I Read Every Jared Wilson Book This Year; You Won’t Believe What Happened Next
Actually, you probably can believe what I did next. I wrote this blog post. Scandalous.
To be completely honest, though, I didn’t quite read all his books. I left off the three books coauthored with Matt Chandler: The Explicit Gospel (Crossway, 2012), To Live Is Christ to Die Is Gain (David C. Cook, 2014), and The Mingling of Souls (David C. Cook, 2015, which I read last year). I also didn’t read Romans: A 12-Week Study (Crossway, 2013), Gospel-Shaped Worship (a 7-week study by The Good Book Company, 2015), or Abide: Practicing Kingdom Rhythms in a Consumer Culture (LifeWay, 2010). Abide is out of print, and the only copy on Amazon was a used copy listed for fifty bucks.
But don’t be misled by this post or my gobbling up a dozen other books by Wilson. He and I are not BFFs. I don’t text with him and call him J Dub. He’s not my Protestant Pope. I refer to the Jared Wilson corpus, not canon. And occasionally, though rarely, I even scribble in the margins of a book “no, that’s not right” or “awkward sentence.”
Yet when you read half-a-million words from a single author, and you do this all in one year, you feel like you know a guy. And what I know, I love. His writing is punchy, rhythmic, grace-filled, unpretentious, and always about a big Jesus and a bright gospel. He writes the kind of theology I read “off the clock.”
Jared Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the managing editor of For the Church, Midwestern’s site for gospel-centered resources. He’s been a pastor in several churches and also speaks regularly at conferences.
Some of his books are for the wider Christian audience, and others are aimed more at pastors and ministry leaders. In my opinion, his sweet spot is writing and speaking to fellow pastors. I think this same thing about John Piper, but perhaps I only think these things because I’m a pastor too.
My first introduction to Wilson came through his blog The Gospel-Driven Church, which is hosted by The Gospel Coalition. I’ve read, and reread several times, the posts, “In Praise of Fat Pastors,” “I Wrote This Blog Post on Church Time,” and “I Love the Church, and That’s Why I Resigned.”
What follows in the rest of this post is a “miniature review” of each book—miniature as in I’m only giving a sentence or two of review, along with a favorite quote. Also, I ordered the books, not in the order I read them but in their publication order.
One last comment before we jump in. Wilson is a writing workhorse. I had a vague sense of this already, but when preparing this post, I had to look closer at the publication dates. And, sheesh! Across the years 2013–15, Wilson published ten books! He is the sole author on eight of them, and on two he partnered with Chandler. Additionally, there were a hundred or so blog posts and a few dozen conference messages and contributions to things like The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible. I know enough about writing books to know that he didn’t do all the work for these books in just these three years. But still, that’s a whole lot of ink.
Wilson addressed his writing output the other day on Twitter:
I stay good-natured about all the good-natured ribbing I get about writing “so many” books. I hear it all the time. And I get it. I make Stephen King look lazy.
But here’s the deal, pretty much writing is not something I try out every now and again. I’ve been a writer (of some kind) since I was a kid. Writing for publication has been my career aspiration since elementary school.
Perhaps Wilson is able to write blog posts the way I write emails, and he’s able to write books the way . . . I dunno . . . preach a sermons series.
Regardless, I’m thankful for his output. To borrow a prayer from Moses, may Wilson’s gospel-saturated writings continue to “drop as the rain, and his speech distill as the dew, like gentle rain upon the tender grass” (Deuteronomy 32:2).
Your Jesus Is Too Safe: Outgrowing a Drive-Thru, Feel-Good Savior (Kregal, 2009)
So, who is Jesus? He is many things, and he is not many things. Wilson talks about both. This book is rich and spunky. It has the highest density per capita of tweetable quotes of any book I read this year.
A Favorite Quote: “My friends, Jesus is not a pop song, snuggly sweater, affectionate boyfriend, a poster on your wall, self-help book, motivational speech, warm cup of coffee, ultimate fighting champion, knight in shining armor, or Robin to your Batman. He is blood. And without blood, you die.” (Wilson, Your Jesus Is Too Safe, 243)
Gospel Wakefulness (Crossway, Oct. 2011)
Wilson is convinced that “Jesus won’t become your only hope until he becomes your only hope.” Let the reader understand. But when Jesus does become your only hope, oh, it is good. This is the story of how Wilson got “woke,” as the kids say, to the good news story of Jesus.
A Favorite Quote: “Really, there are only two steps to gospel wakefulness: be utterly broken and utterly awed.” (Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness, 35)
Gospel Deeps: Reveling in the Excellencies of Jesus (Crossway, Sept. 2012)
He who has ears, let him hear: “Deep and wide, deep and wide—there’s a gospel story that’s deep and wide.” And this gospel story is like the wardrobe that leads into Narnia; it’s much, much bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside. May you have strength with all the saints to comprehend it (Ephesians 3:18).
(I used the below quote in an article titled “The Gospel in 140 Characters,” which now seems a little silly because Twitter now has 280 characters. Oh well.)
A Favorite Quote: “The gospel is contained in an announcement of something Jesus did inside of history. It can even be tweeted in less than 140 characters! But it is nonetheless bigger than the universe.” (Wilson, Gospel Deeps, 21)
The Pastor’s Justification: Applying the Work of Christ in Your Life and Ministry (Crossway, July 2013)
Not only is this my favorite Jared Wilson book, but it’s also my favorite book from 2017. (And I read 100 books this year.) In The Pastor’s Justification, Wilson directs his core, gospel message to pastors. Fellow pastors, come enjoy the feast.
