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I don’t think I’ve read anything by J.V. Fesko before. I thought I’d start with a book carrying a lighter price tag before I started investing lots of money. As a result, The Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled and Applied has been sitting in my ‘to read” pile for some time. After reading a number of larger volumes I thought I’d go with a shorter book like this.

For those not familiar with Fesko, he is an OPC pastor and associate professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California.

It is common for people who deny the on-going authority of the moral law to use terms like the rule of love to describe how God reveals His moral will to us. Fesko is not one of those people. This book is an exposition, however brief, on the Ten Commandments. He does treat them within their historical, covenantal and redemptive contexts. Too often people look at them in abstraction. We must remember they were given to the people of Israel, but YHWH who is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob after He delivered them from Egypt and slavery. We must understand this original historical and covenantal context to properly understand them. But as Christians we also view them through Christ’s redemptive work in which He fulfilled them for us, and by virtue of our union with Him works in us so we keep them in increasing measure. As a result, the Ten Commandments are not some religious artifact from some bygone era. Neither is our obedience to them the ground of our justification. Christ’s obedience is the ground of our justification. We also remember that while they provide the direction of our sanctification (the 3rd use of the law) they do not provide the power for it. That comes from the Spirit by virtue of our union with Christ (which he mentions quite often).

“The Law is not merely a legal bond; it is also a rule of love between God and His people.”

It would be easy to see the book are formulaic because he works through these three categories for each of the ten. But you should see this as good pedagogue. Being obvious is not a problem particularly when the lack of obviousness creates great misunderstanding.

The chapters are not very long, and he provides some study questions to help you think through and apply the material. Fesko begins with the prologue which stresses the covenantal and historical context for the rest. The Law was given to them, not to save them, but to know how to live together with God and one another. They were never to forget that He rescued them from slavery. As we read them we remember the greater redemption to which this great redemption pointed to. As Christians we hear them as people who have been justified, not those seeking justification. It is precisely when we ignore this, including when we put them up on courthouse lawns or walls, that we begin to turn it into a ladder.

“We cannot manufacture images of God because Jesus Christ has already taken that role. Only Christ can do what no man-made image can, namely, perfectly reflect the image of God. …. We do not make images of God, for He is making images of Himself in us!”

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The final view of sanctification addressed in Christian Spirituality is that of the contemplatives. The Church has a long history with contemplatives, or mystics, that transcends geography and denominations. Some well-known names were contemplatives: Bernard of Clairvoux, St. John of the Cross, Teresa Avila, Thomas Merton and more. In my younger days as a Christian I read Brother Lawrence and The Great Cloud of Unknowing. How does E. Glenn Hinson describe contemplative Christianity?

Contemplatives try to balance the inner and outer life. They usually assert that being will result in doing (which is a far more biblical idea than doing will result in being). They do spend most of their time addressing the inner life: being. Its focus is on communicating, communing and contemplating with God internally. Like Wesleyian sanctification the focus is on one’s love for God. Instead of gaining this thru a second blessing, one pursues it, so to speak, through a series of activities that leads one thru the stages of increasing communion with God. I’m trying to do this justice on its own terms.

“Contemplation has to do with this loving attentiveness to God.”

In contemplation there is an assumption that God is immanent in the created order. He is inescapably near to us. There is no disputing this, the question is “how is He near?”.

In Hinson’s description, there is a “naturalness” to this pursuit of the Divine Lover. He does not clarify and it can sound awfully Pelagian to many ears. Since contemplatives typically eschew theological distinctions, lots of things are vague enough to be misunderstood. Or properly understood.

At the very best, it is typically Arminian. God is a gentleman who never knocks our door down but respects the freedom He gave us. There is a resistibleness to this “grace.” Let me clarify: in Reformed Theology God does not violate the will of the creature, but in regeneration changes the character/nature of the creature so the person’s will is changed. We cannot thwart God’s purposes and plan. In most contemplative theology we, not God, are in the driver’s seat.

