I enjoy reading thematically—following a certain theme through a variety of books. Recently I noticed that some of today’s most popular Christian mega-pastor authors had released new books and I thought I’d work my way through that list. The list includes new titles by Francis Chan, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald and David Platt. Not surprisingly, the books and their authors are all tightly connected. Driscoll and MacDonald endorse Chandler’s book; Chandler and Driscoll return the favor in MacDonald’s Vertical Church. Chan’s book has a foreword by Platt and Platt’s book has a foreword by Chan. And so on.
Having reviewed MacDonald’s Vertical Church, I turned my attention to Chandler’s Creature of the Word (co-authored with Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger). Written primarily for pastors and church leaders, but applicable to all Christians, this is a book that looks to gospel-centrality, a very popular theme today. It calls Christians to “view the essence of the gospel as the foundation for all of ministry.” After all, there is a huge difference between “knowing the gospel and being consumed by the gospel, being defined by the gospel, and being driven by the gospel.” Chandler wants the reader to “start a fresh journey into the heart of the gospel, prepared to be newly amazed by it, resolved to let its principles begin shaping how our churches worship, serve, and operate.”
Rather than focusing on the individual, he focuses on the gospel in the local church, calling the church “a Creature of the Word.” “Yes, a Creature. She is alive. A living, breathing movement of God’s people redeemed and placed together in a collective community. But she is not alive in her own doing. She has been made alive by the Word. God spoke her into existence through the declaration of the gospel—His righteousness on our behalf.”
The book is divided into two parts. In the first half Chandler looks at what the gospel does to the hearts of people, to their relationships, and how they understand their position and purpose. He shows that this Creature worships, forms community, serves, and multiplies. In the second half he shows what a Jesus-centered church culture looks like, how it is formed and how it is sustained.
Creature of the Word is a good book—a really good book. I enjoyed it from beginning to end and benefited from reading it. Having said that, it is not a book with a lot of original thought, but one that helpfully collects the best of what others have written about being gospel-centered and presents it to a new audience. Those who have done a lot of reading will probably find that they recognize the inspirations in many of the chapters. So, for example, a chapter on ministry to children and teens has Chandler channeling Tedd Tripp and William Farley (though he refers to him as Chris Farley. The thought of Chris Farley paraphrasing a Thomas Chalmers sermon titled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” is pretty funny). And this is well and good. Those men have done great work on the importance of the gospel in parenting and there isn’t a compelling reason to attempt to write something new and original.