Jared Wilson. Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012. 208 pp. $15.99.
Jared Wilson, a pastor for 15 years, has given us a fresh, helpful, well-written book characterized by sound theology applied. Gospel Deeps effectively makes a much-needed point today: the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t only a message that saves us once and for all. It’s also a message we need every day of our lives in order to love, honor, and serve God as he intended. Wilson’s thesis? “The gospel is deep with grace abounding because Jesus is deep with grace abounding” (44). The book then explores the depths of the good news, the “gospel deeps.”
When the apostle Paul defines the gospel he preaches, he includes both Christ’s death and resurrection (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Jesus’ saving deeds include everything from his incarnation to his return, but the heart and soul of his saving accomplishment are his death and resurrection. I rejoice that Wilson, pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Vermont, consistently holds together Jesus’ death and resurrection as composing his saving work.
Passionate, Sound, Kind
I am sensitive to attitudes as well as truth. I want my seminary students to study, understand, and believe the Bible’s theology. But I’m also zealous that they do so with attitudes that honor God and their fellow image-bearers. Wilson exemplifies passionate teaching of sound doctrine with a kind attitude toward others—including those who in his youth taught him the gospel in part but not in its fullness, other believers who disagree with him on points he holds dear, and even other Christians with defective theology.
In a day when penal substitution is under attack, by liberals and conservatives alike, Wilson strongly affirms it. But the temptation is for us to overemphasize certain truths (especially when we must defend them) at the expense of other equally biblical truths. This Wilson does not do. He, rightly in my estimation, grants pride of place to penal substitution, but also includes other biblical atonement metaphors—Christus Victor, redemption, reconciliation, and sacrifice. He also draws careful nuances, such as when he refers to substitution and Christus Victor as twins, but calls the former “the twin born first” (99). This is correct. Christ is both the substitute who bore the wrath of God in our place as well as the Champion who in his death and resurrection defeated our foes for us—the Devil, his demons, the world, sin, death, and hell. As Revelation 5 shows, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” who “has conquered” does so as “the Lamb which had been slain. . . . who by [his] blood ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (vv. 5, 6, 9).
What We Need, Not Always What We Want
The chapter, “The Glory of Suffering,” effectively meets a great need in the church. As a pastor, Wilson knows the hurt, pain, and hard questions of believers and unbelievers. He also knows that we don’t have simple answers to difficult questions. So he doesn’t give any. “Instead of satisfying the logic of suffering to our heart’s desire,” Wilson writes, “God opts to satisfy the heart’s desire that suffering brings to the surface” (122). So he focuses on what Scripture does say and communicates God’s many purposes in suffering. Consistent with the rest of the book, these purposes glorify God and his grace and portray us as we are—broken rebels who need divine grace from the beginning of our salvation clear until the end. God gives us what we need, though not always what we want: a greater longing for God’s grace now as well as for heaven later.
I’m amazed that Wilson defends the extra calvinisticum in this work (139-45). Many Christology books omit it; such omission is cowardly. It’s a good thing to include but notoriously difficult to explain. The second Person of the Trinity became fully incarnate in Jesus but, since he’s the second Person of the Trinity, remained fully outside (extra) of Jesus. The alternatives are a diminution of the Godhead (to a Binity?) or a less than full incarnation. This is mysterious, but I’m forced to confess it since we meet the fullness of God in Jesus (Col. 2:9) and since the second Person continues to perform his work of providence after the incarnation but not in the body (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). I’m not confident about every prooftext Wilson uses to defend this, but I rejoice in his applying it to our enjoyment of salvation now and forever.
Feel the Truth
Additionally, in “The Fold” Wilson speaks of our adoption and union with Christ. As with the other topics he treats, these are full of the grace and glory of God. They extol the wonder of God’s loving us before creation, making us his children, and joining us forever to his Son. The writing is warm, colloquial, and effective. Readers feel the truths Wilson conveys.
Further, “Cosmic Redemption” is tremendously needed and well done. Many Christians still conceive of salvation as deliverance from the body to an ethereal everlasting heaven. Although Scripture teaches an intermediate state of salvation for God’s people, its focus lies elsewhere—on the resurrection of our bodies and the renovation of God’s good earth. And Wilson shows that the whole Bible—from beginning to end—longs for this cosmic salvation.
Is there room for improvement in Gospel Deeps? Yes. Wilson is correct there are two aspects to sanctification: initial and progressive (72–73). But there’s a third aspect as well: final or entire sanctification (1 Thess. 5:23–24). He’s right that “the gospel reconciles us on multiple levels” (38–41): individuals to God, individuals to one another, and us together to God. However, he omits the big one that fits his overall theology—according to Colossians 1:20, Christ reconciles “all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through the blood of his cross.” The reason there will be a new heaven and new earth freed from the curse of sin is that Jesus died and arose!
In sum, although Wilson’s brief conclusion left me wanting more, Gospel Deeps edified, encouraged, and challenged me—three very good things indeed!
Robert A. Peterson is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary, author of Salvation Accomplished by the Son: The Work of Christ (Crossway, 2012) and co-editor, with Christopher Morgan, of The Kingdom of God in the Theology in Community series (Crossway, 2012).