Diving Gospel Deep: Jared Wilson on Matters of First Importance
If we began plumbing the depths of the gospel, how long until we'd hit bottom?
The gospel is endlessly big and beautiful and complex because Jesus is. Embedded in his person and work is a fullness of beauty that evokes marvel from angels (1 Pet. 1:12) and believers (2 Thess. 1:10) alike.
In his new book, Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Crossway), Jared Wilson observes that "we evangelicals love the gospel for the few of its uses we're aware of, [but] we end up missing its depths." It's like we're happy to waterski but not to scuba dive. In the end, we shortchange our souls, never pausing to ponder what enthralling vistas might await us beneath the surface. As Wilson writes, "The further into Christ's work we press, the more of our vision and the more of our heart it fills. . . . There is no way for us to wear it out."
I corresponded with Wilson, pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Vermont, about spiritual boredom, covenant community, whether Hebrews tells us to move beyond the gospel, and more.
What's the connection between Gospel Deeps and your previous book, Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, 2011)?
Gospel Wakefulness is a particular experience of personal revival born of the intersection of personal brokenness and beholding Christ as all-sufficient. In that book I apply the importance of this spiritual renaissance to various areas of the Christian life and ministry. In Gospel Deeps I look at the gospel itself more closely, holding it up like a diamond to gaze at some of its many facets.
You contend that "plumbing the depths of the gospel is an exultational pursuit, or it is a pointless one." How do we practically plumb these depths in an exultational manner?
One of the best ways is to do so in community. Another way is to stay on mission, so that we're pursuing worship in our sharing of the gospel with others. This stretches us and challenges us beyond the comfort of our private study---which is a good place to be too!---and gives us opportunity to rely more fully on Jesus in places of discomfort or difficulty. But in terms of personal study and pursuit of Christ, the more prayerful we make our exploration of the gospel, the more exultational it will be. Prayer helps us to own in confession the sin we encounter in the Scriptures and to make our theology more doxological.
"The plan [God] has designed to most display his glory," you observe, "is not saved individuals but a saved church." How is covenant community crucial to enjoying the gospel depths?
When we gather for worship to hear the gospel together and declare God's glory, we are primed for more "Aha!" moments in response to God's goodness, because our brothers and sisters bring unique experiences, testimonies, perspectives, and gifts that help us get out of the tunnel vision of the self. I think of C. S. Lewis talking about how his friend Charles Williams's death significantly altered Lewis's friendship with J. R. R. Tolkien. Williams brought different things out of Tolkien than Lewis could, and vice-versa. With Williams, they saw so much more in and through each other and experienced more with each other. Exploring the gospel in community, aside from being the way the Scriptures prescribe "doing theology" and living out the gospel's implications, is simply the best way to do it, because we need the various members of the body to have a completer sense of Christ's fullness.
Also, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, we need the gospel in our brothers and sisters. We meet each other as bringers of the gospel. I need to be in an environment where I can safely own up to my incompetence and immorality so that the church can meet me as a bringer of the welcome of grace.
What does the gospel have to say to someone battling spiritual boredom?
"Taste and see that the Lord is good." First, we have to settle in our minds that Jesus and his gospel are not boring. If we find them boring, the problem is us, not Jesus. And because Jesus can't be boring, when we truly behold him as totally saving and all-sufficient, the thrill is undeniable. We won't experience this if we don't see him in the gospel this way, however. Ray Ortlund says, "Stare at the glory of God until you see it." That's a very good word, because you can look and not see, but you can't see without looking, so we have to keep on looking and looking and looking. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:18 that it's through beholding Christ's glory that we are transformed from one degree of glory to another. Nothing boring about that at all.
Are we in danger of gospel fatigue? Doesn't the author of Hebrews even tell us to move on from elementary gospel truths (6:1-2)?
When I hear people say "Yes, gospel, but . . . " or when they express irritation with all the gospel talk, I think we are in danger of gospel fatigue. Now, of course, there's the real possibility that some people are turning the gospel into faddish jargon, but I honestly think Philippians 1:18 is applicable there. We want those people to repent of preaching a gospel they don't believe---if that's the case---but we certainly should check our hearts when we get tired of hearing about the gospel. Paul says it's of first importance. So I don't believe the author of Hebrews is telling us in Hebrews 6 that we graduate from the gospel to other things.
It's a very complex passage, but the context helps us. In Hebrews 5:12, we read, "Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God." The dilemma is seeing how the recipients of the letter would need to both re-learn the elementary principles of the oracles of God and to leave the elementary teachings about Christ (Heb. 6:1-2). Unless the author is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, these must mean two different things.
I believe the "elementary teachings" in Hebrews 6 refer to the types and shadows of the old covenant, about which Hebrews says quite a bit (e.g., 8:5; 10:1; see also Col. 2:17). So the exhortation here is not about leaving the gospel behind but leaving the shadows behind to walk in the light of Christ. And further, the admonition is to grow up in the gospel beyond initial repentance and individual salvation. It's about following the signposts into the land of destination. It's a call to maturity that is gospel-driven, not post-gospel or even gospel-latent.
John Calvin concurs, writing of this passage:
He bids them to leave these rudiments, not that the faithful are ever to forget them, but that they are not to remain in them; and this idea appears more clear from what follows, the comparison of a foundation; for in building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous. For as the foundation is laid for the sake of what is built on it, he who is occupied in laying it and proceeds not to the superstruction, wearies himself with foolish and useless labor.
In any event, I don't believe Hebrews 6 means the gospel is the ABC's and now we need to buckle down and learn the hard stuff. The ABC's of salvation are the rudiments of the "advanced linguistics" of the gospel deeps. You build on top of a foundation that remains and no matter how high and big you build your house, you never leave the foundation, or you're experiencing some serious structural weakness.