A Favorite Quote: “A different set of traits is needed for pastors than the business world’s management culture. Paul writes, ‘But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children’ (1 Thess. 2:7). This is not exactly the pastoral image that is most popular today. In an age when machismo and ‘catalytic, visionary’ life-coaching dominate the evangelical leadership ranks, the ministerial role of a breastfeeding mom is alien.” (Wilson, The Pastor’s Justification, 48)
Otherworld: A Novel (David C. Cook, Sept. 2013)
I don’t like sci-fi movies or books. Sorry, I never have. Still, I enjoyed this novel, which (to date) is the only fiction contribution to the corpus. The book has murder, mystery, UFOs, spiritual warfare, and a hard-won redemption.
The Storytelling God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Parables (Crossway, Feb. 2014)
Although they are not consciously labeled “Book 1” and “Book 2,” this book on the parables of Jesus is linked with the next book on the list, a book about the miracles of Jesus. As in his first book Your Jesus is Too Safe, Wilson shows that Jesus is not tame. “Throw away your Flannelgraphs,” he writes in the first sentence. “They are flat and soft, and the story of Jesus is neither.”
A Favorite Quote: “The parables are postcards from heaven. ‘Wish you were here,’ they say. Supernaturally, however, they can transport us exactly to the place they depict, the place where God’s kingdom is coming and his will is being done on earth as it is in heaven. As Jesus conducts his kingdom ministry, he lays these stories on thick, seeding the alien nation of God with rumors of that other world, casting shadows of the realer reality like flickering images on the walls of Plato’s cave.” (Wilson, The Storytelling God, 35)
The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles (Crossway, July 2014)
Miracles are signposts, which is why the Bible also calls them signs. Signs point away from themselves to somewhere else. The arrow on the sign that says “Harrisburg—>,” tells me my exit is ahead. And when Jesus does a miracle, say feeding the five thousand, the miracle invites us in to point us on: Jesus is the bread of life.
A Favorite Quote: “The miracles are more than they’re cracked up to be but probably less than we often make of them. The miracles are not the smoking gun, in other words. But they are the bright explosions of the violent spiritual campaign against evil.” (Wilson, The Wonder-Working God, 13)
The Prodigal Church: A Gentle Manifesto against the Status Quo (Crossway, April 2015)
How would the way we “do church” change if we believed the saying, “What you call them with, you call them to”? Wilson argues that some of the silliness that takes place in church (like raffling away a car on Easter or performing pop songs during worship) would go away. And in its place, we’d have gospel ministry (like biblical preaching, genuine repentance, deep and authentic community, and robust discipleship).
(I used an extended quotation from this book in a post I wrote called, “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth?”)
A Favorite Quote: “It’s the customary mantra of ministry that healthy things grow. And yet sometimes healthy things shrink. This is certainly true of our bodies, when we’re eating right and exercising. I mean, the formula doesn’t always work in every circumstance. ‘Healthy things grow’ sounds right. But cancer grows too.” (Wilson, The Prodigal Church, 40)
The Story of Everything: How You, Your Pets, and the Swiss Alps Fit into God’s Plan for the World (Crossway, Oct. 2015)
I’ll let the subtitle be the “review” for this one.
(I wrote an article for Desiring God titled “Sometimes God Just Closes Doors” where I used the below quote. I was flooded with emails by those who found the post and quote helpful.)
A Favorite Quote: “I have a problem with all the ‘chase your dreams!’ cheerleading from Christian leaders. It’s not because I begrudge people who want to achieve their dreams, but because I think we don’t readily see how easy it is to conflate our dream-chasing with God’s will in Christ. You know, it’s possible that God’s plan for us is littleness. His plan for us may be personal failure. It’s possible that when another door closes, it’s not because he plans to open the window, but because he plans to have the building fall down on you. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will Christ be enough?” (Wilson, The Story of Everything, 122)
Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes It Compelling (Baker, May 2016)
This book, among the Wilson corpus, seems to be the most geared to an interested non-Christian or a new believer. But even as I read the book, I found myself reaffirming the truth stated in the subtitle: the uniqueness of Christianity does make it compelling.
A Favorite Quote: “Christianity did not explode in growth in the first centuries because people had found in Jesus a new set of religious instructions. They had found, actually, that the perfection Jesus demanded he also supplied to those who trusted in him. They had found that the life Jesus promised he actually delivered.” (Wilson, Unparalleled, 126)
The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together (Baker, May 2017)
This book is an accessible treatment of what it means to follow Jesus, and a faithful explanation of the grace that we all need, because even the best of us only follows Jesus . . . imperfectly. I especially appreciated the fresh reflections on the gospel that open each chapter. Readers should come away challenged to be better disciples, but more importantly, encouraged that Jesus is our savior and his perfection covers all our sin.
Oh, and that story on pages 36–37 about a marriage in his church falling apart and Wilson being accused of not “being there” and feeling all inadequate and stuff—yeah, me too.
A Favorite Quote: “Jesus wasn’t blowing smoke. His major contribution to the world was not a set of aphorisms. He was born in a turdy barn, grew up in a dirty world, got baptized in a muddy river. He put his hands on the oozing wounds of lepers, he let whores brush his hair and soldiers pull it out. He went to dinner with dirtbags, both religious and irreligious. His closest friends were a collection of crude fishermen and cultural traitors. He felt the spittle of the Pharisees on his face and the metal hooks of the jailer’s whip in the flesh of his back. He got sweaty and dirty and bloody—and he took all of the sin and mess of the world onto himself, onto the cross to which he was nailed naked.” (Wilson, The Imperfect Disciple, 47)
Supernatural Power for Everyday People: Experiencing God’s Extraordinary Spirit in Your Ordinary Life (Baker, Jan. 2018)
I don’t have this one because it’s not out yet, and because Jared didn’t give me a copy. Come to think of it, he didn’t do that for any of these.