Jonathan K. Dodson. The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. 238 pp. $16.99.
Church and Ministry
“Evangelism is the one thing we won’t do in heaven.” Have you heard this provocative statement espoused from a pulpit or at a conference? I have. And upon reflecting on Jonathan Dodson’s most recent publication, The Unbelievable Gospel, I can’t help but grieve how wrong that statement is.
Why? Evangelism is good news, and the good news never stops being good; proclamation of it never stops being proclaimed in heaven or on earth. If the angels always herald the gospel to one another and humanity, we will too. Misleading statements like the one above are the impetus of today’s dilemma of evangelists with evangelistic amnesia.
According to Dodson, a major misstep in evangelistic efforts today stem from evangelists, who have forgotten the good news. He says, “Our own re-evangelization, as Christians, must precede our evangelistic efforts in the world. We need a fresh preaching of the gospel to idolatry-ridden hearts…We need to remind ourselves of the truth of God’s acceptance and approval in the gospel through regular meditation on Scripture, confession and repentance, community counsel, and worship” (108-109).
In order to facilitate this process, Jonathan Dodson — author of Gospel-Centered Discipleship, founder of GospelCenteredDiscipleship.com, and pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas — offers a formative resource in The Unbelievable Gospel.
The structure of The Unbelievable Gospel is simple and effective. Part one covers four defeaters to sharing the gospel: impersonal witness (chapter two), preachy witness (chapter three), intolerant witness (chapter four), and an uninformed witness (chapter five). Each of these chapters brims with convicting points that become blockades to the gospel when left unchecked.
Part two looks at the concept of re-evangelization — zeroing in on reinvigorating ourselves with a fresh understanding of the gospel (chapter six), using diversified techniques to awaken ourselves to the gospel (chapter seven), and successfully encountering our culture with fluency in the gospel (chapter eight). The final part, part three, presents five ways – one in each chapter from chapters nine through thirteen — to apply the gospel metaphors to particular cultural circumstances and needs. Then this part closes in chapter fourteen with a discussion on how whole church communities evangelize together.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
The Unbelievable Gospel is an extraordinary resource fundamentally built on the principle of show and tell. Dodson does a stand out job of telling what the gospel is and then showing how to apply the gospel in particular scenarios. This technique leverages the use of five gospel metaphors: justification, redemption, adoption, new creation, and union with Christ. He summarizes these gospel narratives on pages 129-130 in chapter seven of part two. In doing so, he says: “Taken together, these gospel metaphors bring the full range of God’s transformative grace to us in Jesus…Though interrelated, each gospel metaphor conveys a unique blessing from the Father (Ephesians 1:3)” (128).
Articulating these gospel metaphors is one thing; studying them, thinking on them, and praying them is critical. But equally critical is applying them to particular people in particular life situations. Dodson shows us how to do this throughout part three, taking cues from Jesus, who “didn’t use a canned presentation but discerned how to best put the gospel into cultural idioms” (126). Thus, each chapter is a showcase of each gospel metaphor and how it has been used to affect individuals who have crossed paths with either City Life Church or Jonathan at one point or another. In other words, Dodson uses messy and gritty stories from real people needing the gospel personalized to their situation.
A final observation that captured my attention from The Unbelievable Gospel is this. Jonathan Dodson helps evangelists not just remind people of their lost condition but also their broken condition. We’re not just sinners but we are misguided people looking for significance in all the wrong places. It’s like Dodson retrieved material from Robert S. McGee’s classic, The Search for Significance, and showed how Jesus, through the gospel metaphors, forever meets our need of significance – whether it is a need for acceptance, approval, intimacy, or hopelessness. Like he says, “We need one another…we need other people, and specifically those in the church, to help us believe and obey the truth” (197). This includes helping people diagnose their spiritual poverty and apply the fitting gospel metaphor to their circumstance.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Jonathan Dodson’s, The Unbelievable Gospel, is an inventive work of show and tell that reminds us of the historic, cosmic, and personal realities of the gospel.