If Wrapping Yourself in the U.S. Flag is in Bad Taste, What About Wrapping Yourself in the Gospel?

Matthew Lee Anderson has a series of posts in which he responds to Jared Wilson’s new book, Gospel Wakefulness. Since I haven’t read the book but have only seen a few posts about its argument, I can’t take Anderson or Wilson’s side (not as if they are all that antagonistic).

But one thing caught my (all about me) eye in Anderson’s second post. It concerns the way in which attaching ourselves to the “gospel” can be as exclusive and self-righteous as it appears to be warm, fuzzy, and edifying.

. . . my concern is that when not properly constrained, the conceptual use of “Gospel wakefulness” becomes a back-pocket trump card that can be deployed to end an argument before it begins.

Jared runs the same sort of argument when describing the marks of those who haven’t yet attained Gospel wakefulness. Last on the list? “The idea of gospel centrality makes no sense to you.” This allows him to suggest that, “The critic of the one-note Johnnyism of gospel-centrality just doesn’t get it.”

This is, from what I can tell, leads to full-on epistemic closure, with the walls about as high as you can build them. The quality of people’s arguments about gospel centrality would have no bearing on their epistemic standing–they’re wrong from the outset because they’re still in their slumber.

In other words, the criticism of gospel-centrality as it gets thrown about is itself a sign that Gospel wakefulness has not yet occurred. Wilson has functionally removed the possibility of plausibly suggesting that the gospel can be reduced to an idol, and to even raise the question is to demonstrate one’s own lack of spiritual awakening.

This is a reminder about the care Protestants and the organizations they create should take in applying the “Gospel” to themselves. It is an immediate galvanizer, like so much of pietistic piety. If you don’t join or support an organization committed to the gospel, then you must not be for the gospel yourself. That is usually not the intention. But the cloying link of such identifiably good things as the gospel with any one institution divides as much as it unites. Think of the Mom Coalition, or the Hot Dog Coalition, or the Apple Pie Coalition. Who would ever not rally to support these worthy organizations? Well, lots of people, including some reasonable folks, such as those who believe in the import of fathers, those who keep a kosher kitchen, and those allergic to gluten.

Which is why instead of using “Gospel” to describe an organization, a book, or a movement, I prefer “Presbyterian.” Being Presbyterian is all about believing and proclaiming the gospel, as well as discipling those who believe the gospel. But “Presbyterian” is not as self-congratulatory or as self-assured as “Gospel.” Presbyterians understand that Christianity is contested.

11 thoughts on “If Wrapping Yourself in the U.S. Flag is in Bad Taste, What About Wrapping Yourself in the Gospel?

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

    As ambassadors for Christ, we command all who hear, “’be ye reconciled”. Even though II Cor 5 is addressed to Christians, the message taken out by Christians is also for those who have not yet been already justified.

    Books like “Gospel Wakefulness” want to say to people who are still legalists—some of you didn’t know about grace and how reconciliation worked, but you were already reconciled.

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

    To those who are still ignorant of or unsubmitted to 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 yet, 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.

    Why do books like Gospel Wakefulness address all its readers as if they were already Christians who have been believing some form of the gospel all along? “Close as in horseshoes”?

    Why not say: some or all of you may need to be reconciled. Nobody is born reconciled. Let’s not presume. Let’s not beg the question.

    Jerry Bridges, p34, Transforming Grace—“if you are trusting TO ANY DEGREE in your own morality, or if you believe that God will somehow recognize any of your good works as a reason for your salvation, you need to seriously consider if you are truly a Christian.”


  2. Using the word “gospel” to the YRR is similar to when, in the 80’s and 90’s, the “Christianity” of CCM music was judged by how many times you slapped the name “Jesus” in a song.

    Thanks for the post, Dr. Hart.


  3. Brad,

    Please, No! There are too many so called conservative and reformist groups forming in and around the PC(USA) already. The fall out in PC(USA) has resulted in a real mess as evangelicals in that communion reel from the ongoing march of liberalism.

    Anyway, that’s background to say that if the PCA catches the same bug, my head will explode. In fact, there is a better option for people in the PCA tired of revisionist flouting of the Westminster Standards and the Church Order (if indeed the situation is that bad). Can you guess what it is?


  4. “But the cloying link of such identifiably good things as the gospel with any one institution divides as much as it unites.”

    Yeah, I guess the only “orthodox” Christians are those in the OPC and Orthodox Church. Oh snap!


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