Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Can Real Christians Not be Gospel Wakened?

I am grateful this morning for Aaron Armstrong's positive review of Gospel Wakefulness. Aaron highlights a few passages from and features of the book most others do not, and that is an encouragement to me. It is clear that he felt the book, yet understood what I was trying to say about feeling, which is a double bonus and a great comfort for the author.

At the end of his review, however, Aaron expressed a concern, writing:
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.
Aaron is right. Suggesting a varsity team and a JV for the Christian community was not my intention. I sought to address this notion in the book itself. Here are a couple of relevant passages:
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. (pp.31-32)
And perhaps most directly, as I explore the distinction I make between conversion and gospel wakefulness:
I do not mean to diminish the full scope of the radical change that occurs when someone believes in Christ for salvation. Rather, I mean to not diminish the full scope of what Christ’s salvation covers, and this includes a mustard seed faith that has not fully blossomed yet. 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. (pp.27-28)
Aaron's concern in fact appears a little similar to one expressed by Trevin Wax in his review, although Aaron's runs the other way. While Trevin thought a misunderstanding could lead to people questioning their salvation, Aaron appears to suggest they ought to! I see that he makes allowances for seasons of wandering and weakness, but one reason why I included an entire chapter on depression is because I wanted to make an allowance for the darknesses that will not lift while our omnipotent Jesus is ever-faithful. I think we may lose our sense of awe if we place the focus of our assurance on our sense of awe.

One of the means of gospel wakefulness, in a moment of profound brokenness, may be to see just how faithful God has been in Christ despite our lethargic, tempestuous, waffling Christian life. I do not at all mean to say that someone may repent and believe and their life not at all look like it! I only mean to say that all justified persons are somewhere in the process of the Spirit's progressive work of sanctification, and that, providing as I said "they do believe," one's level of awe no matter how great is a poorer assurance than the finished work of Christ, in whom there is no shadow of turning.

By all means, let's work out our salvation with fear and trembling, let's test ourselves to see if we are in the faith. But let's remember that, as Augustus Toplady has said, "A feeble faith may lay hold on a strong Christ."

So can real Christians not be awed by the gospel? Yes, and it frequently happens for us each new morning. But there are God's mercies, waiting anew to meet us. That's awesome.


nhe said...

Jared, I'm just starting the book, but I think what you're doing (and its good) is redefining the 2 paths laid before the new believer. We used to define them as the path of carnality and practical atheism vs. the path of submission to the Lordship of Christ. This is where it can be argued that one path may indicate no salvation at all.

You're presupposing that the new believer actually IS sealed in Christ, which is an important distinction.

You've redefined the divergent paths (I think) as the path to religious, moralistic Christian duty, and the path to transformational Gospel wakefulness.

So there's no varsity and JV. Rather, the saving work of Christ is assumed in both, and some manner of actual sanctification is going to get TRUE believers off of that moralistic path...as some point.


Anonymous said...

I get it. Its similar to the marriage relationship. You can be married and relationally stagnant, or you can be married and relationally electrified. In both cases the commitment is in place, but one is not growing while the other continues to flourish as love deepens.

You can still be married without having awe, romance, and mutual satisfaction. But it would be a shame, because it could be so much more.

Anonymous said...

II Corinthians 5:20—“we implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

As ambassadors FOR Christ, we command and invite, “’be ye reconciled”. Even though II Cor 5 is addressed to Christians only, the message taken by Christians to the lost is not for the elect only.

But “be ye reconciled” is for those who have not yet been already justified.

Some “high Calvinists” don’t have a category for lost elect people. They would tell you that you were never lost, but that you only didn’t know you were already saved.

Many pastors like to say to people who are still legalists: some of you didn’t know the motives and how reconciliation worked, but you were already reconciled.

The elect have already been judged at the cross; everybody else will be judged, since all will be judged. But not all who were judged at the cross have been "baptized into that death” yet. Since this is so, we don’t talk to people assuming that they are Christians even though they don't know the gospel yet.

To those who are still ignorant of the gospel, we don’t talk only about gratitude and freedom. Yes, we tell them that those for whom Christ died are thankful and free and pleasing to God. But we also tell them: if you don’t know the gospel and believe it, then you should be shut up to nothing but legal fear.

If Christ did not die for you, you should be afraid. Being afraid won’t save you. But legal fear is the reasonable response to not knowing the gospel. Because not knowing the gospel means knowing that you are not yet justified.

I do not want to preach terror to Christians. But we must not assume that people are Christians.

Do we address the people in church as if we are all elect, who have been believing some form of the gospel all along? "close as in horseshoes"?

Or do we say: some of you may need to be reconciled. Nobody is born reconciled. Let’s not presume. Let’s not beg the question.