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The 2014 season seemed promising for the defending World Series champion Red Sox. They returned almost all of their starting rotation. The missing member of the 6 primary starters from the previous season was its weakest link: Dempster. The bullpen was largely intact as well. The pitching seemed to be ready to go. The one mystery was how Buchholz would bounce back from the injuries that hampered him for the 2nd half of the season.

They had a number of new players in key positions. Two were highly touted rookies Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Ellsbury would be missed in terms of offense but they hoped to make that up with Xander’s estimated production to be far greater the Stephen Drew’s. I was not wild about the signing of Pierzynski but his offense was expected to compensate to the loss of Saltalamacchia (he was go from .273 to a paltry .220 with the Marlins). The hope was for Middlebrooks to bounce back.

The plan was slightly altered when Grady Sizemore had an awesome camp and make the opening day roster. Looked great but then he failed to produce at the same pace. Or nearly any pace.

But I get slightly ahead of myself. All the breaks that went their way in 2013 didn’t in 2014. The new replay system seemed stacked against them in the first month as everyone tried to adjust. Lots of blown calls seemed to go against them. Some of these were game changers, or so it seemed.

Another thing that went right in 2013 is that a high number of players who played above their means. They had above average seasons, often career years. Saltalamacchia, Nava, Carp had career best seasons. Papi hit exceedingly well for his age. He hit for average and power. Napoli bounced back to have a good offensive season as did Victorino. Part of what went wrong was regression to mean for the players still on the roster, and not on the injured list.

The main problems initially were a lack of production from the outfield. Nava was pressing and in a big slump to start the season. Victorino was hurt and the combination of Sizemore and Bradley hit about .220. Middlebrooks continued to struggle. The offense was stagnant. Even Pedroia and Papi got off to a slow start. Seemed like the only guys who didn’t were Napoli and Xander.

Buccholz was just plain horrible. New reliever Mujica was too, and blew some games early. Peavy just couldn’t buy a break.

And then the real problems started. Napoli injured a finger and was never the same. Middlebrooks got hurt, again. This “forced” them to re-sign Drew and shift Xander to 3rd. For the first time in his career, shortly after the switch, Xander entered a big, ugly slump. Unknown to the rest of the world, Pedroia was still hurt and not productive at the plate though he still played stellar defense. But he was the only one. Okay, Bradley was playing fantastic defense. Xander struggled at third, and they couldn’t throw a base runner out.

The changes started to come fast and furious. They gave up on Sizemore and cut him (he was hitting .216 at the time and hit a slightly more respectable .243 for the Phillies). Pierzynki was cut (he hit .254 for the Sox and would go on to the Cards and hit .244 for them on the way to the playoffs). Peavy (1-9, 4.72) was traded to San Francisco where he was 6-4 with a 2.17 ERA helping the Giants make the playoffs. Amid tons of chatter about signing an extension, Lester was traded to the A’s who he helped make the playoffs. Lackey was sent to St. Louis whom he helped make the playoffs. Noticing a theme here? Let’s not forget trading Miller to division champion Baltimore.

One plus was that Christian Vasquez had the opportunity to show he can handle a staff and throw out runners. His production was not great, but he stopped the other teams that ran at will on Boston early in the season. Those runs saved amount to something important.

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If you are looking for the definitive description of how Pentecostals view and approach sanctification you may want to keep looking. Or maybe this is right on the mark. I hope not.

Russell Spittler’s chapter in Christian Spirituality is largely descriptive, not prescriptive. By this I mean he describes a number of common Pentecostal practices that are viewed as manifestations of the Spirit which have no apparent connection to sanctification (as far as I can tell). He doesn’t mention how they further the sanctification process. I have had Pentecostals tell me that speaking in tongues helps them avoid sin, but never how.

