Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gospel Wakefulness, Second Blessings, and Quietism (Oh My!)

I am grateful for Trevin Wax's review of my upcoming book Gospel Wakefulness. Trevin's appraisal is largely positive -- indeed, he supplied an endorsement for the book previously -- writing in both the endorsement and today's review, "Anyone hungry and thirsty for righteousness will be refreshed by the invigorating streams of truth that flow from Gospel Wakefulness."

Alas, Trevin says, "I have a couple of misgivings."

First, again, let me say that I'm thankful for Trevin's wisdom and sharpening, and because we've been friends for a few years I have benefited from them in the past. Trevin was kind enough last week to send me a draft of his review so that I would not feel ambushed, but also so that we might dialogue a bit before it went "live." Let me be clear at the outset in saying I find his concerns smart, and to a lesser degree even share them. But I did want to respond to the misgivings in the hopes of clarifying what I mean by gospel wakefulness and what it entails.

Trevin writes:
First, Jared recounts how his passion for the gospel resulted in a decreased passion for politics. He writes: “What was happening? I couldn’t stop talking about the holiday at the sea, and I couldn’t figure out why I should be inordinately enamored with mud pies” (65). On one level, I agree wholeheartedly that many Christian political activists could use a strong dose of gospel wakefulness. We need to reorient our activism around our ultimate hope and set our sights on the unshakeable kingdom that will never fade.

But Gospel Wakefulness leaves no room for the reality that, for some people, gospel wakefulness will be best expressed through increased political action.
Trevin is responding to a passage in which I lamented discovering that my "all gospel all the time" talk was apparently not welcome -- nor even understood -- on a blog dedicated to evangelicalism. While I could have said more to qualify my statements in the book, denying that gospel wakefulness precludes political action, my point was not that politics is incompatible with gospel wakefulness but that political idolatry is. Perhaps I overstated my point, but I don't think many sober-minded people could deny that evangelicals have a political idolatry problem.

In any event, I'm thankful for this opportunity to affirm Trevin's claim -- that gospel wakefulness increases our passions for God's glory in every area of life. But "God's glory" is key there, as I'm sure Trevin agrees. Moreover, I do not espouse a quietist gospel and deny that that is in the thrust of the book. As I wrote in my emailed response to Trevin, "I would hope that the point I was making was not that gospel wakefulness precludes passion for politics but precludes a passion for politics that overshadows or dilutes passion for the gospel itself."

Along those lines, I would heartily recommend this piece by John Piper: Let Christians Vote as If They are Not Voting. With his passionate emphases in social justice issues like racism and abortion, nobody could rightly accuse Piper of quietism. But that sermon of his is a good reflection of where I land, and where I hope the gospel wakened will land when it comes to politics as well.

Trevin shares another concern:
My other reservation concerns the possibility of turning “gospel wakefulness” into a pseudo-Wesleyan version of the “second-blessing” experience. Jared explicitly writes against setting up tiers of Christian sanctification. There is no first-class discipleship and a second-class, etc. (31) Still, his emphasis on the sudden experience of gospel wakefulness could give the impression that there are Christians and then there are Christians. There are sleeping Christians and awakened Christians. At its best, Gospel Wakefulness is a simple proposal about sanctification and growing in grace. But a misunderstanding of the book’s intentions could easily lead to unhelpful division and categorization.
This concern I take more to heart. And it is one I saw coming. I have had similar discussions with folks at conferences where I've spoken on gospel wakefulness.

I'm thankful that Trevin reiterates that the book does not teach gospel wakefulness as a second blessing-type experience, only that it could be misunderstood to do so. I was concerned enough about this misunderstanding to, as Trevin notes, be proactive in addressing it as I composed the book. This is the full passage that includes the "no first-class and second-class Christians" line that he cites:
Keying in on the idea of love abounding more and more [in Philippians 1:9-11], Paul is talking about progressive sanctification here, what happens as you and I grow in Christ. Our hearts become larger, more capable of enjoying God’s love and giving God’s love to others. We are more and more filled with the fruit of righteousness. For those who experience the Spiritual quantum leap of gospel wakefulness, there is a filling of this fruit of righteousness that is like being caught in a sudden, blinding downpour. For others, this filling is a steady drizzle over time.

This is not to set up tiers of Christian sanctification, as if there is a first-class discipleship and a second-class, and so on. Every believer is united with Christ on the same foundation, with the full access and authority granted by being made joint heirs with Christ. And in the final day, no matter where we are in our Christian walks, we will all reach the same destination on the same basis. There are no coach seats on the journey to Christ when he calls his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to another.

I believe this passage is clear enough in denying that the experience of gospel wakefulness makes one Christian better or "more saved" than another. But in light of Trevin's public concern, perhaps I might offer some more differences between gospel wakefulness and a sort of second blessing, "victorious Christian" teaching, like Keswick theology for example.

