Book Reviews

Book Review: Why the Gospel? (Matthew Bates)

Why do we need the gospel? Is it only because we are sinners? Is it to go to heaven? Maybe it is to be with Jesus forever? What do we do with the gospel? Get rich? We don’t need to follow any rules; it is enough knowing that we are completely accepted and we can rest in that? Is that all we’re meant to be doing? What actually is the good news? That Jesus died for our sins and rose again for our justification? Is it good news that he is King?

In his new book Why the Gospel?, Matthew Bates argues for five reasons why we need the gospel. He then uses those reasons to point us to how the church can present the good news to the “nones” as well as a better, more accurate way to present the gospel to all people.

Chapters one to five present us with a different gospel emphasis than what you may be used to hearing (but not too different!). In chapter one Bates emphasizes our need for a king. The gospel begins with a king. The King. The book of Acts repeats again and again (5:42; 8:4-5; 9:22; 17:2-3; 18:5) that the apostles taught and proved that Jesus was the Christ. The anointed Messiah. The King! The term Christ isn’t Jesus’ name, it’s his claim. He is King Jesus. We often think of the gospel as being the death and resurrection (and possibly the ascension and enthronement) of Jesus. But what do we do with Jesus’ life?

Luke 4:43 answers that for us when Jesus says, I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

Bates observes, “Jesus’s own answer to that question is that he was sent to proclaim the good news about his kingship” (20). Jesus is the eternal Son of God, but after being born in the flesh and growing into adulthood, he was anointed at his baptism by the Holy Spirit, making him”the Christ,” and declared to be God’s beloved Son (cf. 2 Sam 7:12-14). Bates describes Jesus as the “messiah-in-waiting” during this period who shows his royal authority through his mighty deeds of exorcism and healing (21). He needed to “experience death and resurrection first” to win “victory over sin and death on our behalf” (21). After ascending to the right hand of God Jesus “was granted an eternal throne in fulfillment of God’s promises” and, at Pentecost, poured out his promised Spirit on believers (21).

But what about 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 where Paul preaches the power of the cross of Christ or in 1:22 how Paul preaches only “preach Christ crucified”? In both instances, Paul writes not merely of the man Jesus of Nazareth, but Jesus Christ—the King. We needed a king, a perfect king, to die for us.

Bates in no way downplays the cross, death, and resurrection of Jesus. But he shows how they fit into the story of the gospel of Jesus’ kingship. Romans 14:9 states, “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” As well, Acts 5:31 says, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Bates notes that the power of the cross and resurrection “depends on Jesus’s attainment of full sovereignty” (24).

Chapters two and three have the shared theme of glory. In chapter two Bates presents six “malformed gospels,” gospel messages people are told that have elements of truth and falsity in them. Some problems with these common messages is that they are also missing a king, a biblical storyline, the message of faithfulness/allegiance, and fame! God is going to make us “gospel famous” (42). Why the gospel? Because God wants us to share in the eternal glory and honor of the Son!

In chapter three Bates presents the two faces of glory: God gets glory, and humans get glory. In fact, our glory does not detract from his own. Of course, it depends on why we’re getting glory. But Genesis 1:26–28 explain that God created us for a purpose: “ruling creation on his behalf” (62). As well, Psalm 8, reiterating God’s creation of man, says that we have been “crowned with glory and honor” by God himself when he appointed us as rulers over creation. God gives us glory and honor (compare 2 Peter 1:3 with 3:18). We bear God’s image wherever we God’s glory is made present by us. As we do this, we are “honored for serving as a vehicle for God’s honor” (63).

Bates introduces what he calls the “glory cycle” in this chapter. There are six stages, and chapter three covers stages 1–3. God has intrinsic glory in himself (stage one). Bates argues that God has an intrinsic glory that can never fade, and he also as an acknowledged glory. This comes when people praise his name for his goodness and faithful love. God gave Adam and Eve glory (stage two), and yet they lost it through their rebellion (stage three). Bates also tweaks the Westminster Catechism’s first question to be more precise, which I quite liked. Bates argues that God isn’t only trying to clear us of our guilt and sin; he is also “trying to undo harm and restore honor” (66-67).

