Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification

December 4, 2014 — 1 Comment


So, here I am keeping up my trend of reviewing slightly older books. Like Predestination & Free WillChristian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification was published in the 80’s. Unlike the former book, I think this one has much light to shed in the present. If for instance you’ve kept up with the conversations about holiness in evangelical circles, you might remember a back and forth with Kevin DeYoung and Tullian Tchividjian. In addition to publishing books on the topic, they’ve engaged in dialogue in the blog world and the discussion is far from settled.

In reading a book like this, you can see why. One thing I immediately noticed is that Tullian Tchividjian’s position is almost identical to Gerhard Forde’s. Even though Tchividjian is a PCA pastor, he is arguing for what is labeled in this multi-view book as the Lutheran position. It is the position that we are sanctified by grace through faith alone, or you could say, sanctification is “the art getting used to your justification” as Forde phrases it (13).

In contrast, Sinclair Ferguson argues for the traditional Reformed view, which is more less what DeYoung also argues. The primary distinction is that the Reformed view stresses the believer’s responsible participation. This is also a distinction that is shared by E. Glenn Hinson’s view which is labelled the Contemplative view, which is kind of Baptist view mixed with elements of medieval spirituality. The main distinction of the other two views, Wesleyan (Laurence Wood) and Pentecostal (Russell Spittler), is that they stress the unique role of the Holy Spirit.

On the whole, Ferguson’s view is the strongest argument, perhaps followed by Wood and then Hinson. Spittler, the Pentecostal contribution, was hardly an argument and easily the weakest of the book. The book as a whole would have been stronger with either a better Pentecostal scholar or with only four views total. Forde’s and Hinson’s view have helpful elements to them (the primacy of grace and importance of meditation respectively), but are not as biblically rich as Ferguson’s view.

What I found most insightful was reading the interchange between Forde and Ferguson. It was like a preview of Tchividjian and DeYoung 20 years early. If I haven’t commented on that here recently, I think Tchividjian’s position is bordering on antinomianism, at least as presented in Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Though I originally gave it a favorable review, I’ve adjusted my opinion of it since. It is simply not helpful to argue that sanctification is “the art of getting used to your justification,” if for no other reason than that biblical logic doesn’t work that way. Your sanctification isn’t grounded in your justification, but is rather grounded and grows from the fact that you are united to Christ by the Spirit.

This isn’t to say Tchividjian isn’t insightful or even helpful in discussing sanctification. However, I think Deyoung, and in this book Ferguson, is arguing from better biblical foundations. I’ll be interested to read Carl Trueman’s book on Luther on The Christian Life in the spring to see if the Lutheran view as argued by Forde and now advanced by Tchividjian goes all the way back to Luther himself. Trueman has been critical of Tchividjian’s position, so even though he is a fan of Luther, I doubt he’ll hesitate to criticize similar thinking in Luther.

Given all this, you might find this volume helpful if this question is something you want to explore further. As a whole, it doesn’t necessarily give the best view of the current landscape, a downside that Predestination & Free Will also had. However, because of Forde and Ferguson’s back and forth, it’s worth checking out. I didn’t mention much about Hinson or Wood’s views, but there is some insight to be gleaned from them as well, making all but Spittler worth your time to check out. Were an updated version to be made, it would be interesting to a similarly broad spectrum, but with strong pastor/scholars across the board.

Donald L. Alexander ed., Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, January 1988. 204 pp. Paperback, $18.00.

Buy itAmazon | Westminster

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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