Stanley Gundry (Ed.)

(Contributers: Melvin E. Dieter, Anthony A. Hoekema, Stanley M. Horton, J. Robertson McQuilkin, John F. Walvoord)

 

Five Views on Sanctification

 

One of those books with the helpful approach to some controversial issue of commissioning a few leading teachers from contrasting viewpoints to summarise theirs and respond specifically to the others’. In this case: Dieter represents the Wesleyan view; Hoekema the Reformed; Horton the Pentecostal; McQuilkin the Keswick; and Walvoord the pithily titled ‘Augustinian-Dispensational’.

 

Unfortunately for anyone reading this review I’m not going to give it the searing analysis it probably deserves (some good ones on amazon though). Although in that I’m perhaps highlighting a weakness that a good editor could have taken the trouble to address. Were I particularly tortured by this issue or, more likely, having to complete a comparison for an assessment, part of working through this book would be creating a grid where I placed key issues (e.g. ‘Once saved, always saved’) in rows and the various authors/viewpoints in corresponding columns, then indicated the contrasting/complementary stances. As it is, however, I stumbled across the text when I was looking for something to read while I went to sleep (the things my wife leaves around the house!): good for the sleeping bit, not so good for the careful note taking and analysis.

 

So, apologies, I’m only giving this broad impressions, unless I bother to go back and read the responses. That is one particularly interesting part of the book. While each of the academics probably chafed hugely at having to constrict their declaration to a mere thirty or so pages, nobody clocks in at less than ten thousand words. It’s not that the writing is (generally) wayward, but there is room to wander a fair way from what is key for comparison – surely the central concept of this tome. However the responses are wisely capped at not much more than a thousand words, and there at least the writers are forced to be particularly spare and focussed (Hoekema virtually does the table work for me in his responses, clearly listing the points he agrees with, then challenging the ones he doesn’t). Some readers might feel the responses suffer from this restriction, but not this one. It’s also amusing that they – whether diplomatically to be seen as being nice fellows, or because of genuine mutual respect and affection (I suspect there’s a mix) – pretty consistently start with complements, “x gave a very helpful summary of blah...’ before getting down to specific similarities and differences.

 

Before I have a glance back through the responses, let’s see what the book has left in my dull brain (i.e. what still might be there a year after I’ve given the book back).

 

If someone was coming to this book without any Christian context – say a Muslim academic doing a bit of research – they may be more struck by the similarities than the differences. That is, for example, the Arminian leaning writers are careful to stress the saving grace offered through Christ, and the Calvinist ones to encourage righteous living. This sort of crossover can happen in practise: I’ve seen hard line reformers driven to perform good works daily, and doctrinaire Arminians complacent in their assurance. That being said, I’m not convinced that the careful moderating disclaimers throughout all the writers’ essays would necessarily give an accurate reflection of what characterised their teaching: the writers knew they were writing to be criticised by those with opposing views, so were probably more careful than typical in this context. For example, I grew up under the teaching of a reformed preacher who, in personal discussion, would acknowledge the legitimacy of many crucial ‘personal responsibility’ passages, pointing to reformist poster-boy J.I. Packer’s antimony concept, saying that we have to accept this along with God’s sovereignty, without being able to intellectually reconcile them. Yet in practise he and many in the reformed school almost exclusively preach the latter. Indeed, I was horrified to hear the pastor that followed him years later preach on ‘The Good Samaritan’, ditching entirely Jesus intention in telling the story (quite tellingly a response to the question, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’), entirely misinterpreting the passage by paralleling ‘us’ to the helpless, half-dead victim, and Jesus to the Samaritan who, in good reformed style, stepped in and saved the bleeding man despite himself. Imagine if he had’ve completed the passage (surely a warning to any preacher if they have to cut a passage to avoid a contradiction in their message), the application, “Go now and do likewise,” would be urging the congregation to travel into a dangerous area to invite being half-killed by a violent gang! And now – to absurdly try to squeeze a hint of coherency out of this hypocritically wayward paragraph, I’ll mention that this clearly hard-line reformed teacher was downright Arminian in his work ethic.

 

So, where was I? Oh, yes, summarising... J

 

But that’s a key issue, isn’t it: Wesleyans typically accuse Reformers of encouraging complacency: God’s done it all, we can’t do it, so why bother? Wesleyans, however, stress that the ‘normal’ Christian life should be one of victory – of not erring into known sin. Keswick has built a whole approach around this idea – saying, “C’mon, let’s acknowledge it – there are basically two types of Christians – some who live in victory, and others who are nice enough but essentially nominal”. Hoekema for the reformers doesn’t acknowledge this at all, and suggests that this either/or approach ignores the continuum Christians are on and encourages spiritual pride. The Pentecostal guy, Horton, lines himself up happily with the Arminian Wesley, sounding very reasonable and inclusive until he slips in a bit of a clanger about how vital tongues are towards the end (although he did have some disclaimers about how some mature Christians – from other denominations - somehow manage to not be baptised in the Spirit in this otherwise essential way). Walvoord seemed to me the least distinctive and, as such, relevant. I think he was sort of saying he agreed with the Calvinists, but, hey, no, Augustine said it first, so, yeah, really they were agreeing with him. So. But, don’t get me wrong, the middle way ... we still have some personal responsibility too (and interesting that Hoekema confessed to having changed his interpretation of Paul’s ‘the things I do I don’t want to do’ passage to better fit with a reformed perspective, uncomfortable with such internal turmoil in a ‘saved’ soul).

 

There were some neat responses, incisively picking up on some assumptions – such as how can you talk about perfection as a relative term (although Hoekema’s repeated response that we are ‘genuinely new but not totally new’ felt like a politician’s spin to avoid facing a difficult tension with an empty sound bite to me). McQuilkin was the most excited about his barrow, often slipping more into an inspirational rather than an academic style. And while they were all professional, I’m not sure than any will produce in this reader greater love and good works – surely a pretty acid test.

 

Although I’m sure it’s been articulately done somewhere else, no-one picked up particularly on my spin on an aspect of this issue: that heaven is sanctification, and the kingdom of heaven is within you. Anyone thinking salvation is mainly about not going to hell has missed a crucial point: if your idea of heaven is all tied up with indulgence, selfishness and stuff you’re actually aiming more for the sort of thing Jesus came to save us from. That’s my deal on it – what are we saved from, and what are we saved for. Salvation and sanctification are two sides of the same coin (which I don’t fully understand, but is probably more Wesleyan than Reformed anyway). If Jesus’ rescue doesn’t change us, it’s no rescue at all.

 

December 2008