Book Review: Gospel Fluency by Jeff Vanderstelt

fresh-fieldsYou’re going to want to pick up a copy of Gospel Fluency. Jeff Vanderstelt has done the church a great service with this book. If you are looking for a book that will encourage you and equip to share the gospel more, this book will do it. However, it is also more than that. Gospel Fluency calls us to know, rehearse, and be immersed in the gospel so that it works in us and flows from us.

What is Gospel Fluency?

Gospel fluency is the solution to our unbelieving hearts. Yes, the gospel is the answer to those who have not yet believed in Jesus. But it is also the answer to believers who continue to walk in unbelief in many areas of their life, not trusting his Word and living in light of what Jesus has accomplished for us. Gospel fluency is believing the gospel and speaking the truths of the gospel into the everyday stuff of life.gospel-fluency

Unfortunately, rather than speaking the gospel into every are of our lives, many Christians only speak a broken “Gospelish”—not too different than Spanglish! Vanderstelt is right: we often don’t know the gospel, why we need the gospel, and how to apply it to everyday life. Since we don’t know this for ourselves, we also fail to speak the gospel in a way that others can understand and believe.

Like becoming fluent in a language, gospel fluency comes through immersion in a community who speaks the language of the gospel. While learning a new language may change the way you see the world or think, becoming more fluent in the gospel necessarily involves being changed by it and it changes everything else about you.

Gospel fluency begins in you, gets worked out within community, and is expressed to a world that needs to hear about Jesus. (42)

Developing Gospel Fluency 

In the remainder of the book, Vanderstelt unpacks how the gospel informs personal transformation and biblical community and, in turn, what it looks like to share it faithfully with others. I found his encouragement both convicting and refreshing in my own heart. You may feel feel like I know the gospel well, but I was reminded of my need to return again and again to both the gospel story from creation to new creation and the gospel truths of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

As we regularly return to the gospel story and gospel truths in our everyday life, we experience real and lasting change. If we don’t know what gospel change looks like we won’t be compelled to offer the gospel to others who desperately need change in their lives. Vanderstelt provides valuable resources in thinking through how the gospel applies to our everyday lives and how it produces change in us. Two particular areas struck me:

  • Gospel transformation begins with believing that the gospel is good news for ourselves and increasing in our love for Jesus. We talk about what we love and we love what we talk about. Sharing the gospel more begins with loving Jesus more. Surprisingly, loving Jesus more starts with talking more about him.
  • Gospel transformation also requires applying gospel truths to the area of unbelief in our lives. We must fight the lies, accusations, and temptations of the evil one with the truths of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We must trace the sinful behavior in our life to its root—false belief—and then combat that false belief with gospel truth.

Many books on evangelism remind us what the gospel is and how it works in our lives, but Vanderstelt provides another critical element for the gospel to take root most fully in our lives–community. The gospel’s work of transformation does not happen in isolation. Gospel fluency requires immersion in a gospel community.

Growth in gospel fluency requires regularly being with others who know and love Jesus, speak about him often, and commit together to regularly remind one another of the gospel when they forget. (134)

One of the greatest resources Vanderstelt provides are gospel-oriented questions for fostering great biblical community. Consider the impact the following questions would have on the shape of biblical community in your church:

  • How does the gospel bring good news to this situation?
  • What about the gospel do we need to hear right now?
  • What about the gospel have we forgotten or failed to believe?
  • How is Jesus better than what we have or what we want?

In order to weave these questions into biblical community, we must regularly rehearse the gospel, dig into our Bibles, and always keep our eyes on Jesus as we do. Vanderstelt shows us that in biblical community we share our lives, tell our stories, and continually point one another back to Jesus.

What About Sharing the Gospel?

In short, Vanderstelt shows us that if the gospel is at work in us and among us then it will flow freely from us to others. There are no secret techniques per se. The best practices for sharing the gospel follow being shaped by the gospel—both individually and corporately. Knowing the gospel story and understanding the gospel as God’s power to salvation to everyone who believes leads us to pray often, listen well, display the fruit of the gospel faithfully, and declare the truth of gospel boldly.

Perhaps most challenging to me was Vanderstelt’s reminder that sharing the gospel faithfully does not begin with talking but listening. Everyone has a story and listening to their story may be the key to sharing the gospel most effectively with them. When we know and are saturated in the gospel, we can listen to people’s stories and discover the connections and disconnects with the true story of the gospel–where they are finding their identity, what problems they are facing, what savior they are trusting, and where they are placing their hope.

I’m amazed at how often well-intentioned Christians overwhelm people with a barrage of words. We go on and on about what we believe and what they should believe, assuming we know what others think, believe, or need. I often find that we are giving answers to questions people are not even asking or cramming information into hearts that are longing for love, not just facts. (173)

Sharing the gospel with others though is not always easy. If you’re like me, you’ve experienced some hesitations or insecurities when it comes to evangelism. Vanderstelt offers five common hesitations:

  1. We are in a spiritual battle.
  2. We care more of what people think of us than we love people.
  3. We have never actually tried sharing and don’t know the power of God’s Spirit that will give us the words and boldness to share.
  4. We don’t know the gospel well.
  5. We don’t really believe people will spend eternity apart from God if they don’t believe in Jesus.

One thing struck me about these hesitations: the reasons we do not share the gospel have nothing to do with technique or strategy. They have everything to do with what we believe about the gospel and whether it is at work in us and our churches. As we see the fruit of the gospel in our lives and experience it in more fully in community, we will be compelled and comfortable sharing it with others. That’s what gospel fluency looks like—knowing, loving, and speaking the gospel of Jesus Christ into every area of our lives.

Gospel fluency does not merely offer a formula for more effective evangelism. It is ultimately about pointing ourselves and others to Jesus. He is what we need and everyone else in this world needs. Vanderstelt sums it up nicely:

If you get Jesus, you get wisdom.
Get wisdom from Jesus and you get everything else as well.
He is better than everything else, and if you have him, then you’ll give him to others. (205)

Cultivating Gospel Fluency in Our Ministries

Gospel Fluency challenges us to ask ourselves what are we prioritizing in our lives and our ministries. Anything other than the good news of Jesus Christ will not suffice. No one should disagree that we need to encourage believers to more faithfully share the gospel. However, we must also ask how we can best encourage and equip people to do so. Vanderstelt reminds us people talk about what they love and what works. If this is true, we must be leading our people to love Jesus more and to apply the gospel more faithfully to their everyday lives. Vanderstelt also reminds us that the gospel must permeate our community life. We must learn to listen to one another and speak gospel truth in love to one another. In light of these realities, we must ask questions like:

  • What area in our people’s life do we need to help them apply the gospel?
  • How do we cultivate a greater love for Jesus in our church?
  • What spiritual disciplines do we need to focus on?
  • What kinds of conversations should we be having with people regularly?
  • What criteria are we using to evaluate growth?
  • What kind of equipping do we need to focus on for our leaders?

Cultivating gospel fluency should push us not only to reevaluate some aspects of our ministries, but it should also encourage us to press on in faithful gospel ministry. The gospel is the true story in which every other story finds its place. The gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. The gospel is good news worth believing and sharing. It is confidence in the gospel that will strengthen and sustain our ministries. And when the gospel does its work in us and through, our ministries will grow and flourish. We only need to learn the language of the gospel and begin to speak the truths of Jesus into the everyday stuff of our lives and the lives of others.

Jeff Vanderstelt, Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017).

*I received a complimentary copy of this book to review from the publisher.

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