Book Review, Systematic Theology

Book Review: “Five Views on Sanctification” edited by Stanley Gundry

The Counterpoints Series’ Five Views on Sanctification examines five perspectives within evangelicalism on sanctification: 1) the Wesleyan perspective represented by Melvin Dieter, 2) the Reformed perspective represented by Anthony Hoekema, 3) the Pentecostal perspective represented by Stanley Horton, 4) the Keswick perspective represented by J. Robertson McQuilkin, and 5) the Augustinian-Dispensational perspective represented by John Walvoord.

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Summary of Each View and Responses

View #1: Wesleyan Sanctification (Melvin Dieter)

Melvin Dieter, arguing for the Wesleyan view of sanctification, summarizes the theology of Wesley. He clarifies that Wesley did not teach that an entirely sanctified Christian is sinless; rather, the entirely sanctified Christian is delivered from voluntary transgressions through moment-by-moment obedience to God’s will (pp. 13-14). This is possible through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (p. 14). Thus, by “being perfect,” Wesley somehow speaks of varying degrees of “perfectness” since anyone in this “perfect state” still needs to grow in grace (p. 14). In fact, he even posits that “the idea of a gradual progression in sanctification is extended beyond the boundaries of this life, even though the basic relationship that nourishes such development is established in the crisis moment of entire sanctification” (p. 19).

Dieter takes the sanctification motif from passages like Luke 1:69-75; Tit. 2:11-14; and 1 John 4:17 to indicate that entire sanctification is experienced before death (i.e., in this lifetime) (p. 15). For Dieter, the line between justification and sanctification is blurred, which tends to fuse both ideas. He says that “Wesley believed that the Bible clearly and persistently taught that God had wedded holy living and salvation by faith alone into one inseparable whole” (p. 20). The basis for this Wesleyan theology of sanctification, according to Dieter, is not on a text from Scripture (which he calls “proof texts”) or biblical propositions but based from seeing the Bible holistically (pp. 29-30). Dieter argues that “the central purpose of the cross was the sanctification of His people both corporately and individually” (p. 31).

Most critical responses to Dieter (like McQuilkin) point out that the Wesleyan view of sanctification has its own unique definition of theological terms (pp. 53-54). Is “sin” limited only to voluntary transgressions? What does “holy” really mean? Is “perfect” really perfect? Hoekema points out that if “entire sanctification” is “entire” or “perfect,” why would growth then be necessary (p. 48)? Another point of weakness in the Wesleyan perspective is the lack of distinction between justification and sanctification. Walvoord argues that “the distinction needs to be made that justification is a legal act of God that in itself is not experiential and that the original act of sanctification is a matter of position in Christ rather than a matter of experience” (p. 57).

View #2: Reformed Sanctification (Anthony Hoekema)

Anthony Hoekema defines sanctification in the Reformed perspective as “that gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, involving our responsible participation, by which He delivers us as justified sinners from the pollution of sin, renews our entire nature according to the image of God, and enables us to live lives that are pleasing to Him” (p. 61). Hoekema begins by distinguishing justification from sanctification. In sanctification, God empowers believers to live lives pleasing to him. He defines holiness as both separation from sin and consecration to God’s service (p. 63). Thus, for Hoekema, to be holy is to be “totally dedicated to God and separated from all that is sinful” (p. 63). Sanctification takes place through union with Christ (Rom. 6; Eph. 4:15; 1 Cor. 1:30), the truth (John 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), and faith (Acts 26:18; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:6; 1 Thess. 1:3). The pattern of sanctification is likeness to God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15; John 14:8-9; Heb. 1:3), where the image of God in man is renewed—it is becoming more like Christ, who is the perfect image of God.

Hoekema points out that sanctification is both the work of God himself (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18) and the active responsibility of the believers by following the example of Christ (Eph. 5:1-2; 4:32; 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Pet. 2:21). This truth is clearly summarized in Phil. 2:12-13. In this work of sanctification, all three persons of the Godhead are involved—the Father (John 17:17; Heb. 12:10), the Son (Eph. 5:25-27; Tit. 2:14; 1 Cor. 1:30), and the Spirit (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 15:16; 1 Cor. 3:18; Tit. 3:5; 2 Thess. 2:13).

