The World-Tilting Gospel. You may have heard about it.
I did a quick search regarding the current status of reviews for this book, and to my surprise the first hit that Google delivers is Andrew Perriman's 3-part review (with an apparent 4th part forthcoming) which I recommend only to see the sort of reaction Dan's book has gotten, gets, and will get from people who right now live in the generous aftermarket of the Reformation but want to undo or bankrupt the Original Equipment Manufacturer. Mr. Perriman has been known to read this blog from time to time, so I'm sure he'll come by to say, "no I didn't," and we can unpack that in the comments. My brief summary critique of that review is that he obviously didn't read the introduction or the afterword -- because he has criticized only what the book didn't do, when in fact it never intended to do anything but what it does. (see: doctrinaire)
Searching (+Phillips +"World-Tilting Gospel") on Google will get you over 29,000 hits -- almost all of them from people who know this blog and enjoy Dan's larger contributions to the Christian blogosphere. I think there's something telling in that outcome, and it tells us something about this book.
The book is easily summarized. Faithful Fred Butler has the short version, and Amazon.com (ironic: anonymous) reviewer "DELTA" has the long-form summary in what is perhaps the most functional review on-line. With those in hand, let's not worry about a book report here, shall we? Let's consider the real question: should you invest yourself in buying and reading this book?
I have read it twice as I sit down to write this review/recommendation -- once in an early draft which Dan was kind enough to share with me and for which I had little helpful to say (so no credit to me for the final product), and once in its final form which now sits on my nightstand, read and marked.
Having that insight, and knowing Dan as I do, I can see something in this book most people will overlook upon reading it: the book is a spyCam into the heart of a man who is, at his core, changed by this Gospel he is preaching to you. One of my beefs with contemporary Christian publishing is how frankly-sterile it is. There's no great literature* coming out of the ECPA in spite of the fact that we are living in a time when the Christian faith is in great distress -- a time when, to paraphrase the apostle, in a severe test of affliction, our abundance of joy and our extreme distress should overflow in a wealth of literary generosity on our part. What sets Dan's book apart from that crowd is that, while it does not seek to be great literature, it finds the path in that direction because it comes out of a man who owns this subject. This is an honest book, therefore it treads the path of art; it is a better read by half than the average Christian book on doctrine.
Now, not to call anybody out here, but Dan's not a late-20's post-seminary church planter. For him the Gospel is not an ideal which he is hoping he can cherish and then somehow live out or live up to. Dan is a mature man of the faith, and in between pastorates, and raising his family, and loving his wife, and has spent more time in the cave with God than many current authors have spent able to open the Bible and find the book of Ephesians. So when Dan approaches the question of what the Gospel is, he is not trying to find an idiom for the truths of the Gospel. He has lived the idiom which is the consequence of the Gospel -- that is, that all who seek to live a godly life in Christ will have trouble, and suffer, and be persecuted -- and as he writes it out, he writes for the first person he might tell it to.
So what this book lacks is a whiff of stoic intellectualism -- in spite of its copious personal translations of the Greek and Hebrew, in spite of the scholarship which underlies his interpretation of key passages, and in spite of his clear grasp of the systematics of Christian theology. But what it possesses is a clean and fresh compassion for people who actually need this Gospel which changes the whole world. I know it because I am one of them, and I heard it on almost every page, and the Jacob inside of me was poked hard by the simple, kind and convicting truths Dan poured out.
That, by the way, is why all the reviews of Dan's books are by people you have never heard of. That's why all the recommendations are coming from real people. This book is not written to be for any class or clique or conference: it is written for the next person you see on the street. In fact, the best use of this book is as a progressive tract through which you could disciple anyone with honest questions about the Christian faith.
This book is a blessing. It's one I can share with my kids, and which I can share with my co-workers, and which can puzzle through as a devotional for myself. Back in 2010, I endorsed Greg Gilbert's What is the Gospel? as a "spectacularly-brief" introduction to the Gospel; Dan's book does Gilbert's book one better -- because he ultimately speaks to the consequences of the Gospel, and how one can receive this Gospel and hold tight to it.
I am jealous that he wrote this book. I wish I had written it. Go get yourself enough so you can give some away.
* You know: the great Christian literature is not even mostly fiction. It is mostly non-fiction -- polemics and apologetics. And somehow today in our society where we are media gourmands, we have lousy Christian literature; we turn out stale, stern, uninspired polemics; we bark out apologetics either as chatty-cathy maxims or as wooden arguments which are 100% true and not 100% beautiful. Think about the fact that the last really great writer about the Christian faith was probably C.S. Lewis, and he's been dead for almost 50 years.