We live in a time when Christians are rediscovering the gospel. A growing number of books, blogs, and conferences set out to define, set apart, and make central the gospel of Jesus Christ in all of life. But Jared Wilson wants to do more than just define and explore the gospel in his new book, Gospel Wakefulness
. Matt Smethurst corresponded with Wilson on what sets this book apart and if the "gospel-centered" trend is more than a passing fad.
To speak to some of your examples, Greear's book appears to be a treatise on the importance of gospel-centrality, covering the gospel's implications and applications, and Tchividjian's book appears to be a "gospel theology," covering the gospel narrative of the Scriptures. I haven't read either, so I can't say, but that is by going from the tables of contents and what's available online. Chandler's book, I know, attempts to harmonize the two dominating narratives—Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation and God-Man-Sin-Christ-Response. Each of these approaches and more is valuable to the new-fashioned gospel literature, and Gospel Wakefulness has a bit of all of that in it. We need multiple voices helping us see the gospel, because it's of first importance and because it can't be worn out. It's too resilient. But the primary approach of my book is not just to explore the gospel but to exult in it, and also to survey the effects of gospel astonishment on the ways and means of ordinary life. I'd also like to think that I have a unique literary sensibility that brings an equally fresh but distinct adornment to the same gospel we all believe and cherish.
What exactly do you mean by “wakefulness”?
In short, astonishment. I classify it as "wakefulness," however, because for those of us who have experienced it, it feels like coming to from a sluggishness or stupor. I do not equate gospel wakefulness with conversion but place it more along the lines of renewal or revival.
A good chunk of the book is devoted to the idea of "beholding,” which you explain by using Ray Ortlund's suggestion to “Stare at the glory of God until you see it” (36). What practices or rhythms do you employ to promote such staring?
That line of Ray's has been so helpful for me, but the concept of transformation through beholding God's glory comes from a variety of Scriptures, most notably Isaiah 6, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and Hebrews 12:1-2. If "beholding is becoming," as it were, we ought to keep our eyes trained on Jesus Christ, who is the radiance of God's glory, in all of our pursuits. I think this brings in the chief virtue of the gospel-centered movement; it helps us to place our crosshairs on the sole source of transformation. More specifically, it means that as I study the Bible, I want to be looking for Jesus in every text, including the ones where he is not explicitly there. And in my sharing, serving, counseling, teaching, discipling, raising of my children, etc., I want to make sure Jesus is the star. I even find following a particular kind of person on Twitter, for instance, helpful in my pursuit of staring at Jesus.
Does sanctification involve more than getting used to justification? What’s the role of effort—or, as the Puritans put it, “holy sweat”—in our growth in grace?
I think I know what is meant by the phrase "getting used to our justification," but I don't care for it much. And when we talk about sanctification, we should probably make some distinction between the once-for-all cleansing that accompanies justification and the ensuing work of the Spirit in our lives to actualize justification's declaration. In that respect, there is a lot of work for us to do. I don't understand either the accusation that gospel-centrality leads to antinomianism any more than antinomianism itself. The commands are in the Bible for us to do them. The important part is remembering that being shapes doing, and not the other way around. I guess this gets at the question about the role of effort. Our effort, or "holy sweat," is both the wake of Christ's finished work and the way we continue to rest in that work, the way we continue "beating the gospel into our heads continually," to paraphrase Luther. Hebrews 4:11 gets at that a bit. We ought to be striving, no doubt. But if it does not come as worship, as response to the gospel's Spiritual energy, it's a religious treadmill to burnout. Our effort is both produced by the Spirit's implanting of holiness in us and also a means by which the Spirit implants holiness in us. Philippians 2:12-13 and Colossians 1:29 are helpful there.
Near the end of the book you ask, “Is gospel centrality just a trend?” What are some practical ways that we who champion gospel-centered theology and living can guard against this temptation to treasure the trend more than God himself?
Keep asking this question, for starters.
We need to also work at making sure the "gospel-centered" jargon doesn't become our badge of orthodoxy, that we don't shrink the church to the size of our tribe. I think when we trend that way, we have clearly made the gospel-centered movement more cherished than Christ and his body.
I also think we ought to take care that what we are seeing and doing are acts of worship, exulting in the gospel, which looks like—to borrow from Piper —"oh!" language, rather than merely recitations of the mechanics of salvation or rote theology. When Paul is outlining the workings of the gospel, he doesn't do so simply or a-theologically; he is nearly breathless. He ransacks his vocabulary to do some sense of justice to it, to revel in it. His sense of awe is palpable.
What would you say to a believer who walks away from your book feeling discouraged, who thinks, “Gosh, I've never experienced the gospel wakefulness Jared is so excited about. Something must be wrong with me”?
I would ask them if they really read the book, since this very issue is discussed in it. But seriously, I would take them back to the gospel, which announces to us that Jesus is big enough, supreme enough, preeminent enough, and saving enough to cover every inch of our lives. I would remind them that salvation is not about our experiences or feelings or sense of "wakefulness" but about Christ's finished work. And ironically, one doesn't become gospel wakened by fretting over gospel wakefulness but by beholding Christ in the midst of profound brokenness. So as I counsel in the book, we have to fix our eyes on Christ so we are ready when that brokenness comes.
Matt Smethurst is an assistant editor for The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.