Jared Wilson’s book Gospel Wakefulnessinvaded a number of people’s top 10 lists for 2011, and for good reason: it’s an excellently written, persuasive exploration of the Gospel’s ability to transform every dimension of our lives and reshape our affections.
What is this “Gospel wakefulness?” For Wilson, it functions as a sort of shorthand for the Spirit’s work in sanctification, in which Christians start “treasuring Christ more greatly and savoring his power more sweetly [than before].”
Such an awakening might happen instantaneously, as in Wilson’s own experience of a “quantum leap in [his] sanctification.” Or it might happen with considerable less haste, as the “gradual dawn” of the sanctifying work of the Spirit slowly reforms our lives. Either way, wakefulness will come upon us all: it only seems to be a matter of time.
As a fan of Andrew Murray, the most stirring and effective expositor of Book 3 of Calvin’s Institutes since, well, Calvin, I can get on board with much of Wilson’s project. Like Murray, “gospel wakefulness” functions as something of an astringent for 21st century evangelicalism: he wants to strip everything away until Christ’s position at the center is clarified.
Thankfully, Wilson goes to pains not to identify this “blessed fixation” with any particular experience or moment. For Wilson, the “ecstasy” of the Christian life is of a different sort than the emotional highs (or lows): instead, it lies in confronting the reality that our lives are ekstasis, or standing outside of ourselves in another¾namely, God in Jesus Christ.
What’s more, as someone with a penchant for the neo-Platonic undercurrents of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, I’m at home in the language of waking and sleeping to describe our dispositions toward the world and truth. The neo-platonic paradox is that the “reality” that we see is but the equivalent of a dream, or a shadow of the more real, substantive life elsewhere. “It seems to me that yet we sleep, we dream,” Shakespeare tells us. It’s a note that the neo-platonic Christian tradition (of which Shakespeare may or may not be a part) has sounded often, including C.S. Lewis.
That, of course, goes beyond Wilson, who didn’t (that I know of) build in any of this sort of history to his project. If he did, he buried it deeply. But the consonance is startling, and if nothing else the comparison is beneficial: there are resources out there in Christendom to speak of our awareness of the reality of our own salvation as Wilson does, resources that would buttress and strengthen his own project.
At this point, you probably know what is coming next.
If I realized anything in writing Earthen Vessels, it’s that there are few things that are so welcome as a substantive critique. Iron sharpening iron and all that. Or in the case of my critique of Jared’s book, more like pumice meeting iron, as I’m not going to offer a critique so much as a caution.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.