Sanctification is also both definitive and progressive. There is a sense in which sanctification is definitive, as demonstrated by passages that speak of believers dying to sin (Rom. 6; Eph. 2:4-7; 2 Cor. 5:17). Hoekema says that “Believers, therefore, should see themselves and each other as persons who are genuinely new, though not yet totally new” (p. 74) since sanctification is also progressive. Believers sin (1 John 1:8), need to live according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:13), purify themselves (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 John 3:3), and grow (Col. 3:9-10). The key passage to the progressive aspect of sanctification is 2 Cor. 3:18 (cf. 2 Pet. 3:18).

Hoekema provides an interesting discussion on the “new man” and the “old man,” arguing that the old man died, and believers are now new (Rom. 6:6; Col. 3:9-10; 2 Cor. 5:17). In the Reformed perspective, sanctification is not perfectionism and not freedom from the law, particularly the third use of the law (p. 85-88), and the goal of sanctification is the glory of God (Eph. 1:4-5) and the perfection of God’s people (Heb. 1:3; 1 John 3:2).

The critical responses to Hoekema are generally positive. In Dieter’s estimation, Hoekema misrepresents or misunderstands the Wesleyan view of perfection. Other than that, it seems that Dieter’s only disagreement is on Dieter’s insistence that sanctification is freedom to resist willful sins through the Spirit and thus be “perfect.” Horton’s only quarrel with Hoekema is that not enough attention was given to the role of the Spirit in sanctification and the possibility of true believers (“elect”) to be cast out (p. 96). McQuilkin points out that he has no basic conflict with Hoekema’s presentation, but he is in disagreement with the Calvinist’s denial of the existence of a disobedient and defeated Christian (not discussed by Hoekema). Lastly, Walvoord is not satisfied with Hoekema’s position on the third use of the law and the omission of the filling and baptism of the Spirit.

View #3: Pentecostal Sanctification (Stanley Horton)

The third view is the Pentecostal perspective. Horton begins with a brief history of the Pentecostal movement (pp. 105-109) and the rise of the Assemblies of God with 15 million adherents worldwide (pp. 109-114). The early leaders of the Assemblies of God voted on removing the word “entire” in their statement of faith on sanctification (p. 112). They define sanctification as both separation from sin and dedication to the fellowship and service of God through Christ.

The early AOG writers also agree that sanctification is both positional-instantaneous and practical-progressive (p. 113). Horton says that while there is (some?) continuity in the theology of the former generation of AOG, there have also been some changes in application and practice (p. 115). Horton argues that in sanctification, “we have our part, but God also has his part” since God “has appointed means to provide for both external and internal sanctification in our daily lives” (p. 117). The means of sanctification are the blood of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. The blood of Christ continues to cleanse the believer (1 John 1:7). The Holy Spirit is the agent of change (1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Thess. 2:13). The Word of God is the sword used by the Spirit in sanctification (Eph. 6:17; cf. John 17:17).

Horton denies that baptism of the Spirit evidenced by speaking in other tongues is necessary for salvation, but he argues that baptism of the Spirit is distinct from regeneration (p. 128). Horton distinguishes baptism by the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3 and 9) and baptism in the Spirit (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; 2:4). Speaking in tongues is an initial evidence of the baptism in the Spirit, marking the filling of the Spirit. While the argument is based solely on Acts, Horton asserts that Luke is not only a historian, but also a theologian. The baptism in the Spirit—which is subsequent to salvation—is when the believer experiences real sanctification (p. 131). Horton clarifies that the baptism of the Spirit is not a climactic experience, but “a door into a growing relationship with the Spirit as a divine Person and with fellow members of the body of Christ” (p. 131).

Critical responses to Horton center primarily on his discussion on the baptism of the Spirit. Hoekema, for example, expresses difficulty with some of Horton’s terminology or phraseology, but he says that his main contention is on “baptism in the Spirit as subsequent to regeneration and conversion” (p. 140). McQuilkin applauds the first half of Horton’s presentation, but he strongly disagrees with the discussion of Spirit baptism. Hoekema objects to the idea that only those who have spoken in tongues are empowered and filled by the Spirit. He argues that Horton has very little biblical proof for his doctrine by analyzing passages where “baptized with the Spirit” occurs (pp. 140ff). McQuilkin shares Hoekema’s sentiments.

