The Gospel Call & True Conversion by Paul Washer
Paul Washer of HeartCry Missionary Society is known for his quality writing on gospel issues. This new book, The Gospel Call & True Conversion, connects the way the gospel changes the heart and lives of people and provides true conversion. Paul is also in this book bringing a charge against an easy believism that states that making a decision or prayer a sinner’s prayer is the final straw in conversion. Paul is quick to point out that true conversion by God’s Spirit connects repentance, faith, and the fruit of good works together. The book turns into a sound work on conversion and repentance that is unlike any book that I’ve read, for it provides biblical insight, practical guidance and centers on the might work of God in Christ.
At the outset, Paul dives headlong into the concept of repentance. Part of the message of repentance is turning away from sin. Yet, there is a balance that needs to be maintained between the believer turning away from sin and not fully being free the effects of sin. Paul writes, “However, Christians will never be free from sin completely or without need of the divine gift of repentance. On the other hand, professing Christians who demonstrate no real progress in sanctification and who rarely bring forth fruit worthy of repentance should be greatly concerned for their souls. They should test and examine themselves to see if they are in the faith” (13). Looking to Ezekiel 14 and 18, Paul maintains the biblical truth that genuine repentance involves a continual turning away from sin and fleeing to God. Yet, fleeing away from sin doesn’t mean that there won’t be hiccups along the way. Paul is right to point out that if rare fruit is evident in the life of the Christian, then a thorough investigation of one’s soul is necessary. The only criticism I have of this chapter is no mention of the practical implications for the believer desiring to turn from sin and to God. I think the chapter would be strengthened by mentioning the role of strong believers in concert with each other fighting sin, the role of mentors, and the way that small groups or prayer partners greatly add to the desire for righteousness and avoidance of sin.
The way that Paul interprets Revelation 3:20 and Acts 16:14 will greatly aid the Christian in rightly understanding evangelism. Paul writes, “When we look at Revelation 3:20 in its context, we see something quite different from that set before us in modern-day evangelism. First, Christ is not knocking on the door of the sinner’s heart, but on the door of the church of Laodicea. Second, He is not asking people to invite Him into some deep recess of their heart through praying a prayer. Instead, Hi si reproving a group of people who congregate in His name and commanding them to repent of their apaty toward Him…” (58). Paul mentions that Acts 16:14 is a much better example of apostolic evangelism because it reveals the true nature of God who opened Lydia’s heart to Paul’s words. Focusing on Revelation 3:20 as a key passage for evangelism puts the weight of saving grace in the hands of the sinner and not in the one who changes heart, God alone. Many might show little or no evidence that they are saved and in turn will have a false assurance of their standing before Christ. This understanding of Revelation 3:20 is dangerous because it places the weight of assurance on a particular prayer or the sincerity of the believer and not in the hands of the Father. Paul is not saying that the gospel does not demand a response but that response is a following after Christ that is continual and bears much fruit. The way that the believer is in a position to follow Christ is not the power of his will but the faithfulness of the God who saves (63). Practically speaking, this might look like someone not so much remembering a specific prayer he prayed for conversion but a time in his life where his affections for the things of God changed radically, and this was due to God’s work through his Spirit.
The only other criticism I have comes in large part after reading ch. 12, The Making of New People. Paul rails against those who consider the church ‘for her supposed abominations and call her everything from Sodom and Gomorrah to a wayward prostitute’ (133). I don’t consider the church to be Sodom and Gomorrah or a wayward prostitute but I think Paul misses a point here. The right response is not to vociferously recount that many of these so called abominations are done by people who aren’t really Christians in the church, but to own up to the decisions of the church at large and its destructive choices. Owning up to the sins and waywardness of some in the church, seeking forgiveness puts an end to the pointing of fingers and calling of names. It is better to seek forgiveness and reconciliation even if the sin is not the ones we have committed, then to just exclude those who have fallen prey to error. There are certainly times when we have to stand up for the truth and draw boundaries, but in the long run acknowledging our sin, seeking reconciliation brings the darkness into the light.
This was a really great book in seeking to bring forth the biblical understanding of conversion, repentance, and the gospel call. I hope many will be encouraged by reading this book.
Thanks to Cross Focused Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the complimentary review copy of this book in exchange for review.