He begins by noting historical developments and their roots in a second blessing theology similar to Methodism. Instead of entire sanctification this is viewed as baptism in the Spirit. It is rooted, again, in a two-stage understanding of Christian experience. This takes the progress of redemptive-history as normative for us. Not in the sense that we should receive the baptism in the Spirit, but that it lags after justification/conversion and is necessarily accompanied by speaking in tongues. He provides very little theological justification for this view or the various manifestations he will describe beyond a few proof-texts. There is no attempt at any systematic understanding of anything.

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The 3rd view of sanctification presented in Christian Spirituality is a Wesleyan view by Laurence Wood. There are aspects of the Wesleyan view that he clarifies so common misunderstandings no longer remain misunderstanding. The main positive I found was that of expectation- the expectation that God will work in you to sanctify you. Forde, in his Lutheran response did not share my view of this as positive.

“In this regard, it should be kept in mind that a Wesleyan hermeneutic, though it gives priority to the Scriptures as the basis of all beliefs, assumes that all truth is existentially perceived and appropriated. …. For the Bible is always interpreted through experience, tradition and reason. This is not a subjectivizing of the biblical revelation, but a frank acknowledgement that all truth is mediated in a larger context, rather than merely through a logical and rationalistic framework.”

He begins by talking about the Wesleyan hermeneutic. It is very good that he does this because it reveals some of his presuppositions for us to examine as well. Too often the method of interpretation used to arrive at a conclusion is not mentioned. So he unpacks, briefly, the “personal-relational dimension” of the way Wesleyans tend to “do theology.” Certainly our personal and corporate histories shape our understanding of Scripture. Sometimes for good, and sometimes not so good. His main point is that “the crucible of life is the laboratory for testing our interpretation of Scripture.” The key phrase is “our interpretation.” They are not testing the Scripture, but their interpretation. Our theology should work: making sense of life, our experience and shaping our life in positive ways. The gospel produces good things in our lives, though often thru difficult experiences.

The Misunderstanding

Many people stumble over the phrase Christian Perfectionism. Wesley was not speaking about absolute perfection. Entire sanctification, another confusing term for non-Wesleyans, refers to a “second blessing” (yet another confusing term for non-Wesleyans and non-Pentacostals) or subsequent blessing that gives us perfect love for God. This perfect love for God results in “perfect obedience.” This does not mean we are sinless, but that we no longer willfully sin. There may be unintentional sins, and there are “psychologically repressed complexes” that result in disordered behavior. But our intentions are good and pure even if our behavior is not (I wonder how much Neil T. Anderson’s material connects with the Wesleyan view).

“In fact, the entirely sanctified are more aware of their weaknesses and sins and thus are more capable of growth in grace because of the openness of their hearts to their true situation.”

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Last week we looked at a Lutheran perspective on sanctification by Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. We (this would be the imperial we if no one reads this) also noted some of the responses, particularly the one by Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson is the next to present his view of sanctification, a Reformed perspective on this doctrine.

It should not surprise anyone familiar with Sinclair Ferguson to know that his presentation is not polemical, but well-reasoned (polemics can be well-reasoned, but often aren’t) and interacts quite a bit with Scripture (not just tossing out a reference proof text). As a Reformed pastor, I have a strong affinity with this presentation. Since it pretty much represents my view (recognizing that in 20 pages you can’t say all there is to say about sanctification) I can see no weaknesses or faults to discredit this view. The other authors obviously pointed out some they perceived (and in some cases imagined).

“A necessary connection between biblical doctrine and holy living is fundamental to the biblical and apostolic way of thinking. That is why Scripture is so full of moral imperatives logically derived from doctrinal indicatives…”

Instead of starting with justification like Forde did, Ferguson starts with the profound and oft-neglected doctrine of union with Christ. As Christ is our justification, so He is our sanctification: thru our union with Him. United to Him in His death, burial and resurrection (though I could add more) we are justified and sanctified (the double blessing of union that Calvin notes).

