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.