This is a gospel book with no hyphen. It’s not gospel-centered or gospel-powered or gospel-driven. It’s just the gospel. And it’s sweet.
Ray Ortlund’s The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ is a new title from 9Marks’ excellent collection of books called “Building Healthy Churches.” The book asks and answers this question: how does the church portray the beauty of Christ? The gospel has content and theology, it is a message and a proclamation. But it also does something in the lives of those who believe and obey it. One of the things it does is build unity and relationship among Christians, and in that way it makes Christ’s glory visible in the world today.
The purpose of this book, then, is simple. I want to show how Christ puts his beauty into our churches by his gospel. That explains the title of this book: The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ. Beauty is powerful. Our churches long for it. You and I long for it. And we can help our churches see it. We possess, in the gospel alone, God’s wonder-working resources for the display of Christ among us. As you I read, I hope you find yourself thrilled with the beauty of Christ. That’s my ultimate goal.
What Ortlund wants to prove is how the gospel is meant to shape both the life and the culture of the local church so that the local church serves as a display of Christ, as he is, according to the gospel. Because here’s the thing: our churches can have great doctrine without allowing that doctrine to work itself out in individual lives and in the church’s corporate life. The test of a church is not only what it believes on paper but also its culture in practice. “Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace. When the doctrine is clear and the culture is beautiful, the church will be powerful.”
Through the first three chapters Ortlund explores the gospel at three levels—the good news for individuals, for the church, and for all of creation. Then he turns to the implications for the local church, asking, “Specifically, what does the gospel create in this present world that wasn’t here before?” In short, the gospel creates a living, visible picture of what Christ has done. These gospel communities called churches serve as proof that the good news is true, that Christ has really died and risen again, and that he has actually saved and transformed us.
As Ortlund progresses, he deals with common objections and the things that tend to get in the way of the unity that allows us to display the gospel. Then he tells us what we can expect if we are able to persevere in building this kind of local community, and he helps us chart the way forward.
He does it well. He gives a vision for a culture that is so beautiful and so attractive you will long to see and experience it for yourself. Drawing from many of the heroes of the faith and from the deep wells of historic Christianity, drawing from the best of modern-day authors, and drawing most of all from the Bible, he shows the gospel as sweet and shows the immense value of the gospel being on display in our churches.
This is a book for pastors and church leaders to read and ponder, but it is equally a book for every Christian. Each one of us who has been saved by Christ’s work, by Christ’s gospel, have the honor and privilege of being part of that portrait of the beauty of Christ.