“Through the proclamation of a lesser gospel, the carnal and unconverted come into the fellowship of the church, and through the almost total neglect of biblical church discipline, they are allowed to stay without correction or reproof” (Washer, GA&W, x). Does this quotation accurately depict a majority, or at least a significant portion, of American “Christians”? I do believe so. If you’ve ever heard Paul Washer preach, then it is very likely that he spoke on false conversion. One of his sermons on Youtube, The Shocking Youth Message, has well over one million views. So why did Washer write a book on this topic of “Gospel Assurance & Warnings”? He says, “I have put the following collection of sermons in written form for the same reason that I preached them: to be free from their burden” (vii). I believe he is correct for having a serious burden in today’s culture. How many messages are preached with an invitation that involves praying a “sinner’s prayer” and raising a hand with the preacher telling people that praying that prayer means they are saved? Whereas when we read the Bible we find that God requires repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, that there will be false professors on Judgment Day, that fruit are evidenced in a true Christian’s life, and that an outlined “sinner’s prayer” never makes an appearance. Therefore, Washer’s book is well worth the consideration. Yes, there are some points of critique, but I find much to be appreciated.
One of the most fascinating things about Gospel Assurance & Warnings is that the style resembles his sermons. And I would say that both his sermons and this book are incredibly engaging. No, it’s not that he has many witty remarks or illustrious examples (on the contrary, he hardly utilizes these); what makes this book so interesting is that the reader is constantly confronted by the Bible. Much of the written text is either a paraphrase with a footnote connected to it, or is a direct quotation. One might think that this is just dry text with Scripture quotations, but on the contrary, Washer cuts to the heart. While many books peak interest with clever illustrations and rely on the charismatic personality of the author, Washer captures his audience by pointing to the Bible, the living and active Word of God (Hebrews 4:12).
A couple of things to note, however, concerning criticisms. Some may think Washer is being too harsh in his tone. But to be honest, I think his pleas are made with love. Yes, they are strong, but people’s eternal destinations are at stake – I think that’s serious enough to be so strong. However, there are some things that I would critique. As Washer goes through the two sections of the book (Assurance then Warnings), he guides the reader through First John in part one. At times his points are quite repetitive, basically explaining that if a person is not showing signs of sanctification, then he/she should ponder his/her salvation – spiritual fruit is a signal to look for. While John does say that a purpose for his letter is to make sure his audience knows that they have eternal (5:13), I’m not sure that every single passage in 1 John requires the interpretation that all issues center on the knowledge and assurance of eternal life. For example, 1 John 2:1 says he is writing so that they might not sin. My point being that oftentimes Washer is overlapping his material to make everything about the issue of assurance of salvation, when I would argue that such is not always the case.
As I close this review, I’m going to make the guess that some will probably call Paul Washer a “Lordship Salvation”-ist. He actually tackles this subject on pages 8-11. And so, I would simply challenge Christians to read this work and be observant of definitions and attempt to understand what exactly Washer means by stating that a Christian must be under the Lordship of Christ. The biggest issue of all is considering a believer’s fruit. Really, it’s the evidence for a change inwardly. I don’t think I’ve found a better illustration than this: “If an impartial observer were to study each of our lives over a period of several months, would he be able to gather enough proof to argue for the validity of our faith in a court of law, or would his case be thrown out of court for a lack of evidence” (pg. 27)? Overall, I would recommend all Christians to get a copy of this book; read it with discernment; read it with a passion for knowing the truth about the issues of assurance and false conversions. Like no other book that I know, Gospel Assurance & Warnings will steer you back to no other place than the Scriptures themselves.
Many thanks to Cross-Focused Book Reviews and Reformation Heritage Books for the review copy supplied. All opinions stated above were my own.