Book Review: Gospel Wakefulness

Jared Wilson writes a stirring work with such a flawed premise that he continually detracts from his own passion and eloquence. Because of his elitist, New Age “Gospel Wakefulness” that he drills over and over, at times he appears insincere in marketing a new breed of religion that ascribes transcendental experience as orthodoxy. While he spends many pages protecting his own idea with reasonable disclaimers, this isn’t enough to ward off the uneasiness that this is his idea, an extrabiblical concept for a secret club of those who “get it.”

There’s no doubt that Wilson is a great writer, but because of his blogging background, much of his work is strung together randomly as if he copied-and-pasted some old blog posts with tenuous transitions. Nothing flows evenly. He also uses distracting superlatives that are not grounded in the reality of everyday Christians. There is a ton of analogical language that sounds pretty but has no function in the gritty hurt of real life. I kept thinking Hallmark.

The concept of “Gospel Wakefulness” itself was extremely problematic. It’s apparently a second awakening in the Christian’s spiritual walk when someone actually “gets” the Gospel. This, I understand. But what is being “gotten”? An emotional experience? Wilson says no. A theological insight? Wilson implies no. A spiritual brokenness? Apparently so: but imagine I told you that you don’t get the gospel unless you have been thoroughly racked from top to bottom with something spectacular. While I doubt this is Wilson’s intent, it’s still his result. He creates an exhausting goose chase of brand new feelings (or not-feelings) to authenticate our faith.

The other problem is his whole “Gospel Centrality” angle that the Reformed movement has been riding to death. Not only does he claim that Reformed people “get it” more than other denominations (big sigh), but he claims this is true Christianity. “This — Is — Gospel!” he yells in Leonidas chest-thumping fashion. That sort of cult-like claim in church — “Only I have the truth!” — only puffs up and does not build up. And as always, Gospel Centrality leaves out Jesus. It will talk about his approval, validation, qualification, and calling, but always dances around Jesus himself.

Wilson does show flashes of sincere brilliance in many places, and when he is not promoting his own ideas, he writes convicting statements to the church. The chapters on suffering and depression are most poignant. It appears Wilson comes back to earth here for real life matters and he writes as a man who has been through hell and back. Though I’m not entirely on board with his near-mystical ideas, it’s obvious Wilson has really been gripped by the Gospel to survive these darker moments.

The last few chapters, a focus on ministry and Jesus himself, also nearly redeem much of the book. Finally when Wilson gets to Jesus himself, he writes with more clarity, more focus, with a better biblical foothold that does not rely on his “wakefulness.”

Bottom Line:
I believe Jared Wilson is a great writer, a humble Christian, and onto something wonderful. But some of his superiority and his reliance on neo-Reformed doctrine is brash at best, uninformed at worst. I would love to talk with Pastor Jared about some of his ideas so he can better clarify what he means. And I do look forward to his next work. For good works on Gospel Centrality (which I am not against), try Gospel by J.D. Greear, Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian, or King’s Cross by Timothy Keller.

Choice Quotes:

“God does not wait until we have made it through our brokenness to dispense his comfort, like a reward for endurance. He is delivering us in our suffering itself, in the pain and processing of it.” (45)

“The work of the Christian, in a million subsequent echoes of the incarnation, is to make sacraments of our moments, infusing the spiritual into the ordinary and treating the ordinary as spiritual.” (92)

“For the very reason that we have been set free, let us now live as though we are free! Now that the shackles are off and we have received the eternal pardon, let’s make every effort to authenticate our pardon with the qualities belonging to free men. It is unbefitting for free men to live as prisoners.” (142)

” Christians, many of us are living lives of disregard and consequently having little impact. Despite our big buildings and our big budgets and our big publishing empires and our big voting blocs and our big events and our big numbers, we are living in such a way to be disregarded. We are making lots of noise … inside our inconsequential bubble.
We cannot afford to go quietly. Exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Because we are being remade in the image of God’s Son, we may be as confident as Christ is supreme.” (180)


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