Michael Reeves, Gospel People: A Call for Evangelical Integrity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022), 144 pages.
What are “gospel people”? That is the question Michael Reeves seeks to answer in his book Gospel People: A Call for Evangelical Integrity. In recent years, the words “gospel” and “evangelicalism” have been frivolously tossed about with such thoughtlessness that they have seemingly lost both their significance and historical weight. On one hand, these words have been used to provide an ecumenical umbrella that denies their very essence. On the other hand, attempts at definition by self-proclaimed conservatives are often a mile wide and an inch deep. These words have been used to hatefully exclude some of God’s children from men’s kingdom and by others to embrace into God’s kingdom those who do not belong.
Therefore, Reeves’ book is not only insightful, but also necessary. The current church climate often seems like a powder keg: liable to explode any minute. For whatever reason, those who belong to the family of God seem to have forgotten that they are not the only members. Still others seem to have segregated the bride of Christ into classes, like those boarding an airplane, some flying coach while others sit comfortably in first class. Believers have failed to remember that the tie that binds them together is the same cord that was used to pull them up out of the horrible pit: the gospel.
That, Reeves argues, is what it means to be “gospel people” or to be “evangelical.” He writes, “Evangelicalism is defined by the evangel (euangelion being the Greek word for ‘good news’). Evangelicals are ‘gospel people,’ or people of the evangel.” To be an evangelical is not to belong to a particular political party or to be identified by certain denominational distinctives, but to be evangelical is to be defined by the gospel of God, alone. Reeves is clear: denominations are important, but only the gospel is paramount. Evangelicals are not defined by their differences but by their deepest common denominators—Christ and his gospel.
Reeves shows that evangelicals have historically held a high view of Scripture, for therein the saving message of Christ and his finished work have been made known. In this Word, breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16), the triune God has proclaimed his eternal plan to save a world of lost sinners. The Father reveals his plan, the Son accomplishes his plan, and the Spirit applies his plan. Or, as Reeves notes, the three r’s: revelation, redemption, and regeneration are what define, or “serve as a table of contents” for, evangelicalism. Because the gospel defines evangelicalism, this book is defined by the gospel.
Reeves makes his case that being an evangelical begins with commitment to the Father’s revelation, or Scripture. Although refusing to discard the historic creeds, confessions, and traditions and to thereby ignore the work of God within the church throughout history, an evangelical’s principal and most fundamental commitment is—sola Scriptura, Scripture alone. To be an evangelical, he argues, means that the creeds, confessions, and traditions of the church are shaped by Scripture, but never the other way around. Evangelicals do not bend Scripture to fit their creeds or traditions but rather bring all of their confessions and all of their traditions into submission to Scripture in humble adoration.
This commitment to the supremacy of Scripture, Reeves explains, came into sharp focus during the time of the Reformation. He writes, “It would do so because Martin Luther found himself challenging a church in Rome that did affirm Scripture’s authority but did not believe that Scripture is the supreme authority.” Reeves brilliantly shows the needed renewal of the evangelical commitment to Scripture’s supreme authority. For true evangelicals, Scripture shapes their faith, governs their lives, and reveals their God. This is why they ardently seek to bring all of life, faith, and practice into alignment with it. Therefore, evangelicals might rightly be defined by one simple yet all surpassing phrase: “Thus says the Lord” (Exod. 4:22).
Yet, what the Father reveals is the Son’s redemption. Reeves argues, “As Scripture alone is our supreme authority, so Christ alone is our only hope. Only through him do we know the glory of the living, triune God.” The message that defines true evangelicals is the message that they delight to proclaim—sola Christus, or Christ alone. This is the most basic meaning of evangelicalism. Evangelicals are defined by their delight in the exclusive message of Christ’s person and his sufficient work.
This is directly linked to the doctrine of justification by faith alone. Reeves writes, “Justification by faith alone is at the centerground of the biblical gospel, the beautiful and essential consequence of the all-sufficiency of Christ the only Savior. As such, it is a doctrine that evangelicals love and tend with zeal.” While there are certainly other doctrines, beliefs, and issues of importance to the church, Reeves point is that to be evangelical is to realize and emphasize the gospel as the matter of first importance.
Evangelicals may separate over secondary and tertiary issues, but they are forever united in the person and work of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Christ’s very lifeblood is the lifeblood of evangelicalism. This, Reeves observes, is what it means to be gospel people. While there may be and indeed are disagreements among the family of God over secondary issues, there ought never to be division. This is owing entirely to their gospel union. People of the gospel are forever united with their fellow brothers and sisters by the perfectly obedient life of Christ, his sin-atoning death, his powerful resurrection, his glorious ascension, and his promised return.
