeredness is a nice addition to this book. From there, Medders lays the groundwork for the gospel-centered mediations that follow. “The gospel, Jesus’s death and resurrection for our sins, is our starting block and our anchor and our wings,” Medders makes clear. “The gospel is our center, our core, our fuel. It’s our framework for understanding reality.” The bulk of Gospel Formedis centered on four questions:
- What is gospel worship? Gospel worship is glorifying God in all of life in light of, in acceptance with, motivated by, and empowered by the gospel of grace. Gospel worship is living in response to the gospel in spirit and in truth.
- What is gospel identity? Gospel identity is discovering the Christian’s meaning, purpose, acceptance with God, and position in the universe based on our union with Christ. Gospel identity is first, foremost, and always that we are “in Christ”.
- What is gospel community? Gospel community is a group of Christians encountering and exhorting each other to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Gospel community is the people of God living out the gospel ethics of the kingdom of God.
- What is gospel mission? Gospel mission is the call and commitment to spread the good news of gospel grace to all kinds of people in all kinds of places. Gospel mission is the spread of the name and fame of Jesus by means of gospel proclamation.
Each chapter in Gospel Formed is framed with a Bible verse or passage, and the meditations throughout each chapter are sprinkled with God’s Word. Simply put, the whole volume is saturated with the Bible. In every chapter Medders helps the reader linger on the perfect life of Christ, the bloodstained cross, the victorious empty tomb, and our beautiful King who reins forevermore. As I slowly worked through Gospel Formed, I often found myself in joyful exultation, proclaiming “Yes, that is good news!”
Medders’s goal is clear: he aims to serve the readers in the worship of God. At its heart, the book is written in a warm devotional tone. His punchy, poignant, and often funny prose is reminiscent of Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening, with a fresh enthusiasm that adds to the enjoyment of the reader’s experience. It’s not often that one can find a book that treats the precious doctrines of our ancient faith with language that today’s blue-collar Christian can fully grasp. But Medders accomplishes this well. This is the kind of book you can hand to new Christians who need to understand the heart behind soteriology, ecclesiology, and missiology. And this is the kind of book you can hand to old saints who need to experience the depths of soteriology, ecclesiology, and missiology in a renewed way.
It is a difficult thing to communicate such deep truths without being dry. The simplicity of Gospel Formed is deceptive since you will often find yourself reflecting deeply on the truths of theology long after you put it down. I wholeheartedly welcome this volume into the expanding collection of works that advance the cause of gospel-centeredness in the church today. As Russell Moore remarked, “If the gospel has become something routine to you, not the kind of news that lights up a Galilean sky with angels, read this book with expectation. . . . [Medders’s] enthusiasm can shake you out of routine toward glory.”