View #4: Keswick Sanctification (J. Roberston McQuilkin)

McQuilkin begins his presentation of Keswick sanctification by pointing out that “average is not necessarily normal.” McQuilkin sees the problem in Christianity when average believers live like non-Christians instead of fighting sin and obeying Christ, which is what he describes as normal Christianity. He argues that “the so-called Keswick approach…seeks to provide a mediating and biblically balanced solution to the problem of subnormal Christian experience” (p. 152).

McQuilkin presents the history of the Keswick movement and describes what takes place at a traditional Keswick convention. McQuilkin clarifies that the Keswick position does not teach “able not to sin” (pp. 156-157). Furthermore, Keswick theology equates “the old man” with “the flesh” (p. 157). Believers are sanctified positionally through God’s forgiveness, justification, and regeneration (pp. 158-159), and therefore called “saints”; but not all believers are “saintly.”

According to Keswick theology, the root cause of unsaintly saints is unbelief. McQuilkin points out that some believers are ignorant of the teaching of the Bible (Rom. 6:16; Heb. 5:11—6:3) and exhibit unbelief, resulting in disobedience and lack of trust in God. The only cure is faith (pp. 165-171) that produces a new person (p. 174), a new relationship (p. 174), and a new potential for victory and growth (p. 178).

Dieter responds positively to McQuilkin, indicating that Keswick is nearly identical to the Wesleyan perspective, which can be attested historically (pp. 184-185). Hoekema concedes that many believers need to surrender their wills in total commitment to the Lord like the carnal Corinthians (1 Cor. 3:1-3), but he has two major problems. First, he disagrees with Dieter’s definition of sin in the context of “uniform sustained victory over known sin.” Dieter points out McQuilkin’s inconsistent definition of sin, whereas he would define sin as “any falling short of the glorious moral perfection of God himself”, but at times defines sin as “deliberate violation of God’s known will.” The second disagreement is on McQuilkin’s distinction between two types of Christians—the “carnal/defeated” and the “spiritual/successful.” Hoekema points out the lack of biblical foundation for this argument and its inconsistency in life experience (p. 189).

View #5: Augustinian-Dispensational Sanctification (John Walvoord)

Lastly, the Augustinian-Dispensational perspective of sanctification raises the question of whether believers have dual natures (sinful nature and divine nature) or not. This is related to what is the best term to refer to the tension of continued sinfulness and desire for holiness after conversion. The key passage of contention is the understanding of the man described in Romans 7. Is he a believer or a non-believer? Is this a description of a man struggling against sin? Does the Christian then have indwelling sin which is not eradicated by the new birth?

Walvoord argues that sin nature is a desire and predisposition to sin, but a new nature after salvation has the predisposition and inclination to righteousness (p. 206). Thus, a believer has two natures. A believer is a new creation in Christ through the work of regeneration by the Spirit. The baptism of the Spirit is the placing of the believers into the one body, the church. This is distinct from the indwelling of the Spirit where the Spirit takes residence in the new convert. While the baptism and indwelling of the Spirit are true of all believers, Walvoord posits that not all believers experience the filling of the Spirit, which happens only to Christians who yield to God. By the Spirit’s guidance, a Christian progressively grows in sanctification, producing the fruit of the Spirit.

Walvoord maintains that the Augustinian-Dispensational view of sanctification is both the sovereign act of God and human participation. He also accepts a possible perfection in this life which he calls “relative” perfection manifested in godliness, but he distinguishes this from “ultimate” perfection in heaven.

In the critical responses to Walvoord, Hoekema clarifies that his 1962 article cited by Walvoord was a previous position that he no longer holds (p. 232). He argues that the view of the Christian as a new person does not stand or fall with the exegesis of Romans 7. The Pentecostal’s main disagreement with Walvoord is on the doctrine of eternal security, which Horton denies. McQuilkin finds himself in harmony with Walvoord except for the strong insistence of two coexisting natures in the believer.

