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Archive for August, 2011

Lately I’ve been doing some thinking about what is sometimes called Gospel-Driven Sanctification (or some similar terminology.*) This has come after reading the recent back and forth on the Gospel Coalition site between Tullian Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung (among other posts) on the subject of effort in the Christian life.  This issue was also alluded to in Frank Turk’s Open Letter to Michael Horton earlier this year. Jay E. Adams has recently made several posts on the issue as well. By no means have I studied the issue exhaustively, but I’ve been somewhat troubled by some of what I’ve heard and read so far. (To my recollection, what caused me to focus on this question to begin with was this post, which raised so many questions in my mind that it would likely require an entire post in response.)

Today, I was directed to this article by William B. Evans on the Reformation 21 blog.   It is the best recent presentation I have seen of the Biblical teaching on this issue and the current controversy in Reformed and Calvinistic circles over it. To a considerable degree, it seems to be a continuation of the controversy over the Sonship teaching of Jack Miller of World Harvest Mission a few decades ago. In other cases, it appears to be the result of a sharp distinction being made between law and grace, which is a feature of Lutheranism as well as dispensationalism.  The emphasis on “Gospel driven” with reference to sanctification often seems to indicate a kind of passivity (or a passive or quietistic tendency) with regard to growing in grace. Some have summarized the issue as being a question of whether sanctification is monergistic or synergistic. (All of those in the debate acknowledge that justification is monergistic.)

When reading the material I noted in the first paragraph, perhaps expecially the blog comments that have followed, I’ve witnessed what appears to be a visceral reaction against the idea of any kind of Biblical imperative, even though the Scriptures, including the New Testament, are filled with them. In particular, it is a disagreement with the idea that we should strive to obey these imperatives (or commands.)

The pattern of Gospel indicatives followed by imperatives is perhaps most clearly seen in Paul’s epistles. The Gospel is expounded upon in the first part of letters like Romans, Galatians and Ephesians, with the implications of the Gospel (including numerous commands) typically making up the last several chapters. If all we have to do is “preach the Gospel to ourselves” and meditate upon Christ, then why would Paul and the other apostles have seen the need to include these commands?

Dr. Evans’ mention of post-fundamentalism may be spot on. I too have wondered how many people who are attracted to this teaching have come from some kind of legalistic background. Similarly, it’s not uncommon to encounter folks who have been under some kind of unbiblical overbearing “shepherding” ministry who overreact to the point of rejecting practically any pastoral shepherding or oversight whatsoever.

It’s quite ironic (and perhaps troubling) to see some of the “Gospel-driven” types  link approvingly to the kind of posts that are questioned in Dr. Evans’ article, only to turn around the next day and tout J.C. Ryle’s Holiness on their blog or Twitter.  Ryle’s Holiness is a classic work which basically teaches the polar opposite! One wonders what thought process would lead someone to promote works from such opposing perspectives and evidently not see the contradiction. Confusion and overreaction to false teaching may be at the root.

For example, the other day I saw a woman quote Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness in an attempt to rebut criticism of “Gospel-driven” views of sanctification by those who had cited Bonar as opposing that kind of teaching. This was despite the fact that Bonar, like Ryle, has a strong emphasis on striving for holiness. Maybe the fact that Bonar clearly and powerfully taught justification by grace alone by faith alone through Christ alone leads some who haven’t read him closely to assume that he must also agree with those who appear to emphasize nothing but the indicatives of the Gospel message. This may particularly be the case for those who were fed a steady diet of moralism prior to coming to their current understanding.  It may be that some automatically equate any reference to effort or striving for holiness with legalism or moralism.

I am thankful for the Gospel-driven movement to the extent to which it has helped to deliver people from the bondage of real legalism and moralism. But at this point I’m not convinced that it accurately represents biblical teaching as a whole.

One thing is for sure, if the Lord tarries, this is an issue that is not going away any time soon.

(HT: Benjamin Glaser)

J.C. Ryle’s Holiness and Horatius Bonar’s God’s Way of Holiness are both available online:

Holiness 

God’s Way of Holiness (.pdf)

*Other terms include Christ-centered, Gospel-centered and other similar phrases. It seems to me that these terms are being repeated so often that there is a risk of a mantra being created, one that is basically a slogan that is repeated so often and used in reference to so many things that it essentially becomes devoid of meaning. 

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