“Christ himself is the only adequate resource we have for the development of sanctification in our own lives.”

He shares His resources with us. So, Ferguson notes that sanctification is neither accomplished by divine fiat or self-exertion. Christ has provided all we need, and by virtue of our gracious union with Christ we are able to draw on these resources. It is not like a Matrix download where Neo instantaneously gains skills. By faith we drawn His resources and trust His Spirit to work in us. We participate but are utterly dependent.

“Faith involves trusting in and resting on the resources of Christ as though they were our own.”

At this point Ferguson walks through Romans 6 to understand how our union with Christ effects our sanctification. In Christ we have died to sin (via His atoning death) and live to God (via the resurrection) which is the essence of our sanctification. Death to sin does not mean we don’t sin (see Romans 7) but our sin no longer condemns us (Romans 8:1). We are no longer under its authority. Our life is no longer determined by our past, but Christ’s past. The verdict has been passed and Christ’s vindication means we are alive to God, and live for God. Because we are united to Christ we are a new creation. We are no longer the old man in Adam but the new man in Christ. Sanctification can be understood not as getting used to our justification, but as growing into our new identity in Christ.

This new man encounters oppositions from the world, the flesh and the devil. Spiritual warfare, in Scripture, is about the struggle between them and the Spirit. They seek to undermine our new life in Christ like old drinking buddies. They use guilt, shame, temptation and more. This is the context of Paul’s statements on the subject in Ephesians 6. Our sanctification is not an easy thing but one met with great resistance: internal and external.

“All that is true for me in Christ has not yet been accomplished in me by the Spirit.”

This is close to Frame’s perspectivalism. Christ’s work for us has already taken place and I already benefit from it. I have imputed righteousness, for example. Christ’s work in my by the Spirit (and His work thru me by the Spirit) is not been fully applied. Some of it is not yet, or not completely. Imparted righteousness has begin but is not complete. It won’t be until glorification. Romans 7 and Galatians 5 are two places that introduces us to this painful tension we must live with and in.

One aspect of sanctification is called mortification, the putting to death of sin aka the practices of the old man in Adam (Ephesians 4; Colossians 3). This imperative follows the great indicative of our union with Christ. We begin to live in accordance with our new identity in Christ (called vivification which Ferguson does not explicitly mention). We do not work to earn a new status or identity in Christ. Christ is restoring His image in us by His sanctifying grace.

Ferguson then moves to discuss the means of grace essential to our sanctification. These do not merit grace, but are the ordinary means by which God gives us grace as we seek Him by faith. He mentions the Word, God’s providences (often affliction or prosperity which reveals our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as sins that need to be confessed), fellowship and the sacraments. You will notice much of this is found in the Church. The Church is one of Christ’s essential means of grace for our sanctification. There we hear the Word, receive the sacraments and enjoy fellowship (including rebuke and encouragement).

The controversial aspect to this is the Law and the Christian’s relationship to the Law as part of the Word. It should not be controversial in light of 2 Timothy 3’s view of Scripture. The third use of the law, as a guide for Christian living, is often accused of being legalistic. But we are not trying to establish or maintain our status through obedience. We have these by grace. The Law shows us what it looks like to live as the new man in love. We don’t say, as we are often accused of saying, that the Law has the power to sanctify us. The power comes through our union with Christ in the power of the Spirit through faith and love.

The Responses

Ferguson said very little about the Law (just about 1 page), but Forde sees this as overplaying the role of the law in our sanctification. He puts words in Ferguson’s mouth about the law “producing holiness.” He is allergic to the law and misinterprets Ferguson as a result. In some sense Forde underestimates the “already” aspects of our salvation such that we still interact with the law as if non-Christians. I can read the Law and say “this is who Christ is and who He wants me to be- help me to be like You.” Forde agrees with Ferguson’s description of sanctification (though it differs greatly from his own chapter) but faults him on implementation. Perhaps because there is so little implementation in Forde’s scheme (to borrow his phrase).

