I am convinced that every couple of years the American church needs to switch up its vernacular to keep from getting too used to its own words. It is not that words ever go bad, but that we grow forgetful; we fall asleep, if you will. In Gospel Wakefulness, Wilson doesn’t say anything new, but instead, he says the same old thing Christians have been saying for 2000+ years, that,
“In myself, I am the chief of sinners. In Christ, I am the righteousness of God” (P. 145)
Gospel Wakefulness is a book not written with a new message, but with a message written for a new generation, fighting the same battle as their predecessors: the fight of faith in Christ alone. Like concepts such as “Christian hedonism” and “revivalism” laid down by Godly thinkers and writers of years past, “Gospel wakefulness” is a similar awakening by the Holy Spirit encouraging us to behold Jesus “with the eyes of faith you always assumed were there” (p.33)
The idea is timely, yet timeless. Wilson lays down a realistic vision for a change in the Christian’s affections, facilitated by the gospel’s changing power alone. In a time in history where lukewarmness dances dangerously with cause-driven Christianity, Gospel Wakefulness comes out of a place of gospel-obsession. This book has the wonderful potential to act as an alarm clock to rouse sleeping Christians, beckoning them to wake up to the good, free grace of the gospel. The gospel-awakened heart “[has] tasted the goodness and lost [it's] taste of the pale imitations” (p. 64).
Gospel Wakefulness is one of the most loving, yet urgent critiques of ‘Christian culture’ that I have read in a while. Wilson never insults the church, but he is not ready to concede to the unhealthy culture it has fostered. He says,
“My hope is in the kingdom God so much that I have found it frustrating to speak with people who place their hopes in the kingdom of America or Christian culture and for them to speak with me … you will find your gospel centrality a head-scratcher to some of your brothers and sisters (P.64-65)
and ever so poignantly,
“Christians, many of us are living lives of disregard and consequently having little impact. Despite our big buildings and our big budgets and our big publishing empires and our big voting blocs and our big events and our big numbers, we are living in such a way to be disregarded. We are making lots of noise . . . inside our inconsequential bubble” (p.181)
But if the book were to just be some sharp critique of the church for its lack of gospel-centrality, it might as well just be some blog written by a 20-year-old kid with a chip on his shoulder…
But instead, Gospel Wakefulness spends most of its pages probing the soul of the reader, exposing idols and misplaced hope by fixating the soul on the gospel of Jesus. The book led my to a deeper awareness of my ugliness and greater awareness of the beauty of the gospel each time that I picked it up. Since this book is entitled Gospel Wakefulness, I would say that it did its job.
Gospel Wakefulness is a book written with a skillful mix of conversational and academic voice. Wilson is frank, sometimes dropping lines too good not to tweet and at other times (with a fantastic self-awareness) Wilson drops high-brow stuff like,
“The extent to which your soteriology is monergistic – most Calvinist nerds know what I’m talking about here – is the extent to which you ought to know that your pride is a vomitous affront to God” (P. 83)
Along with skillfully quoting a bevy of wise Puritans and theologians of times past. All tied in with some well placed humor, a constant gospel-preoccupation and a holy brashness. Gospel Wakefulness proves itself readable, gospel-steeped, convicting, and quotable.
My only complaint (if it can even
be called that) is that I was at times left wanting more. Wilson spends most of the first half of the book unpacking the concept of gospel wakefulness and the second half applying the gospel to particular areas. Mind you, it isn’t split up like “theory → application”, but is a dipping of particular areas of interests of the Gospel-Wakened Christian into the gospel of Jesus. And there are simply some more things I wish Wilson would have treated this way (The chapter “the gospel-wakened church” could be an entire book itself, as could the chapter on prayer). But I truly could not recommend this book more strongly to anyone Christian, non-Christian, leader or follower who desires to be “utterly captivated by the gospel” (p.18), as I truly was.