In Keswick-type theology, Christians are admonished toward an unbiblical passivity, sort of a "let go and let God" type thing. For those of us who affirm monergistic salvation, we acknowledge there is a real passivity on our parts that takes place in the transforming work of God in our lives. But not only is "let go and let God" not helpful, it's not biblical. And it's not the point of gospel wakefulness or its entailments.

I have dedicated a chapter to the spiritual disciplines and a chapter to grace-driven sanctification, both of which include many admonitions to effort. Besides those, there are plenty of passages throughout the entire book that make it clear gospel-centrality doesn't happen by accident. Throughout the text, I speak toward being ruthlessly violent with idols, beating the gospel into our heads continuously (a la Luther), and planting the flag of God's sovereignty into the soil of every day.

Secondly, Keswick-type theology posits classes of Christianity. In this way it is akin to "Lordship salvation," another error that sounds biblical but is not. I hear and submit to Trevin's concern that my book may set up a "sleepy Christians" vs. "wakened Christians" dichotomy, but if we look at gospel wakefulness more akin to revival on the individual scale, I suspect this dichotomy will not be grounds for pride or legalism. The unrevived church -- mine and probably yours -- is no less a church. Indeed, one of the chief emphases of my book is that gospel wakefulness results not in looking for some higher plain of spiritual existence but in staring at and drinking in the immeasurable riches of Christ that are totally available to every believer, wakened or not, because it is Christ who is big, not us. I write in the book:
You are no less justified the moment of your salvation than you are ten minutes or ten years later, but the warp speed sanctification of gospel wakefulness may make you feel as though you were. What I’m trying to say is that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and resurrection out of the grave are big enough, grand enough, effective enough, and eternal enough to cover your shoddy Christian life, assuming of course you do believe.

This is in fact the thrust of the gospel: it is Christ’s work that saves, not yours. Be careful, then, not to attribute your continuing sinfulness or moments of depression to a lack of salvation. For one thing, people who are not truly saved generally don’t worry about whether they are or aren’t anyway—your anxiety on that matter is evidence of a reborn heart. But for another thing, this will only set you up for more trouble later on, because gospel-wakened people don’t stop sinning either. If the measure of your perfection is the measure of your assurance, you will always be a timid, fearful Christian. But if your measure of assurance is the perfection of Jesus Christ, you are ripe for gospel wakefulness.

One of the last things I'd want to happen as a result of this book is a damnable caste system among believers. I know evangelicals well enough to know that any idea, concept, method, no matter how biblical, can be turned into an idolatrous fad or a badge of honor, and I am not naive enough to think that the gospel wakefulness concept could not be susceptible as well. But I have tried to take great care in the book to keep pointing back to the real gospel, as well as to show examples of gospel wakefulness in the Scriptures, church history, and modern testimonies so that this new phrasing may not obscure an ancient way of God.

Again, I am thankful for Trevin's endorsement and his thoughtful review, concerns and all. And I hope this response will help clarify my positions and the place of what I call "gospel wakefulness" in the Christian experience. I suspect dialogue will continue, and I am grateful for that as well, so long as in everything Christ increases and I decrease.


matt e. said...

Great explanation. Thanks.

JT said...

Thank you guys for modeling how to dialogue in grace and truth.


Open Reader said...

I think that Trevin's second critique is unnecessary for many reasons but mainly because you never mention God giving that "second blessing." You talk about the individual gospel journey(Gospel Wakefulness)and making Christ supreme in everything, but never in terms of a "second blessing." So to say that it could lead to a psuedo-Wesleyan belief undercuts the progressive notion of Gospel Wakefulness("Gospel Driven Sanctification").
You write,
"What the Christian church needs today in its imperfect fumbling back to the beauty of gospel centrality is a stubborn unmuddling of law grace. We cannot continue to treat the gospel as it it is [only] the power of God for a conversion experience but not for total life transformation. Sanctification and justification are 'events' in the golden chain of salvation, sure, but both are equally powered by the gospel of grace."

I like Trevor and his work, but shook my head when I read that particular critique.


Open Reader said...

Trevin not Trevor. Whoops!

Anonymous said...

Did you confuse Lordship Salvation? I always understood Lordship Salvation to say that to be saved one must accept Christ as Lord and Savior. It would seem to me this PRECLUDES 2 tiers of christians and it would be the other view that would allow for a class of christians who have accepted Christ as savior but not Lord, this creating two tiers. Have I misunderstood?

Jared said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry, I'm denying that it's possible to "accept Jesus as Savior" but not as Lord. I should have said "the Lordship debate" or something like that. To be clear, I'm saying it's error to believe there are some people who are saved with Jesus as Savior but not Lord yet, and the people who accept him as Lord are now in some kind of Saved 2.0. :-)

CGrim said...

"I don't think many sober-minded people could deny that evangelicals have a political idolatry problem."

Indeed, especially those of us (like me) who had a political idolatry problem in the past.

Katie said...

Hi Jared
Actually Trevin's critiques made me more curious to check your book out.

Also. Good work on the blog.