Book Review of “A Gospel Primer for Christians” by Milton Vincent
Publisher: Focus Publishing
Copyright Date: 2008
Available: On Amazon for around $10
Length: 97 pages
In an evangelical environment that has tried to see the gospel in literally everything from the latest Star Wars epic to the current Marvel comic craze, I tend to be leery of any work that claims to be “gospel centered” or “gospel focused” or “gospel…” (well, you get the idea). This work, unlike the common trash that so commonly pops up on evangelical blogs, is exactly what it claims to be: a gospel primer for Christians.
At a Glance
They always tell you not to judge a book by its cover. When it comes to reading or reviewing books about the church and our Christian faith, I do begin to judge a book at the cover level. The first thing I noticed about this work were the endorsements on the back cover. If the only endorsements come from questionable sources, you should just put it back on the shelf. This book, however, boasts three very influential names on the back cover. If you can get John MacArthur, C.J. Maheny, and Jerry Bridges (and those are just the ones that fit on the outside cover) to read your book and write glowing reviews of it, I may be interested in reading it myself.
Another thing to consider is the author himself. You’re probably not familiar with Milton Vincent. He makes his living as a pastor, not as a New York Times best selling author. So who is this guy and where did he come from? The short bio in the back reveals that he pastors (as of the publication date) a church in Riverside California and graduated from The Master’s Seminary. While this information does not mean anything by itself, it does give certain indications.
First, it means that the author was afforded one of the finest theological educations that money can buy. Just as there is no such thing as a perfect church, there is no such thing as a perfect seminary. But since its foundation in the mid 1980’s TMS has continued to produce some of the finest exegetes and expositors the English-speaking world has ever seen. Most of its graduates keep a low profile and pastor churches in modest locations and thus are not in the public eye. If nothing else, we now know that Milton Vincent has gone through one of the most demanding and biblically focused M. Div. programs in the nation.
Second, Milton Vincent is a pastor. This goes a long way for me. Anyone can sit in their office and dream that they actually understand spiritual matters. But a pastor wrestles every day with the redeemed people of God struggling to obey Him and striving to live holy lives, as he stands in the gap between faithfulness and disobedience. I’m not interested in an armchair theologian’s perspective nearly as much as I am interested in a pastor’s perspective. So let’s look at that perspective.
Milton Vincent argues for one simple thing: The gospel is more than a message that converts rebel to redeemed. It is the means by which the saints are sanctified. Christians need the gospel preached to them too.
Vincent observes that when we make our Christian walk only about our ability to obey Christ, then we’ve actually turned the gospel of grace into a gospel of works. He takes a sweeping look at the New Testament epistles and notices that all of the best-known “gospel” texts are written to believing audiences. “In most of Paul’s letters to churches, sizeable portions of them are given over to rehearsing gospel truths. For example, Ephesians 1-3 is all gospel, Colossians 1-2 is gospel, and Romans 1-11 is gospel.” Why would Paul waste his time telling Christians something that they already know? Because that’s exactly what they need to hear in order to live lives worthy of the God who saved them. “The remainder of such books shows specifically how to bring those gospel truths to bear on life” (p. 13).
How does this work? Allow me to demonstrate Vincent’s point: The gospel can be summarized into four points:
1) God is sovereign.
2) You are a sinner.
3) Christ is the only savior.
4) You must submit to him.
This is the gospel of grace, which offers life everlasting to those who do repent and believe (submit to Christ). So when there is sin in the life of a believer, it is a result of living inconsistently with the gospel. To live a life of worry is practically denying the sovereignty of God. To become angry with someone for victimizing you denies that you too are a sinner and have (very probably) contributed to the situation. To consider yourself superior than your fellow man assumes that you’re trusting in your own ability and denies your reliance upon Christ to save you. To willfully choose to follow your own desire rather than obey Christ is to rebel against him and deny the necessity of submitting to him.
If any of these things hits within 100 miles of home, you need the gospel preached to you. It is in this sense that Milton Vincent declares that the gospel is for the saints every bit as much as it is for sinners. We need the gospel preached to us every day.
The meat of the book is found in the first section. It is here that Vincent brings forth 31 gospel truths and briefly expounds upon each one. There is a gospel truth for each day of the month for the believer to read, meditate upon, and readily apply to his/her life. Each page has the specific Bible verses in full (not just the references) in the footnotes. This format lends itself to easily become a quick reference to those looking for an encouraging or helpful Scriptural passage for a specific situation.
After expounding the gospel from 31 different angles, Vincent presents the full gospel in two different formats: one in prose and the other in poetry. The purpose of this is to encourage the reader to memorize the gospel. This is a fine ambition, but Vincent wants his readers to memorize the gospel to bring its truths upon themselves, not others. This is a primer for Christians after all. How often do we preach the gospel to ourselves? Methinks hardly enough.
What I found very helpful, and I trust you will as well, is the final section. It is here that Milton Vincent pulls the curtain back to reveal how this book came to be. I will not reveal all here, but suffice to say that the author struggled for years on how to live a holy life that was still dependent upon a righteous savior. The answer lies in the rich and beautiful message of the gospel.
I whole-heartedly agree with Milton Vincent’s observations, diagnosis, and prescription. This book actually preaches the gospel to believers in a helpful manner. Not by trying to “find” the gospel in a reprobate culture, but on the pages of Scripture. This is not a book to quickly devour and then set back upon the self. Nor is it a deep theological treatise that will be used as a reference source. This is a book to keep on your nightstand or workstation. This is a book that is to be read every day on your lunch break or with your morning coffee as you meditate upon the good news that Jesus Christ has come into the world to save sinners.
Not that Milton Vincent will be looking to add my name to those on the back cover, but I heartily endorse this book and applaud his efforts to preach the gospel to those who need it most: The church.