Adolf Schlatter on the relationship between justification and sanctification

the-theology-of-the-apostles‘The difference, even contrast, between the one-time, initial act of God that establishes our relationship with him and the changing, oscillating events in our history may move us deeply, so that we experience the encounter of the absolute, timeless, divine activity with our time-bound history as a profound mystery. In the case of Paul, on the other hand, it is not clear that this issue was significant for him. He never phrases his absolute pronouncements regarding our inclusion in the divine grace in abstract terms that circumvent the practicalities of what we experience and do. Likewise, he does not separate the evaluation of these processes from those foundational certainties. He rather links the revelation of divine grace with the wealth of all its consequences. He connects our individual experiences with the full depth of their source’. – Adolf Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles: The Development of New Testament Theology (trans. Andreas J. Köstenberger; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998, 249

[BTW: this is my 1000th post!]

Karl Barth on the relationship between justification and sanctification

‘When, however, we speak of justification and sanctification, we have to do with two different aspects of the one event of salvation. The distinction between them has its basis in the fact that we have in this event two genuinely different moments. That Jesus Christ is true God and true man in one person does not mean that His true deity and His true humanity are one and the same, or that the one is interchangeable with the other. Similarly, the reality of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who humbled Himself to be a man and the Son of Man who was exalted to fellowship with God is one, but the humiliation and exaltation are not identical. From the christological ἀσυγχύτως and ἀτρέπτως of Chalcedon we can deduce at once that the same is true of justification and sanctification. As the two moments in the one act of reconciliation accomplished in Jesus Christ they are not identical, nor are the concepts interchangeable. We are led to the same conclusion when we consider the content of the terms. In our estimation of their particular significance we must not confuse or confound them. Justification is not sanctification and does not merge into it. Sanctification is not justification and does not merge into it. Thus, although the two belong indissolubly together, the one cannot be explained by the other. It is one thing that God turns in free grace to sinful man, and quite another that in the same free grace He converts man to Himself. It is one thing that God as the Judge establishes that He is in the right against this man, thus creating a new right for this man before Him, and quite another that by His mighty direction He claims this man and makes him willing and ready for His service. Even within the true human response to this one divine act the faith in which the sinful man may grasp the righteousness promised him in Jesus Christ is one thing, and quite another his obedience, or love, as his correspondence, to the holiness imparted to him in Jesus Christ. We shall speak later of the indestructible connexion between these. But it is a connexion, not identity. The one cannot take the place of the other. The one cannot, therefore, be interpreted by the other’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2004), 503.

Denney on sanctification

Among the first of ‘Christian’ books that I ever read (many moons ago now) was Denney’s The Death of Christ. I recall that one of the most significant impacts of that book on me concerned not only the awesome subject matter, but Denney’s theological method. [The same thing impressed me in Calvin and in Barth]. Here was a theologian doing rigorous exegesis. [What I didn’t know at the time was that Denney was principally a NT scholar].  Anyway, I revisited that book recently and was no less impressed by it. Here’s Denney’s comments on Hebrews 13:12:

There has been much discussion as to what sanctification in such passages means, and especially as to whether the word is to be taken in a religious or an ethical sense. Probably the distinction would not have been clear to the writer; but one thing is certain, it is not to be taken in the sense of Protestant theology. The people were sanctified, not when they were raised to moral perfection – a conception utterly strange to the New Testament as to the Old – but when, through the annulling of their sin by sacrifice, they had been constituted into a people of God, and in the person of their representative had access to His presence. The word ἁγιάζειν in short, in the Epistle to the Hebrews, corresponds as nearly as possible to the Pauline δικαιοῦν; the sanctification of the one writer is the justification of the other; and the προσαγωγή or access to God, which St. Paul emphasizes as the primary blessing of justification (Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18, 3:12), appears everywhere in Hebrews as the primary religious act of drawing near, to God through the great High Priest (4:16, 7:19-25 and 10:22). It seems fair then to argue that the immediate effect of Christ’s death upon men is religious rather than ethical; in technical language, it alters their relation to God, or is conceived as doing so, rather than their character. Their character, too, alters eventually, but it is on the basis of that initial and primary religious change; the religious change is not a result of the moral one, nor an unreal abstraction from it.

– James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), 220-1.

