Gary Millar has done us a great service in writing his latest book, Need To Know: Your Guide to the Christian Life. As the title suggests, it’s a primer on what it actually looks like to be a Christian. I’d strongly recommend this book because it is gospel-centred, engaging, short, and practical.
Gospel-centred. Nowadays it’s becoming increasingly popular in some circles to talk about gospel-centrality. This is a great thing, but it’s very easy to use the word ‘gospel’ a lot without actually getting to the content of the gospel. Millar’s book, however, is gospel-centred in the truest sense of the term. He defines the gospel clearly, and repeatedly returns to that definition throughout the book to show how it connects with various aspects of the Christian life. As he rightly points out, “the gospel is at the heart of becoming a Christian, living as a Christian, and keeping going as a Christian.”
Engaging. Millar connects with the 21st century reader without compromising on theological rigour. For example, he manages to reference Irenaeus and Beyonce in the same sentence, and encapsulate his definition of the gospel (see first point above) in a tweet. His writing style is clear, engaging, and littered with real-life examples that bring the point home. I felt drawn-in the whole way through.
Short. Call me lazy, but I think brevity is an important quality in a book (especially if you want to give it to someone and them to actually read it!). Too many books have a great concept, but then pad it out unnecessarily for 200 pages. This is not one of those books. This makes the message of the book a lot sharper and more accessible, and contributes to it being a great book to give away.
Practical. Chapter after chapter, Millar keeps asking (and answering) the question, “So what? What actual difference does this make to the way we live?” This book manages to be practical without doing so at the expense of theological depth. Millar happily tackles meaty topics like the Trinity, for example, while also deftly showing its concrete implications for everyday life.
Expectations—What Does It Really Look Like?
One of the things I love about this book is how clear it is about what the Christian life actually looks like. I’ve spoken to many people who are curious about Christianity. Many are really drawn to Jesus, but one of the things that holds them back is that they feel they don’t know what they’re signing up for. I mean, sure, Jesus seems pretty cool. But what would my life actually look like if I became a Christian?
I love about this book is how clear it is about what the Christian life actually looks like. Many are really drawn to Jesus, but they don’t know what they’re signing up for
Need To Know helps us set our expectations clearly about the Christian life. And it’s pretty up-front: following Jesus is hard. Being a Christian involves surrendering control to let Jesus call the shots in our lives, and there are often very real costs involved. But at the same time, Millar reminds us that it will all be worth it:
Jesus is not out to limit your life or make it less fun. He came to give you life — a life that overflows with love, joy, and satisfaction, both now and for eternity. So his commands to us in the Bible are not cruel or arbitrary or limiting. He loves us. We can trust that doing what God says never involves missing out in the long term. The gospel-shaped life is the best life there is.
Who Is This Book For?
I’d recommend this book to anyone, and I greatly benefited from and enjoyed reading it even though I’ve been a Christian for many years. But it is especially helpful for two groups of people:
For new Christians. If you’ve ever had the privilege of seeing someone come to put their trust in Jesus for the first time, you’ll know there’s no greater joy. But you’ll also know it’s soon followed by the question: what next? Well, this book is designed to help answer that question. If you’re discipling a new Christian, Need To Know is a great book to give them and work through together.
For not-yet-Christians. If you’ve got a friend who’s curious about Christianity and you want to give them a book, maybe your first thought would be something on apologetics. There’s certainly place for that. But I think this book is excellent for those who aren’t sure about Christianity, because it so clearly spells out (1) what the gospel is and (2) what it actually looks like to respond to the gospel.
So if you’re looking for an engaging and accessible primer on what it means to be a Christian (either for yourself or to give to someone else), go no further. This book tells you what you need to know.
