The Great Work of the Gospel by John Ensor

There is certainly much about The Great Work of the Gospel to commend. As the title indicates, Ensor is dealing with a great theme—the gospel—and he thoroughly explores its many facets. Along the way the author exposes and debunks a number of the faulty teachings relevant to the gospel which are popular today. I particularly like his comment on forgiveness: “Ask a hundred people if they want forgiveness, and a hundred people will say, ‘yeah, sure. And can I have fries with that, and a large Pepsi?’ They have no great sense of needing God’s forgiveness but believe it would not hurt to have it in their pocket just in case” (p. 32).

Ensor demonstrates how therapeutic and man-centered most gospel presentations have become and calls the church back to a God-centered message as found in Scripture. He is not afraid to tackle thorny issues such as the tension between God’s love and His judgment (eg. p. 73). He is on target when he writes, “Could it be that a shallow understanding of the cross is like an inoculation shot? It prevents us from getting the real thing—a full-blown case of sin-uprooting, praise-inspiring, life-altering faith in Christ based on the radical implications of his death on the cross” (p. 97).

As excellent as The Great Work of the Gospel is, there nevertheless are a few disturbing matters. His statistics on the number of Christians, both in the past and now, are questionable at best (pp 164-168). It was a bit surprising to find an author who sees the gospel as highly demanding, yet simultaneously believes 40% of Africans (p. 168) and 36% of Russians (p. 166) are Christians.

Of more importance, Ensor determines (I believe from poor exegesis) that forgiveness of others is a necessary condition for salvation (pp. 141, 181). While he makes a good case for so-called “conditional grace,” I find nowhere in the New Testament that forgiveness is necessary for salvation. Forgiveness is a sanctifying work of the Spirit in the life of the believer, not a prerequisite for grace.

He misuses a few other Scriptures (pp. 125, 128, 167) and he quotes some dubious men (Nouwen, Crabb, Bonhoeffer and Emerson) (pp. 16, 40, 162, 167). But overall The Great Work of the Gospel is well worth reading.

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