Chapter four focuses on stage four of the glory cycle: how the gospel initiates glory’s recovery. Bates provides a ten-part outline of the gospel’s content within the three basic theological movements of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection. Here he explains how creation needed human rulers.  It since Adam, Eve, and every other human has failed to rule perfectly, Jesus is the human who will reign flawlessly.

Bates argues that even if Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, the incarnation would have happened regardless. Jesus was the gift of the ultimate King who would bring creation to its maturity. But Adam and Eve did fail, and now this King would die for his creation to bring in a new creation. Because of the cross, we are saved “from negative consequences” and “for restoration to full health” (78). Bates then gives various complimentary models of atonement so that we can have a fuller understanding of Jesus’ work on the cross. He presents substitution, victorious kingship (christus victor), moral influence, and recapitulation.

Bates highlights the importance of Jesus’ ascension by explaining why Jesus didn’t just “hang out” after he rose from the dead (94). Jesus became king of heaven and earth at his enthronement at the right hand of God. Acts 2:36 says, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Creation requires human rule, and Jesus is that perfect human king (95). As the enthroned human ruler in heaven, Jesus spreads “new creation’s glory into the midst of old creation’s decay” by sending the Spirit (98). His triumph goes for as more people pledge allegiance to the King.

Chapter five focuses on (can you guess?) stage five of the glory cycle: transformative viewing for glory’s recovery, aka how transformation happens. What we look at, or what we view, disciples us. Although desire is not equated with worship, our desires gives us “a fair index of [our] spiritual health” (101). What do we need to do to counteract what pulls our desires away from King Jesus? We need to learn “Jesus-shaped habits” (102). Why do we need the gospel? Because people need to be transformed, and as that happens glory is slowly recovered in God’s world. Bates breaks down stage five into five steps. Bates emphasized following Jesus not just through mental assent but by our thoughts, actions, and words. We deny ourselves for him. We put up with obnoxious people… because we ourselves are obnoxious, and we too need to change and become more like Jesus (110). We ought to teach people to obey Jesus who, as the King, is the embodiment of God’s law. He is a living law (114). We, God’s church community, keep the law of Jesus not to earn our salvation, but because we are loyal and allegiant to him.

Chapters six and seven deal with gospel presentations. In chapter six Bates gives evidence as to why both outsiders are repelled by the church and insiders are leaving the church. He shows how the gospel of King Jesus is good news to the “nones,” those who don’t identify with any religion. Why the gospel? “[B]ecause that is how honor is being restored for humans, creation, and God” (130). This coincides with the sixth stage of the glory cycle: humans reign gloriously with the King (130). Bates gives some very helpful tips on how to talk to non-believers about why they don’t believe, and how to shape the conversation to have an emphasis on Jesus’ royal ruling aspect. As well, instead of seeking to gain mass numbers of followers without giving them any food, we need to personally disciple people whom we lead to faith (or at least work with someone who can disciple them). And this requires large chunks of time to build deep relationships.

Chapter seven presents alternative angles we can use when presenting the gospel. I really appreciated this chapter because Bates summarized the gospel message and hones in on Jesus’ kingship, the benefits he gives us when we swear our allegiance to him with his community of followers, and his plan to restore people and creation.


I really appreciated this book. The gospel is a personal gospel; it is for us. The Nicene Creed says, “For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried…” But today people often thing Jesus being Savior of our souls and nothing much more. He is King over every aspect of creation, and he rules over all. Bates gives a proper reminder to this and helpfully hold both aspects together.

I think anyone who reads this will gain a fuller understanding of the gospel, the importance of obey (being allegiant to) our King, and his gospel-saving work over all creation. Bates helps us understand why the Gospels spent so much time on Jesus’ life as well, presenting him as the King-in-waiting who did his preliminary work pointing to when God’s kingdom comes in full. Pick this up, read it, and get a fresh kick on evangelism! We’re pointing people to the King who rules!


  • Author: Matthew W. Bates
  • Paperback: 198 pages
  • Publisher:Eerdmans Publishing (May 16, 2023)

Buy it on Amazon or from Eerdmans Publishing

Disclosure: I received this book free from Eerdmans Publishing. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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