Review of Gospel Wakefulness by Jared C. Wilson

I’ve shared this story before but I think it is a fitting illustration of what Jared Wilson’s book Gospel Wakefulness is all about…

One morning as I was taking a shower this text came across my mind:  “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.”  I didn’t give it much thought until a few days later…

There I was sitting in the bath tub at a spiritual crossroad.  I felt as if all of hell was pulling at my soul.  Tempting me, sifting me…sifting me…wait, was God communicating something to me a few days ago.  I had no idea.  Everything was cloudy.

Here I was a youth pastor.  I am supposed to be leading teenagers.  I was preaching about the glory of God and having satisfaction in Christ alone.  Yet inwardly, I was so screwed up.  I had thoughts that a believer should never have.  I had doubts that ravaged my soul.  And with that came dejection, depression, and deep feelings of condemnation.  I wanted to hide but knew there was no place to run.  There I was alone, cowering in the bath tub.

This time in my life was perhaps the most intense period of temptation that I have faced.  I felt as if I were seconds away from turning my back on Christ and running in the other direction forever.  I’d have to quit as a youth pastor.  My marriage would be altered forever.  My relationships with others rocked.  I’m not sure if it was good or not but I kept going through the motions trying to hang on to what little faith I seemed to have left.

Then the lights came on.  Suddenly I felt as if the sifting had subsided and I was able to see the beauty and sufficiency of Jesus.  Actually its not as if I had somehow returned to normal.  Actually, through this experience I was utterly transformed.  The gospel became so much sweeter.  I was slowly being stripped of every vestige of self-righteousness, and I saw Christ as the only home for my tattered and tempted soul.

What is Gospel Wakefulness?

This experience is what Jared Wilson would call Gospel Wakefulness.  For some people it happens simultaneous with conversion but for others, like me, it happens at a time after conversion.  What is gospel wakefulness?  Wilson defines it as “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly”.  (24)

It is not a second conversion experience nor is it equivalent to the new birth (24).  It is a strengthening of the affections for Christ alone that comes through beholding the glory of Christ at an intersection of profound brokenness (32).  It is Wilson’s contention that those that are bored with the gospel say such things because they have never experienced gospel wakefulness. 

If I understand Wilson correctly he is saying that gospel proclamation is its own catalyst.  Rather than being afraid of the monotony of the gospel we should proclaim it over and over and over and over and over again.  The more it is proclaimed the sweeter it becomes.  Rather than becoming boring and drab the gospel actually gets better the more it is experienced and beheld.  (Perhaps it may be better to say Jesus becomes sweeter the more He is experienced and beheld). 

As Wilson weaves stories, illustrations, and biblical defenses throughout this book he is making one simple point Jesus is big enough to captivate our every affection so rather than assuming the gospel let’s proclaim it over and over again.  The gospel is what drives sanctification.  The gospel is what ties a broken and depressed person to a strong and faithful Christ, so let’s proclaim it in the midst of darkness.  The gospel transforms our hearts and therein also transforms spiritual disciplines.  It brings confidence as it links us to Christ. 

This book, then, is a simple passionate and emboldened plea to keep the gospel central in our lives and in our churches.  It’s not a formula or a magic potion.  In fact, Wilson admits up front that gospel wakefulness “can’t be learned” (34).  He explains:

…all I mean is, neither I nor anyone else can say to you, ‘Be awed by the gospel,’ and have you say, ‘Okay,’ and make the decision of awe.  I can and should tell you to ‘Behold!’—and that is the major function of this book—but whether you will truly see is up to God , and it is usually dependent on how dim all your earthly hopes have grown for you.

Critique? 

There have been a few cordial concerns from other reviewers that Wilson’s book “could easily lead to unhelpful division and categorization” (Trevin Wax and also Aaron Armstrong).  While I understand the point that Wax and Armstrong are making I think Jared’s position is one backed up by the apostle Paul. 

It seems to me that in Ephesians 1:1-14 Paul is laying the ground work of what has objectively happened in the life of every believer.  But then in 1:15-23 Paul essentially prays that the Ephesians will “have the eyes of the hearts enlightened” in such a way that they will come to increasingly enjoy all that Christ has already purchased.  Certainly this process of “enlightening” and “knowing the hope to which he has called you” is not a uniform process in every believer. 

Though there are those that are sensitive to such language (and perhaps rightly so) I am perfectly fine with praying over every brother and sister in Christ that their experience of enjoying what Christ has already purchased would become sweeter and sweeter.  I do not think Wilson’s intention is to draw a fine line between “wakened” and “unawakened” but rather it is to say that what will cause us to increase in our affections for Jesus and increasingly wake up to the beauty of the gospel is indeed the gospel itself. 

My only criticism (actually concern) is one that Wilson mentions in his conclusion.  He notes that his friend voiced concern over the constant use of the term gospel.  The friend said, “I feel like all the gospel-centered this and gospel-driven that is just our version of ‘smurfy’.” (213)  And as Wilson notes, this is a very valid concern within the gospel-centered movement.  I think Wilson answers this charge quite effectively.  I found the conclusion helpful but perhaps more so his response to a Fuller quote I shared.  

My only critique is that I wish the concern addressed in his conclusion had been given a full chapter worth of treatment.  We have to be cautious not to make the gospel the end but as a means to the end; namely, God Himself.  I would have liked to see this potential danger fleshed out a little more.  (See Piper’s God is the Gospel). 

Should You Buy It?

Absolutely.  As I shared earlier through a period of intense brokenness God began the process of awaking me to the beauty of his gospel.  But for some silly reason I occasionally decide to shut my eyes or fall asleep to the beauty of Jesus.  I echo the sentiment of Matt Chandler when he says of this book, “My eyes filled with tears and my heart flooded with joy on numerous occasions.” 

Wilson is correct in his thesis—the more the gospel is proclaimed the more it awakens the heart.  God used this book to strengthen and dare I say re-stimulate the sufficiency of the Christ and His gospel in my own heart.  Through reading this book I began to ache for more of Christ.  My heart was truly stirred. 

I’d buy this book simply because it is filled with gospel proclamation.  At every turn you see Wilson pointing to Jesus and saying “Behold”.  Eventually, it’s gonna click and we’ll catch glimpses—beautiful, brilliant, radiant glimpses—of the beauty of Christ.  Eventually we’ll simply become fixated.

You can buy the book for 10 bucks at Amazon or on the Kindle for just over 7.  Get it here.