Wood, the Wesleyan perspective, agrees with much of what Ferguson says but claims that the intention of the heart is what is decisive. That is rather subjective in practice. He takes this to briefly introduce Wesleyan perfeectionism. It is not sinless perfectionism but we’ll get there next time.

Spittler calls himself a “Reformed Pentecostal” and sees much to affirm in Ferguson’s presentation. He would not share Ferguson’s high view of the sacraments. He also thinks there is too much focus on controlling behavior.

The Contemplative response, by Hinson notes that Ferguson makes too little of prayer in his discussion of the means. I suspect Ferguson would agree with this oversight. He then lapses into a great misunderstanding of the Puritans which seems to imply that Ferguson wants to coerce obedience from people, even non-Christians. I really didn’t follow this line of reasoning because it was quite irrational as well as historically inaccurate.

Bottom Line: Sanctification by being united to Christ and appropriated by the means of grace.


“Sanctification, if it is to be spoken of as something other than justification, is perhaps best defined as the art of getting used to the unconditional justification wrought by the grace of God for Jesus’ sake. … Sanctification is thus simply the art of getting used to justification. … Our sanctification consists merely in being shaped by, or getting used to, justification.”

At first glance you’d think I culled this from Tullian Tchvidjian’s blog. These are the words of Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. The first view that is examined is the Lutheran view. I’m not sure Luther himself would fully embrace this view, but it is built on many elements of his teaching (perhaps taking them farther than he intended).

Much of Forde’s chapter is largely rhetorical and polemical rather than putting for a clearly articulated understanding. In this way it also sounds like much I hear from the previously mentioned PCA pastor on the subject of sanctification.. I am left wondering with whom he is arguing for the views argued against do not reflect those of my own theological heritage. He is obsessively concerned with legalism, but offers no concern about antinomianism. As a result (or perhaps I’ve got the causality backwards) the focus is almost completely on justification.

I agree, we need to begin living as justified people who are fully accepted in light of the righteousness of Christ. Sanctification is to be pursued as justified people. But in his Lutheran logic (which often trips me up in many areas of theology) any view of progressive sanctification (righteousness imparted, not a self-improvement project) is antithetical to and undermines the free grace of God in justification. It is as if he thinks one could lose one’s justification for not being sanctified enough.

I see him making a similar error to that which Roman Catholicism make though in the opposite direction. Both end up conflating justification and sanctification. For Roman Catholic theology you cannot be justified unless you are sanctified; or, your sanctification is your justification. In Forde’s expression of Lutheran theology, your justification is your sanctification.

In Reformed Theology we make distinctions, almost to a fault, to best understand the dynamic quality of Scripture. We recognize initial or definite sanctification (which is positional, like justification) and progressive sanctification. The latter is rooted in the former. In relating texts about sanctification, Forde refers to all those about definite sanctification and ignores those about progressive sanctification.

“Doesn’t the Bible follow the declaration of grace with certain exhortations and imperatives? So the protestations go, for the most part designed to reimpose at least a minimal conditionality on the promise.”

Here is evidence of polemics, and bad polemics at that. He doesn’t deal with the biblical data (all those imperatives in Paul’s letters to CHRISTIANS), but an ad hominem attack. Obviously anyone who wants to deal with God’s commands wants to undermine God’s grace, in his mind. Rather, as a new creature in Christ I now want to please God (before I was primarily concerned with pleasing myself). As a justified man the law no longer condemns me. It still shows me where I fall short of God’s glory, but also points me to God’s glory and what it means to imitate the Father. He writes as if we only hear the law as the old man, not the new man. The law, obviously doesn’t provide any power. The Holy Spirit provides that. According to Paul the problem was never with the law, but with us as sinners. But the legalistic strawman grows wearisome quite quickly. He repeated talks about “the scheme”. of sanctification which is presented in an obviously negative light.

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