One of my on-going interests in Christian theology is the nature of sanctification. Some of it is no doubt stemming from interest in how to personally grow in grace. A larger part of it though is learning how to best shepherd and disciple others in their personal growth in holiness.
Helpfully, I was able to read through the collection of essays growing out of the Edinburgh Dogmatics conference. Edited by Kelly Kapic, Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice offers perspective from a wide range of scholars. As the subtitle indicates, it is more exploration than unified perspective or presentation of a new school of thought. It is split into three main parts, the first of which is focused on how we are sanctified by grace through faith.
This part of the book is opened by a homily by Derek Tidball on Colossians 3:5-17. From here, what I thought was the most interesting essay follows. In it, Richard Lints explains antinomianism through the relationship of sanctification and faith. Just as we are justified by faith, we are also sanctified by it. In his view, Christianity is less about moral progress and more about having our desires and worship restored to their proper form. In the end, I’m not sure there is a substantial difference between the two. Perhaps we could say sanctification is primarily about having our desires and worship restored to their proper form, but if that is happening, it would seem to also be a kind of moral progress. Maybe the issue is thinking of sanctification as first a heart orientation and second a hand co-ordination. If you aim for coordinating the hands first, the heart doesn’t necessarily have to be in-line.
Similar to Lints but moving in a different direction, Henri Blocher’s followup essay digs into the relationship of law and obedience in the Christian life. Here, he unpacks more of what is actually entailed by “sanctification by faith.”
Continuing on from here, the two following essays by Brannon Ellis and Bruce McCormack explore the importance of union with Christ and the relationship of Barth and Wesley on Christian perfection. The latter is more historical than the preceding essay, but was both interesting and approachable for those not steeped in Barth like McCormack is.
The next essay, by Michael Horton, begins the second part of the book which focuses on the relationship of sanctification and ethics. In particular, Horton’s focus is on the relationship of the Spirit and human agency in our growth in holiness. This section is rounded out by essays by Oliver O’Donovan and James Eglinton. The former gives an overview of the relationship in focus in this part of the book and the latter offers a discussion of Bavinck’s theology of sanctification and his unfinished Reformed Ethics that was to be a companion volume to the Reformed Dogmatics.
The final part of the book i theological and pastoral meditations on the subject of sanctification. Here, Ivor Davidson offers some dogmatic reflections on gospel holiness. Kelly Kapic offers a theological meditation on suffering and sanctification, particularly poignant in light of his opening note about his wife’s battle with cancer and subsequent neurological disorder resulting in debilitating pain and fatigue. His essay is follow by Julie Canlis’s offering on our sonship and identity in Christ before Peter Moore’s essay on sanctification through the preached Word (with a particularly focus on John Chrysostom) closes the book.
Overall, I think this is a valuable collection of essays, particularly the first part, if you’re attentive to recent discussions in the evangelical/Reformed blogosphere. If you’ve wondered whether making a big deal of grace makes you an antinomian, Lints essay is here for you. Further, if you’ve wondered just how obedience and the Christian life cohere in light of grace, food for thought is to be found between the covers of this book. I found it a stimulating read and consider a valuable resource for future study. If you’re on the ground with discipleship there is much to be gleaned from the occasional lofty heights the author here attain. In the end, you’ll find helpful explorations into the theology and practice of growing in grace in the Christian life.
Kelly M. Kapic, ed., Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice. Downers Grove: IL: IVP Academic, October 2014. 300 pp. Paperback, $28.00
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!