Foundations: No.68 Spring 2015

Book Review

Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice
Kelly M. Kapic (ed.), IVP Academic, 2014, 275pp, £19.99

This volume is a collection of essays arising out of the 2011 Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference which addressed the doctrine of sanctification. With much attention currently given to the doctrine of justification, the editor (Kelly M. Kapic) felt rightly that an examination of the doctrine of sanctification was required that was both scholarly and ecclesial. This collection of essays seeks to deliver just that, with a wide range of offerings from internationally renowned theologians.

Following an opening homily on Colossians 3:5-17 by Derek Tidball the volume is divided into three parts. The first part explores the relationship of sanctification to faith, grace, and union with Christ. The second part explores human agency and sanctification’s relationship to ethics. The third and final part of the book offers some more pastoral reflections on the doctrine.

Richard Lints opens part one by examining the ways in which both justification and sanctification are dependent on divine grace through faith. Sanctification, argues Lints, is not primarily about moral improvement. The believer is simul sanctus et peccator. The law for the believer has a sapiental not juridicial function. Lints’ essay concludes that in sanctification “it is not a believer’s moral progress in view, but rather the restoration of their worship organs… Obedience is motivated not by reward but by delight” (55). Much of this is a helpful corrective to legalistic tendencies in the church, but I am not persuaded Lints takes significant account of passages which do place law and sanctification in a more juridicial perspective (e.g. Rom 8:13; 14:10-12; 1 Cor 3:6-15; 2 Cor 5:10; Eph 6:8).

Henri Blocher continues in a similar vein exploring the relationship between sanctification as decisive moment and process. He argues that sanctification, like justification, must be sola fide since it happens “in Christ” by virtue of our Spirit-enacted union. However, sanctification differs from justification in that there is an element of work and progress present. Such work is not meritorious but is related to our adoption and transformation, and is therefore a gracious gift of God for our good.

In the third essay of part one Brannon Ellis considers union with Christ, arguing that union is not simply one part of the ordo salutis but rather it spans the application of redemption from beginning to end. Ellis’ thesis is that “being in Christ and belonging to his church are materially equivalent, as complementary ways of describing the whole of our participation in the very same covenantal reality” (81). His essay contains a significant discussion of baptism as covenantal union. His thesis and the discussion which follows raises a number of questions concerning soteriology, ecclesiology, and the sacraments, and his essay is in danger, in the opinion of this reviewer, of collapsing these distinct categories into one another.

In the final essay of the opening section Bruce McCormack compares the contributions of Wesley and Barth to the discussion of sanctification. These apparently odd bedfellows share the view that Christian “perfection” is possible now. Wesley views “entire sanctification” in terms of that which Christ works in us, whereas for Barth perfection concerns that which Christ does for us, and is therefore ours by virtue of our union with him. The difference is one of location – for Wesley it is Christ in us; for Barth it is us in Christ.

Part two begins with Michael Horton’s essay on human agency in sanctification. For this reviewer Horton’s essay was the highlight of the book. His opening explanation of Aquinas’ analogical predication as it pertains to human and divine freedom is almost worth the price of the book alone. Horton moves to explore the way in which Trinitarian formulations of divine agency are not only helpful but necessary. Horton’s analogical and Trinitarian coordinates provide a much-needed way through the contemporary maze of muddled thinking.

Oliver O’Donovan offers practical reflection on Barth’s threefold cord of justification, sanctification and vocation and its alignment with the virtues of faith, love, and hope (in that order). In particular O’Donovan develops the theme of love as the faithful and expectant life of the believer.

In the final essay of part two James Eglington outlines Bavinck’s theology of sanctification as ethics. For Bavinck sanctification involved both the objective declaration of holiness and the subjective process of experiencing increasing holiness – “one known and declared by God, the other increment-ally discovered by the Christian” (181). Further, Bavinck argues for the priority of “passive sanctification” as the basis for “active sanctification”.

Part three opens with reflections on gospel holiness by Ivor Davidson. The author is concerned that we approach the subject from the right end – i.e. starting with God’s nature and action, rather than the believer’s duty. Holiness is established for believers externally, and realised in them experientially – “they have their holiness entirely in him, as planned, secured and realized by him” (204). The imitatio Christi is not crudely exemplary, but is correspondence to the reality into which we have already been brought. We will only ever make progress when we start with God who is at work in us.

Kelly Kapic offers a pastorally helpful meditation on sanctification and suffering, drawn from his own (and his wife’s) experience of suffering. He argues that living by faith is something from which we never graduate. The cross, the resurrection, and the feast are three anchor points which aid and enable the Christian to persevere in suffering.

In the penultimate essay Julie Canlis examines the way in which union with Christ and sonship inform our view of sanctification. Union is about receiving the person, not simply his benefits. Canlis, citing Calvin, says “in order to prevent the unity of the Son with the Father from being fruitless and unavailing, the power of that unity must also be diffused through the whole body of believers” (249). Thus union with Christ must include unity with one another.

The final essay explores Chrysostom’s desire to move people toward greater holiness through his preaching. Peter Moore ably traces the interplay between Chrysostom’s desire to teach (docere), to delight (delectare), and to move (mouere). For Chrysostom his locution always carried an intended perlocution for his hearers.

Overall this is a useful and edifying collection of essays on a comparatively neglected doctrine. For this reader there were a couple of neglected areas which could have made the volume even better. First, there was little reflection on the relationship between sanctification and mission. Admittedly this reviewer is biased as this is his area of research. Nevertheless, some exploration of the ways in which sanctification serves those outside the covenant people would have enriched the volume. Second, there was a distinct lack of engagement at the level of biblical studies. Admittedly these papers arose out of the Edinburgh Dogmatics Conference, but two or three invited responses from the field of biblical studies would have offered another perspective on the discussion. A final observation would be that some of the overlap and difference brings a sense of confusion rather than coherence. The book, at times, feels like a slightly random collection of papers rather than a considered whole. That said, this book remains a stimulating and instructive introduction to a crucial yet neglected area of theological discussion.

Martin Salter

Associate Pastor at Grace Community Church, Bedford