Forsyth on sanctification

‘Sanctification could not be so directly and deliberately worked at without the blight of self-consciousness. Seek first for the kingdom and sanctification will be added; care for Christ and He will take care of your soul; sail by the Cross and you will sail into holiness. Religion became much more miraculous than evolutionary; but it was a miracle worked on the will, and not on the nature or substance of the man. And within the soul’s agonised extremity there was revealed the new authority in the moral form and nature of an absolute and universal Redeemer. Christ becomes the new conscience and the new King. The Cross and not the Church becomes the new seat of His authority – the Cross as Christ crucified afresh in the evangelical experience of the desperate soul, and rising anew in its new trust and new life.’ – Peter T. Forsyth, ‘The Cross as the Final Seat of Authority’, Contemporary Review 76 (1899), 597-8.

The Theology of the Christian Life in J. I. Packer’s Thought: A Review

Don J. Payne, The Theology of the Christian Life in J. I. Packer’s Thought: Theological Anthropology, Theological Method, and the Doctrine of Sanctification (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2007). 321 pages. ISBN: 9781842273975. Review copy courtesy of Paternoster/Authentic Books.

I am one among millions who in their early Christian pilgrimage read and benefited from reading J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. It was here that I first discovered the rich truth of what the Bible means when it talks about God as our ‘Father’. Some years later, I read and profited from his books Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God, Concise Theology, and his Keep in Step with the Spirit, among others. But it was his A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life which had the most lasting impact on me, feeding my love for the Puritans and my conviction that Protestantism desperately needs to recover the model of spirituality that they encouraged. Throughout all his writing, Packer is concerned that ‘theology’ and ‘godliness’ walk together and, as Thomas Noble writes in the forward, that ‘Truly Christian theology can never be an abstract intellectual pursuit. It is never enough to know about God. True Christian theology is Knowing God’ (p. xiii–xiv).

There is little debate that British-born Anglican theologian, James Innell Packer (b. 1926) is one of the most influential evangelical theologians of the late 20th century, defining in not a few ways the shape that some branches of evangelicalism has taken. Therefore, it is about time that his theology was given the serious and critical evaluation that it deserves. In his revised PhD thesis, Don J. Payne seeks to do precisely that.

Payne begins by confessing that a comprehensive analysis of Packer’s thought is beyond the scope of one book. This study, he maintains, examines aspects of Packer’s thought that have made what he considers a ‘significant contribution to evangelical piety’ (p. 1). Payne believes that such an examination involves a description and analysis of Packer’s theology of sanctification, and therefore Payne proceeds to examine the logic and ethos of Packer’s theology of sanctification by examining the theological anthropology and theological method that support it. This relationship between sanctification, anthropology, and methodology is then viewed against the backdrop of twentieth-century evangelicalism, primarily in the UK and the USA in order to gain understanding into Packer’s influence. He notes:

Though he is British in origin and education, Packer’s greatest influence has been in the context of North American evangelicalism. His particular brand of Reformed theology has found common ground with theological values that have been significant in shaping the ethos of twentieth-century evangelicalism in the United States. Likewise, his writings, both theological and popular, have had and continue to exhibit intense concern with Christian piety, especially as it is sustained by the doctrine of sanctification. (p. 2)

Payne proceeds to argue that Packer’s understanding of sanctification is sustained by a predominantly individualistic and rationalistic theological anthropology and methodology. He notes that significant qualifying factors are found in his anthropology and piety, reflecting an attempt on Packer’s part to ameliorate the risks of individualistic and rationalistic extremes. Thus, the inherent rationalism and individualism tend to be obscured from view. However, he suggests, the influence of these tendencies can be seen in the practical expectations and disciplines Packer enjoins for Christians.

The opening chapter establishes a general backdrop, parameters, and rationale for the theological analysis Payne wishes to follow. Chapter two offers definitions and genealogies of the British evangelicalism from which Packer emerged and the American evangelicalism in which he has exercised most influence, pointing up salient factors that help account for that influence. Chapter three traces Packer’s personal theological development in order to relate his views to the context of his overall life and theology. Chapters four to eight consider piety, theological anthropology (with specific attention to the imago Dei and the Incarnation), and theological method respectively. ‘This organisational schema’, he suggests, ‘intentionally moves from the phenomena of piety to the theology and then to methodology so as to best illuminate causal and systemic relationships’. In the final chapter, Payne summarises the trialogue between Packer’s piety, anthropology and method in order to identify patterns and implications of his theology, before suggesting some directions for further research.