Reeves’ assertion is that while there are believers of every Protestant denominational stripe that differ over matters such as baptism or church governance, those denominational barriers are not what we should be known for. While we strive to interpret Scripture correctly, we inevitably err. The gloriously good news is that there is only one matter of first importance, and that is Christ.
The doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone allows for true unity in the body of Christ. Evangelicals are not primarily best identified according to what denomination they ascribe to but are most fundamentally family. As Paul called for believers to walk in a manner worthy of their calling in Christ, he does so by calling them to unity, reminding them that there is “one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6). In heaven there will not be Baptist or Methodist, Lutheran or Anglican, Presbyterian or Pentecostal, Calvinist or Arminian. There will be no groups, no camps, and no circles—only one redeemed multitude, which, gathered around one throne, will link arms, as it were, and for all eternity cry with one united voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing” (Rev. 5:12).
Reeves shows that evangelicals are not cold intellects, but tender hearts full of wonder, love, and praise for their magnificent Savior. He writes, “Through the centuries, evangelicals have not merely admired this doctrine, nor have they merely used it as a fence to mark out the true gospel. We sing it out, often, and often with tears in our eyes, for how it speaks of the majestic goodness of Christ and the sweet security we can have in him.” To be evangelical is first, foremost, and finally to be defined by the wonderful truth of Scripture, which was recovered in the Reformation and revealed in the gospel of Christ, which is justification by faith alone in Christ alone.
Next, Reeves emphasizes the evangelical belief in the Spirit’s regeneration, or, put another way, the new birth. Evangelicals are those who believe what they believe about Christ, live how they live for Christ, and feel how they feel about Christ because of what the Spirit has done in them. The Spirit has, as Paul wrote, poured God’s love into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), made us alive together with Christ (Eph. 2:5), and sealed us for the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30). Evangelicals are people who are “born of the Spirit” (John 3:6, 8).
The emphasis on regeneration over experience is vital to providing a proper definition of an evangelical. With precision, Reeves explains, “To be clear, what is important is not the conversion experience as such. Not all evangelicals feel they can point … to the specific moment when God gave them new life. What is important is the fact that God has given them new life, and that new life shows itself in how they heartily repent of their sin and heartily worship God.” Far from cold, lifeless ritualism, true evangelicalism is warm, full of life, and involves worship expressed from the Spirit-given life of Christ within the believer. Believers are new creatures created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph. 2:10).
Reeves writes, “The Spirit does not give us a new birth as an end in itself: it is a new birth into a new and eternal life. He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil. 1:6), transforming us at every level into the image of Christ so that one day even our poor bodies will be like his glorious, resurrection body. And we, in turn, who live by the Spirit seek to keep in step with the Spirit (Gal. 5:25).” Evangelicals are so committed to the gospel of Christ because it is in and through the gospel that the Spirit applies the redemption wrought in Christ on the cross. Yet, as Reeves underlines, the purpose is to bring all believers into perfect conformity to Christ, and this happens, again, as the work of the Spirit by the power of the gospel.
This work produces what Reeves calls “gospel integrity.” He clarifies, “Without such integrity, the world will see no more than a travesty of the gospel and a distortion of what it means to live in its light. Thus, if evangelicalism is to have a future worthy of the name, we who would be people of the gospel must cultivate an integrity to the gospel, and on more than paper.” If we are to be gospel people who are united around Christ alone for the glory of God alone, it will only be the fruit of Spirit wrought humility. For “in the gospel, God is exalted, and we delight to be abased before him.”
This Spirit-produced humility, Reeves specifies, will inevitably manifest itself in true unity among God’s people. Reeves uses Paul’s admonition to the church to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). Reeves asserts that “we will see more united loyalty to the gospel when we have a fresher, deeper clarity in the gospel. That is the great need of the hour.” It is only as we personally, and more importantly, congregationally cherish the gospel as the people of God that the Spirit of God will indeed produce the fruit of true holiness, love, humility, and unity among those who are truly evangelical, or, gospel people.
The warmth of devotion combined with historical and theological faithfulness make this both a helpful and needed resource. Reeves sounds the clarion call with Christ-centered, gospel focus as he once again delivers a timely message to all in the church. Whether readers are simply in need of being reminded what it means to be an evangelical or are unfamiliar with the usage of the word itself, they will be instructed, edified, and invited to exult in Christ anew in this brilliant and incisive work.
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