Want to get a taste of what the book is like? Below are 20 quotes from it …
When you’re trying to explain to someone what it means when you say you’re a Christian, remember this: Christianity is not a mindset or a worldview or a philosophy of life (although it does produce all these). Christianity is founded on and flows from and leads to knowing and enjoying God the Trinity forever. (18)
Jesus is a person, not a bunch of facts—but he is a person who is known through the Scriptures. It’s possible to read the Scriptures without knowing Jesus any better or deeper. But it’s impossible to know Jesus better and deeper without reading the Bible.” (22)
If I had to define the gospel in a tweet, I’d say this: the announcement of what the triune God has done in Christ to make it possible for us to know him and enjoy him forever. (25)
The gospel is at the heart of becoming a Christian, living as a Christian, and keeping going as a Christian. (28)
Reading the Bible is not an intellectual thing but a spiritual thing. It’s not magic, but it is spiritual—and wonderfully, God can and does work through the Bible to bring people to new life and maturity in Christ. (37)
Real prayer isn’t a form of meditation that twists God’s arm; nor is it just good for our mental health! It’s about enjoying our relationship with our loving Heavenly Father.” (39)
When it comes down to it, the Christian life might be hard, but it isn’t all that complicated. God himself speaks to us by the Spirit through his word, working the gospel of the Lord Jesus deeper into our hearts and minds. And what do we do? We ask God to do what he has promised as we pray. And then we repeat! This is the gospel-shaped life. (42)
The gospel-shaped life is one which takes seriously the horrible truth about what we are actually like. There is nothing naïve or defensive or self-protective or arrogant or hypocritical about authentic Christianity because the gospel reveals what we are truly like: we are so precious to God that he sent Christ to die for us, but we are so rebellious that he had to die for us.” (49)
The beauty of the gospel is not simply that God forgives us but that he gives us a way out — he transforms through the painful recognition, exposure and overcoming of our sin. (53)
Show me someone who is not repenting, day by day, week by week, and I’ll show you someone who is proud and who is not living out the gospel of the Lord Jesus. (55)
The Bible gives us hope that while suffering is painful, it is not pointless. God is committed to using suffering to bring about great good in the lives of his people. (71)
Someone who claims to be a Christian but who has zero interest in other people in church — or who isn’t part of a church and has no interest in joining one — has missed the point. “God is love”, and so the gospel-shaped life is a life of love for the God of love and his people. (83)
When we share bread and wine together to remember Jesus’ death and resurrection, it is a tangible, “taste-able” demonstration of the gospel, which spurs us on to keep living for Christ. (86)
The most loving thing we can do for anyone is to share the momentous news of Jesus Christ with them. (89)
It’s pretty obvious that in the Bible we’re not always going to be able to find a fully spelled-out, step-by-step guide to handling the issues that we face in our time and place. But that doesn’t mean that God has nothing to say about how to live, now that we’re “in Christ”. In fact, he’s given us everything we need to look at the world through the gospel. (94)
And the truth is, sometimes living God’s way hurts. There’s something painful about the basic shift from running our own lives and forming our own opinions to living with God at the centre. (97)
While the Christian life sometimes costs, we’ll never be short-changed. The astonishing thing is that God only ever asks us to do what’s both good for us and glorifying for him…. Following the manufacturer’s instructions is always the best bet. While it may sometimes look unattractive in the world’s eyes, God promises that the gospel-shaped life is genuinely beautiful. And living his way will, in time, show the watching world something of the Lord Jesus. (98)
Jesus is not out to limit your life or make it less fun. He came to give you life — a life that overflows with joy, love, and satisfaction, both now and for eternity. So his commands to us in the Bible are not cruel or arbitrary or limiting. He loves us. We can trust that doing what God says never involves missing out in the long term. The gospel-shaped life is the best life there is. (99)
Our job or career, our physical power or appearance, our sexual orientation, our academic ability or even our personality can’t ultimately carry the weight of providing us with the sense of significance we long for. Only Jesus Christ can do that. (107-108)
There is no choice, no subject, and no opinion which the reality of being in Christ doesn’t reshape and direct. The gospel-shaped life really is an “all-in” thing. God has invited and enabled us to live the beautiful life — the gospel-shaped life — with him. So don’t settle for anything less. (109)