I’m Hispanic—at least my birth certificate says so. My mom is from Mexico City, my dad from Dallas. Most assume I speak Spanish, which has its perks living in Houston. Am I fluent? No way. Even though I grew up with a Spanish-speaking mother, and mi abuelito y abuelita (grandpa and grandma) only speak Spanish, and I took two years of Spanish in high school, I’m still not able to speak the language. My accent will fool you with the few things I can say. I sound fluent. But eventually, I’m lost. The jig is up. I need help.
I think a lot of Christians know just enough disconnected Bible verses and gospel jargon to get by. They know enough to get through a membership class, but what about Paul’s charge to “live your life worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27)? In Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life, Jeff Vanderstelt gives a new metaphor for learning to live the gospel-centered life. Fluency in the truths of the gospel is what we need.
Vanderstelt—lead teaching pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, Washington—guides us through the gospel and its shockwaves in our lives, helping us to let the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, our reactions to disappointments, our endurance in sufferings, and our encouraging each other to come from our mother tongue: the gospel of grace. Gospel fluency, according to Vanderstelt, is “what it looks like for people to know Jesus in their everyday life, not just their afterlife” (35). Put simply, Gospel Fluency is a training manual for the gospel-centered life.
In recent years we’ve seen a swarm of gospel-this and gospel-that books. I wrote one too. I don’t roll my eyes at this trend; my eyes light up. Can we ever have too much gospel? Can there be too much gathering, learning, hearing, applying, and enjoying of the good news? Never. But where the gospel-centered movement must pick up steam isn’t in the department of thinking gospely. It’s in the thinking and the living—and Vanderstelt hits the sweet spot.
Gospel Fluency is the book we didn’t know we were missing from the gospel-centered canon.
The volume isn’t packed with theories, ideas, and pastoral pontifications—this is reality. Vanderstelt helps us learn how the gospel touches down in the realness of our lives. Fluency goes to the edges of life; it can converse and traverse all of life’s terrain. Since Jesus is Lord of our lives—our entire lives—gospel fluency is part of our discipleship to Christ.
Gospel fluency is taking captive the lies we believe and filling the void with the truths of the gospel (88). We discover how God’s grace speaks a better word into our marriages. We learn how to forgive others because God’s forgiven us. We remind ourselves our identity isn’t the sum of our successes or failures, but the crucified and no-longer-dead Jesus himself.
Fluency isn’t mere recitation. It may begin there, but it eventually becomes part of the mind and the heart. As Vanderstelt observes, “Gospel-fluent people think, feel, and perceive everything in light of what has been accomplished in the person and work of Jesus Christ” (41–42). Fluency is transformative. There is no power in parroting, but there’s resurrection power in Christ, knowing we’re alive with him.
There’s no Rosetta Stone for the gospel, but Gospel Fluency is an even better resource. The book begins with the honest struggle to believe God’s promises. We know them, but we don’t always live like it. Vanderstelt shows how to develop our fluency, and he helps us by walking through the five fundamental parts of developing and practicing gospel fluency:
- Part One: Gospel Fluency
- Part Two: The Gospel
- Part Three: The Gospel in Me
- Part Four: The Gospel with Us
- Part Five: the Gospel to Others
All five sections are crucial to gospel-centeredness. We must understand the gospel in its simplicity and its supernaturalness. An approach without the high-def display of the gospel—in both word and work—in our lives, communities, and mission is pointless.
There are handfuls of powerful and personal stories throughout the book. Don’t zip through them. If you’re one of those just-give-me-the-truth kind of people, you, of all people, must see these stories of gospel fluency in action. Vanderstelt models how to connect the dots from Calvary to the counseling room, from the throne of grace to the throes of marital conflict. What I love about these stories is how they don’t all have Disney Junior-esque endings. Some didn’t end in “success.” Not all the people he evangelized believed. The counseling situations didn’t all conclude with a call for the video testimony crew to get to work. Vanderstelt models times of non-brandable faithfulness for us in Gospel Fluency. We can all relate; it’s most of our ministries.
Fluent for Others’ Good
You should read this book for your benefit, but not yours only. Gospel fluency is learning to,
Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3:16–17).
This book isn’t just about preaching the gospel to yourself—important as that is. Gospel Fluency is about speaking gospel truths to one another and honoring Jesus together.
Just as Spanglish doesn’t help me enough to talk with my grandparents, gospelish won’t help us love each other, or go on mission together, or battle Satan’s forces. “Most believers have become gospel-snippet people, who speak gospel catchphrases,” Vanderstelt notes. “They’re speaking gospelish, but not the actual gospel in a way people can hear and believe” (39). It’s time we get fluent, but we can’t do this on our own. No book can make this happen. And that’s why Vanderstelt ends with us looking to Jesus: “Don’t just look to the principles or practices of this book—or any other book—to make you more effective. What you need, what I need, what we all need is Jesus” (205).
What is gospel fluency? It’s sounding more like Jesus in the everyday. Let Gospel Fluency, along with your open Bible, train you. And with the Spirit’s help, it’s possible. Learn it. Speak it. Live it.
Jeff Vanderstelt. Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2017. 224 pp. $22.99.