I somehow missed Jared Wilson’s reply to my interaction with his book, but wanted to make sure you didn’t.  Jared intimates at the end of it that no further response will be forthcoming, so while it’s always to dangerous to take a final word there are a few matters worth clearing up.

First off, then, Jared suggests that one of my concerns is that the “concept of gospel wakefulness (as I have framed it) does not allow for the reception of criticism,” and that puts him in the bind of appearing defensive if he, well, defends his book against my critiques.

I think his rejoinder is more significant than it seems at first glance, as I went all in on the point that my concern had nothing to do with Jared or his ability to receive criticism.  In fact, it runs throughout his response.  He writes:

First, I stand by the list of signs there, but I ask that they be kept in the context of what else the book says about judging people as “in” or “out.” I am grateful that Matthew refers to my response to Trevin Wax on this subject, something he had not done in his original draft (which he graciously sent me ahead of time). There are numerous passages throughout the book that speak directly to the issue of judging others, setting up tiers of Christianity, and the like. In fact, one of the built-in safeguards discussed in the book is that a person who pridefully operates like “I got this gospel wakefulness thing and you don’t!” isn’t gospel wakened.

I find it odd that Matthew has picked up on a few problematic passages that buttress his cautions but skips entirely over anything that might actually echo his cautions in the book itself. There is an entire chapter on Gospel Confidence that speaks within on the built-in humility of gospel wakefulness.

This is all to the good, and contra Jared’s implicit suggestion that I hadn’t read the book closely enough, I had noted on my way through a few of the places that he mentions here, like when he suggests that the arrogance of many Calvinists is fundamentally a lack of Gospel wakefulness (page 84).  I also, of course, read his entire chapter on the “built-in humility,” which he there calls “brokenness.”

But then, my critique really isn’t about the spiritual dimensions of the people arguing as much as the form of argumentation at work.  It’s a problem of the criterion, really:  how do we know whether one is appropriately Gospel-centralized or not?  Jared reads my critique as suggesting that there’s a pride and arrogance at work (so that the chapter on humility staves it off).  There can be pride at work here, but that was not my concern:  one can ignore critics from outside the camp while retaining a very genuine sense of humility within it.  And Jared’s chapter on Gospel brokenness says not a bit, about criticism, as it is almost exclusively about discovering Christ at the end of our spiritual bankruptcy. Again, very helpful, but not directly germane to the argument.

To put it differently, Jared’s response seems to double down on spiritualizing the criteria for who is Gospel woken.  In his second response, he writes:

Secondly, the sign “The idea of gospel centrality makes no sense to you” is to “gospel un-wakefulness” as the symptom “chest pain” is to “heart attack.” The former is indeed a symptom of the latter, but the presence of the former does not necessarily equate to the latter. That’s why it’s a list of signs to be considered, and I preface that list not by unequivocally saying “If this is you, you’re off the team,” but by saying “Let me like a doctor gently press on your assurance.”

Yes, pressing on our assurance rather than determining who’s on the team.  But pressing on our assurance!  This is still a very spiritualized form of argumentation, such that disagreement leads to a question about my assurance.   It may turn out that Jared’s right, but my only argument is that the criterion to determine whether he is can only discerned from one side, by those who have experienced Gospel wakefulness.

Allow me to double back, though, just for a moment.  A person can be as humble as ever in holding that position, and if Jared’s right they will be.  But that is why Jared’s protestations about humility and the like are a non-sequiter for my concern (and, I take it, Trevin’s).   Which is why in my second post I hewed so narrowly to critiquing the “form of argument” at work, rather than impigning those who use it with accusations of pride or defensiveness.   I should have stayed more narrowly to the format in my final post, which is where I suspect the confusion lies.  So I am grateful to clear it up.

As to the politics business, I had noted in earlier drafts Wilson’s use of Lewis’s line that in the Gospel we are given the freedom to “rub [our] nose in the very quiddity of each thing,” a line that I happen to enjoy.  I didn’t include it in the draft I sent Jared because it didn’t quite fit with the rest of it.  And while Wilson retorts that the cautions I raise in my final book are in also in his, I can only surmise he didn’t read my posted draft in a hurry.  I quote myself:  “Again, all this Wilson agrees with and points to in his book.”

I should also note that while Jared defends himself against quietism, I didn’t actually accuse him of it (hence my suggestion that we actually agree on that).  Instead, my concerns are that (a) Jared’s position unintentionally exacerbates and deepens pietistic tendencies of the sort he has distanced himself from, and (b) the criteria at work for what counts as “idolatry” is only discernible to those who have experienced Gospel wakefulness as it gets defined (which is a variation on my first worry).

Of course, Jared is probably right that he isn’t quite concerned with it to the degree that I am.  Fair enough.  But I find his suggestion that all this is “peripheral wrangling” or rooted in a “philosophical fear” problematic.  The Gospel is the center, but it only makes sense against the countours of a doctrine of creation, and if evangelicals don’t have that then all of our claims to “Gospel centrality” will simply deepen the sort of problematic and unhealthy engagement with the world.

After all, the Gospel can only be the center of the edges are healthy, which is why those who are lost in wonder at the mercy of Christ invariably find themselves lost in wonder at the all things we have in Him.

But this isn’t wrangling, and it certainly isn’t “philosophical.”  It’s a theological concern, a concern (ultimately) that Gospel centrality isn’t eroded because it doesn’t have the theological backbone it needs in order to flourish beyond a single generation of newly woken individuals.

I know Jared agrees  with much of this.  But what he counts as “wrangling,” I count as trying to faithfully discern the countours of such a doctrine in our present context.  It’s within the gospel that I get lost in Gingrich, and am freed up to rub my nose….well, we’ll stop that metaphor right there before it gets out of hand.

But I understand that this is not the goal of Gospel Wakefulness.  It is, instead, a book that I might classify as “theological devotion,” or maybe “devotional theology.”  I can’t determine which way it leans.  But it leans hard in that direction, and does a great job at it.  The questions and concerns I raise are hopefully to put a sharper edge on the theological side of things, so as that amidst all the devotion and affectional transformation we have a criterion that’s non-subjective by which we can actually discern and detect when idolatry has occurred.  That is, I suspect, a goal that Jared will share if he ever ceases to be lost in wonder and wants to go one more round of wrangling.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

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.

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