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 delving 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).