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Book Review: Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson

What’s the thing that’s supposed to captivate Christians, above all else? What should motivate us to greater heights of joy, to greater levels of confidence and boldness in our daily lives? The gospel. For the Christian, there’s no better news than the good news of Jesus’ perfect life, death and resurrection. Nothing comes close. So why is it that we seem kind of ambivalent to it—as it it were something that we need to hear once and then can move on to “bigger and better things”?

What’s happened to us that causes us to stop marvelling at the gospel? What’s made us fall asleep—and how do we wake up? Jared Wilson wants to help us do that in his new book, Gospel Wakefulness. In this book, Wilson seeks to  help readers regain a sense of wonder as he explains what it means to be awakened anew to the gospel and it’s implications.

They say that you shouldn’t write a book that you haven’t lived. And if this book is any indication, Wilson has lived his subject matter well. His love and passion for the gospel is evident in this book—his awe, his excitement, permeates every word as he explains all the concepts behind gospel wakefulness.

And what does gospel wakefulness mean, exactly, anyway? Wilson defines it as, “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly” (p. 24). Whether it’s a “quantum leap forward” or a “gradual dawn,” gospel wakefulness occurs through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, “administering the goodness of the gospel” (p. 31). So basically it’s a greater understanding and sense of awe and amazement at who Christ is and what He has done. It’s an awakening of the renewed and redeemed affections that we’ve been given as new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

But this is not something that we can learn; it’s not something that can be systematized and run as a mid-week program. No technique can bring someone to gospel wakefulness, despite our ingenuity. “Really,” writes Wilson, “there are only two steps to gospel wakefulness: be utterly broken and be utterly awed. But neither of these things are things you can really do. They are things only God can do for you” (p. 35).

This utter brokenness, Wilson explains, is nonnegotiable. “To honestly proclaim the greatness of Christ requires honestly confessing the bankruptcy of our own souls,” he writes (p. 41). As long as we have other options, Jesus will never be our absolute treasure. That’s where pain comes into play—the trials of life draw us closer to Christ, who, rather than normally delivering us from suffering, chooses to do something for us in our suffering. In other words, the situations that we find ourselves in are of no surprise to God—they are opportunities for us to grow in greater dependency on Him, to recognize our need and dependency.

Sometimes when God closes a door, he doesn’t intend to open a window. Sometimes when God closes a door, its’ because he wants us inside when the building collapses. . . . God is the Lord over pain; the pain of ife is subject to his power and prerogatives. Because of this . . . we can be confident that our pain is being used for our good. We be sure that no thorns will pierce our flesh except those that will do so for his glory. (p. 46)

This nonnegotiable brokenness is necessary for gospel wakefulness, but it’s what leads to great joy and confidence in the gospel—you can’t marvel at the gospel without it. And really, that’s the point of this entire book—to help you see the wondrous beauty of the gospel. It helps us escape the grip of hyper-spirituality and hopeless legalism, both trying to earn our own sanctification and fail to satisfy. It drives us to study the Scriptures with an eye fixed on Christ and allowing us to truly understand what the Bible is truly about. “We read for more and more knowledge of the hope we have been called to, for more and more glimpses of the riches of our glorious inheritance” (p. 124). Gospel wakefulness allows you to persevere in prayer, knowing that truly, Jesus is your only hope. As Wilson puts it so well, “Until God is your only hope, God will not be your only hope” (p. 127).

Much of the language of Gospel Wakefulness is rooted in feeling—and because of that,  it’s important to recognize, as the author does, that no two people feel things the same way. Some are more reserved in their emotions, where others are a bit more boisterous. (This acknowledgement was particularly helpful for me, given that I tend to be more on the reserved side.) So the point of gospel wakefulness is not looking for a warm fuzzy, but recognizing that wherever and however you top out emotionally, you do so at the gospel “All of us are moved by something. When I say that gospel wakefulness is about feelings, I only mean that what should move you most is the reality that Christ died and rose for you” (p. 148).

This is good news for all of us, especially those who suffer for depression. It means that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how hopeless things may seem, Christ is bigger than despair. This hope allows the depressed Christian to thumb their noses at depression—they know it can’t win, because Christ already has. And Wilson’s encouragement to the depressed is that “you will outlast depression, because Christ in you, the hope of glory, will outlast it” (p. 157).

As much as I appreciate Gospel Wakefulness, I do have one point of concern. That is the distinction between the gospel awakened Christian and the one who believes, but isn’t necessarily captivated by the gospel. My concern is that this distinction could be used to create a false dichotomy between believers—as if there were Varsity and Junior Varsity Christians (an idea that tends to permeate certain segments of Pentecostal circles). While I’m not sure that was Wilson’s intention, it’s something that could be problematic for some readers who are particularly sensitive to that kind of thing. But it reveals an elephant in the room—can a believer truly not be in awe of the gospel? We all have season where our hearts wander and our affections are weak, but do the Scriptures give us room to say that there really is a distinction? I’m not sure that the Scriptures give us room to say that it’s the case, particularly as we look to what Jesus says to the lukewarm Laodiceans in Rev. 3:16. But then again, I don’t think it would be terribly wise to plant a flag too firmly without serious amounts of prayer and study.

Gospel Wakefulness is a captivating picture of what it means to have a heart that is awe-struck by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wilson’s exuberant passion for the good news will encourage and inspire you as you read this book. I trust you’ll come away from the book further amazed at the grace of God in Christ.

Title: Gospel Wakefulness
Author: Jared C. Wilson
Publisher: Crossway (2011)

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