A Review of Michael Allen’s “Sanctification”

No, this isn’t a critical assessment of Michael Allen’s faith journey, but it is a review of the most recent installment of the New Studies in Dogmatics series being produced by Zondervan. The series approaches the core elements of systematic theology from a Reformed perspective in the tradition of G. C. Berkouwer’s Studies in Dogmatics. Drawing on the catholic heritage of the church and retrieving some of its most profound insights, the authors in the series present the riches of theological thinking to a modern evangelical audience.

Before¬†20180612_085040delving into the details of Allen’s specific volume on sanctification it’s worth spending some time praising the format of this series. The design of both the cover and the contents is top notch. Seeing all of the current volumes stood next to each other is rather satisfying. The pages are laid out in an easily readable font and the author’s notes and references are placed in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. Time and time again I’ve been frustrated by volumes of theology that leave all the references to the end notes, but here the line of thought and the sources are readily available. The indices are exhaustive too with subject, scripture and author indices. All of this is provided in a handy paperback format which makes the series surprisingly affordable.

Allen begins the volume by outlining his approach. What Allen is keen to do is to place sanctification canonically. He doesn’t just want to analyse the usual proof texts associated with sanctification but wants to approach the concept of holiness as it is revealed across the whole Bible, if not explicitly then implicitly. As such Allen begins with the doctrine of God, moves through the doctrine of creation, then covenant, eventually reflecting on how our relationship to Jesus impacts the doctrine of sanctification.

As part of this section Allen includes two really excellent chapters on what it means to be ‘in Christ’ and how justification relates to sanctification. What this allows Allen to do is to place the doctrine of sanctification within a broader soteriological context. This is particularly important since Reformed approaches to soteriology are so often caricatured as almost exclusively interested forensic justification. What Allen does so well here is in pointing out how Reformed soteriology is multifaceted and well rounded. I think it paves the way for Michael Horton’s two volume contribution to the series on justification since Allen sets the scene so well and helps us to see the big picture.

The breadth of the study and the depth of the content of Allen’s volume will repay frequent visits. I heartily recommend this volume to anyone interested in systematic and constructive theology in the Reformed tradition. I think that as a result of Allen’s work we’ll be better equipped to understand the Christ focused nature of sanctification. Since, “Sanctification by faith really does involve God’s setting apart your habits, practices, actions, and self. Such transformation springs first and foremost from a renewed sense of reliance, no longer upon self but in the Savior, yet it flows over into vital activity of all sorts.” (286).

 

 

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Trinity Sunday

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It’s that time of year again; Trinity Sunday. Or at least it was, last week. The date is one of the most dreaded in the liturgical year since, at first glance, the Trinity seems so complex as to be impossible to communicate without heresy or total confusion. With that in mind, I thought I’d share some thoughts that might help shape our thinking when preaching about the Trinity.

The first thing to note is that the good news of Jesus Christ just is trinitarian. Some think that the doctrine of the Trinity; the idea that God is one being in three persons is a totally abstract concept disconnected from the biblical narrative of salvation. But the gospel is fundamentally trinitarian in shape. The theologian Fred Sanders tells us that we might summarize the entire story of the Bible by saying that it is the story of God the Father, who sends God the Son, and pours out God the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Trinity is inseparably linked to what God was doing in Christ. The story of salvation reveals the trinitarian character of God. In other words, God doesn’t simply save us he also reveals to us who he is, namely, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Which, we might add, is to be expected from a God who seeks relationship with his people. Salvation doesn’t consist in the forgiveness of sins only, but in relationship with the living God. John writes, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (17:3).

In this case, an understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity will be of great value for preachers who seek to preach the gospel of Jesus in its fullness. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us to speak accurately and truly of what Jesus did through his life, death and resurrection. If preaching is the proclamation and communication of the good news of Jesus Christ it will be trinitarian either explicitly or implicitly.

But what of those who say that the Trinity is a fourth century invention of the church fathers? I think they do the church fathers a disservice. The church fathers came to articulate the doctrine of the Trinity in reflection on the biblical data. They reflected on the story of salvation and the Father’s work in Christ through the Spirit. Such a doctrine could only develop through attention to divine revelation. This point is demonstrable by the fact that there appears to be a direct correlation between the rejection of biblical infallibility and the rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. With the rise of naturalistic approaches to historical criticism following the enlightenment there was a similar rise in the rejection of an understanding of God that was essentially shaped by that revelation.

In preaching the Trinity then, we must pay close attention to God’s revelation of himself in Scripture. We must see that the gospel is Trinitarian in shape. And we must acknowledge that the gospel consists not simply in the forgiveness of sins, though that is essential, it also consists in the knowledge of God. And so the Trinity, “Though it can be stated propositionally and in the form of information, it was not given primarily as information. Rather, this knowledge came along with the carrying out of God’s work of salvation.” (Sanders,¬†The Triune God, 239).