Analysis of Each View

Personal Analysis of Wesleyan Sanctification

Dieter may have accurately represented Wesley’s position on sanctification but may have failed to reflect the biblical teaching on sanctification. Dieter argues in p. 30 that the basis for the Wesleyan sanctification view is not on any specific verses or propositions but on a holistic view of Scripture. Such assertion may sound noble, but any holistic view of Scripture (biblical theology approach) is always (and must be) grounded by exegesis of specific verses. While there are weaknesses in proof-texting certain doctrinal positions, not having any text of Scripture fails to necessarily be the better option.

The two key problems with the Wesleyan sanctification view are 1) the fusion of justification and sanctification and 2) the redefinition of “sin” and “perfect.” The problem is that their definition is not how the Bible defines sin and not how one typically understands what it means to be “perfect.”

Personal Analysis of Reformed Sanctification

The Reformed view, in my estimation, is the only view that seeks to begin with pure biblical data on sanctification. Dieter and Horton begin their position based on historical theology. Dieter presents Wesley’s view of sanctification. Horton begins with a historical view of Pentecostal sanctification. Both Keswick and Augustinian-Dispensationalist begin their argument by asking a systematic theology question. McQuilkin asks the question of the problem of unsaintly saints and finds the answer in the need for more faith. Walvoord begins his approach questioning whether a believer has two natures or not. His sanctification view then is in keeping with the two nature idea of the believer. Hoekema, on the other hand—while not void of systematic theology conclusions—describes biblical data and exegesis to support his view of sanctification.

Hoekema faithfully presents the paradox of sanctification being both definitive and progressive and being God’s work and man’s active participation. He demonstrates that it is the work of the Spirit, but also of the Father and the Son. In the responses section, it is of little wonder that the other writers agree with Hoekema’s presentation (because it is what the Bible says), and their only quarrel is what Hoekema did not say (e.g., Horton and Walvoord want more discussion on the Spirit).

Personal Analysis of Pentecostal Sanctification

Like all critical responses to Horton, I object to the Pentecostal view on the Spirit. I find Horton’s presentation to be deceitful. He begins with the history of his denomination and selecting the points of doctrine that would be consistent with orthodoxy, and when you are already in agreement with him, he ends with his unique and errant teaching on the Spirit baptism. In his responses to others, he doesn’t present his view clearly, but ambiguously comments that he wishes the writer would talk “more about the Holy Spirit.”

Personal Analysis of Keswick Sanctification

McQuilkin seems to downplay the question “How long can you be ‘carnal’?” which means either “How long before you lose your salvation?” or “How long before you realize that you were never really saved?” (p. 160). He argues that “it may be legitimate to by-pass the question, at least for the time being.” Yet Paul seems to be clear that persisting as what McQuilkin calls “unsaintly saints” is an indication not of a lack of sanctification, but a lack of justification (1 Cor. 6:10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:5). This is not as difficult to detect as McQuilkin imagines. While believers clearly sin (1 John 1:8), there is a persistent and blatant sinning that is inconsistent with Christianity and worthy of confrontation to repent or church discipline (1 Cor. 5; Matt. 18:15-18).

Personal Analysis of Dispensational Sanctification

Walvoord’s view is not too problematic. I find it to be somewhat consistent with Hoekema. The Augustinian-Dispensationalist perspective, however, emphasizes the distinction between indwelling and filling to the extreme that may imply that some believers who are indwelt by the Spirit never get filled with the Spirit (p. 215). Granted that filling is subsequent to indwelling, a true believer indwelt by the Spirit would naturally be filled with the Spirit. Though the level of consistency may vary, all true believers at various moments in their life yield to the Spirit’s guidance, and desires for consistency in this matter.

Conclusion

While many of these perspectives have different nuances that I find inconsistent with my understanding of Scripture, I applaud with the authors’ desire to teach sanctification and their zeal for the holiness of God. The irony is that it is easy to defend one’s theological view on sanctification in a very unsanctified way. It is also easy to talk about sanctification and have a more biblically accurate view of it, yet not being diligent in pursuing it. This reading on The Five Views of Sanctification is not only an academic and theological exercise but should also stir the readers’ hearts to strive for sanctification “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).

 

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