Title: “The Gospel Call and True Conversion”
Author: Paul Washer
Publisher: Reformation Heritage Books
Release Date: June 21, 2013
The reason I am familiar with Paul Washer–and, I suspect, the reason most people are familiar with Paul Washer–is because of a sermon colloquially called “Shocking Youth Message.” In this message, Washer addresses a large group of students about how continued worldliness, and looking like the world, and loving the world, is incompatible with evidences of true saving faith. In other words, there is a way that Christians ought to live that is an evidence of their faith in Christ; it does not suffice to simply say one believes or pray a prayer or give mental assent to the gospel. When I first heard this, it was groundbreaking–you mean to tell me that not everybody who claims to be a Christian is actually a Christian?
Yet as Paul Washer will tell you, in that sermon and in many subsequent ones, this is a biblical idea. True saving faith is followed by a change in the life of the believer, for God always sanctifies those whom He justifies. This is the main subject of this book, second in a three-part series called “Recovering the Gospel.” The focus of this particular installment is just as the title says, to answer the questions “What is the gospel call?” and “What is a true conversion?” As such, the book is divided into three sections: “The Gospel Call,” “New Hearts and the Nature of True Conversion,” and “New People and the Nature of True Conversion.”
In the first section, Paul Washer looks at what the gospel calls us to do. Not “do” as in work, of course; he is as aware as any evangelical that we do not work to earn our salvation. But he is right in pointing out that the Bible does call for a response to the gospel: one such example is faith. We are not allowed to be passive in our response to the gospel. Washer looks at different aspects of what the gospel calls us to do. In such a short book, he doesn’t look at all of them–he acknowledges as much–but in the few commands he does look at, he examines very thoroughly. Along the way, he also provides a biblical critique of modern evangelical trends that reduce the gospel to a less-than-biblical, man-centered, felt-needs-satisfying, noncommittal invitation. He does this in a gentle but firm way, and it is quite evident to me that his intention is not to tear down those who hold to such an idea, but to address the error in doctrine so that we can preach the gospel the way it is biblically commanded.
One of the idiosyncrasies of Paul Washer is that when he quotes Scripture, he puts the reference in a footnote. Though at first I was bothered by the lack of immediate accessibility of the references, I actually quite like its effect. Washer will sometimes write a paragraph composed mostly of verses, moving seamlessly from one to another, drawing from various books to make a unified point about the topic at hand. Bible verses, then, are presented much like they are in the Bible. You don’t stop to think, “Oh, this is a Bible verse. Here’s another one.” Instead, the Scriptures have become such a part of him that they are quoted naturally as a part of his writing. I don’t know how else to describe it other than it’s just like reading the Bible–it’s natural, seamless. I like the way it’s done. (One thing I don’t like as much: this book is formatted and typeset kind of like an academic text. I can see the possibility of some being discouraged by the layout. Would it be possible to go with a more modern page design?)
The next two sections show the nature of true conversion by contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant. Washer takes a look at key passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel to show the intention of God in new covenant conversion, showing how God promised to change the very hearts of the people He would choose. This is the part of the book from which I learned the most, as I’m not too familiar with the distinctives of the new covenant. True to the name of the publishing company, Washer emphasizes God’s sovereignty and His work in new covenant believers in providing them a new heart, putting His spirit within them, and writing His laws on their heart. Bottom line: new covenant salvation changes someone from the inside out in a way that the old covenant wasn’t designed to do. If such change is not evident in a person, the description of the new covenant would suggest a hard look at their salvation.
Despite the fact that Paul Washer spends a good portion of this book correcting errors perpetuated by modern Christianity, the tone is not what you might think. He is not combative or derogatory; it is evident from the reverence he has for the Word that his goal in writing this book is to guide people to biblical, God-glorifying doctrines about the gospel. It’s meant to correct peoples’ misconceptions about the gospel so that they do not find themselves on the last day hearing the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” I’m grateful for that. This isn’t a groundbreaking book by any means–I’m sure there are many books out there about these same topics–but it is a solid book, and that’s what matters. If you’re looking to know more about what the gospel calls us to do, or what true conversion should look like, this is a book for you.
(This book was provided free for review by Reformation Heritage Books, with reviewing managed by Cross Focused Reviews, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)