Payne rightly identifies that the Christian life, for Packer, can adequately (though not exclusively) be denoted by the word ‘piety’, a term that Packer uses interchangeably with ‘spirituality’, ‘holiness’, and ‘godliness’, and apart from the reality of which ‘there is no true communion with God’ (p. 11). Payne proceeds to highlight Packer’s tendency to see the objective aspects of salvation in legal categories and to subordinate the subjective aspects to a distinct, separate and dependent relationship. He writes:

Though [Packer] seeks to anchor piety within a Trinitarian framework, insisting on the unique and essential role of each Person in the Godhead for the realisation of evangelical spirituality, the objective and subjective dimensions of piety find their integration elsewhere, that is, within a covenantal framework that is sustained by the doctrine of predestination. Covenantal predestination constitutes the framework for understanding the unique role of each Person of the Trinity in securing salvation and effecting holiness for the elect. (p. 79)

Payne identifies in Packer’s thinking that piety or holiness necessarily depend upon and involve an increasing precision in the quality of one’s ethical perception and obedience. This level of precision in holiness, he suggests, depends also upon precise transmission of God’s law to the human conscience. Scripture fulfils this role, he argues, as it communicates God’s revelation through precise, inerrant propositions. Since holiness involves the restoration of the imago Dei in conformity to the character of Jesus Christ, the rational faculties necessary for comprehending and responding to the message of Scripture are therefore critical if the image is to be restored. Packer states, ‘God is rational and unchanging, and all men in every generation, being made in God’s image, are capable of being addressed by him.’ Holiness, for Packer, therefore, depends upon the notion of an inerrant Scripture communicating the Law of God with precision to human rational faculties. ‘Precise knowledge of God’s will and obedience to God’s will’, Payne notes, ‘is possible, and only possible, through this precise, rational formula’ (p. 92). Payne concludes:

J.I. Packer’s theology of the Christian life follows a distinct anthropological and soteriological trajectory. The Christian life is a life of godliness or holiness as defined by God’s law. This genuine, biblical piety is a life of heartfelt obedience to God’s law which in turn depends upon inerrant, propositional communication of God’s will through Scripture and also on the human faculty of reason to comprehend that self-revelation. Holiness, true piety, is humanity restored to God’s original intentions as expressed in the imago Dei. However, this restoration is obstructed by the pervasive and tragic effects of original and indwelling sin, even in the life of the Christian. God provides and effects forgiveness and restored legal standing for the elect through Jesus Christ’s penal, substitutionary atonement for sin in his death on the cross. This formal justification before God then leads to sanctification, the existential transformation of the believer’s character into the image of Jesus Christ, who in his own obedience provided the model of godliness for which God intended humanity. Sanctification is enabled by God but demands ongoing, strenuous struggle in faith that God is working in and through the Christian’s efforts to bring about deep, genuine, and lasting transformation (pp. 128–9).

While some readers may desire a more critical engagement with Packer’s thought than this volume provides, those with a general interest in twentieth century conservative evangelicalism and its theological methodology would be well served by reading Payne’s work. Although it has one of the most unbecoming and out-of-focus photographs I’ve seen on the front cover of any book, this sympathetic study concludes with a most becoming and in-focus 18 page bibliography (!) of Packer’s work, a rich testimony in itself of the gift that Packer has been to the Church. This book is, therefore, both a helpful compendium to Alister E. McGrath’s book, J.I. Packer: A Biography, and an invitation for a more critical (in both senses of the word) reading of Packer’s enormous contribution.

Books on Sanctification

Monergism Books have listed their ‘Top Ten Books on Piety, Sanctification, Spiritual Growth’. Here’s their list:

10. The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ, by Walter Marshall

09. The Bruised Reed, by Richard Sibbes

08. The Mortification of Sin, by John Owen

07. Crook in the Lot, by Thomas Boston

06. The Fear of God, by John Bunyan

05. Words to Winners of Souls, Horatius Bonar

04. The Doctrine of Sanctification, by A.W. Pink

03. Holiness, by J.C. Ryle

02. The Christian in Complete Armour, by William Gurnall

01. The Life of God in the Soul of Man, by Henry Scougal

Since I am working on sanctification (both personally and for my thesis) I was both interested and a little disappointed in this list. There are, of course, some excellent works on this list, and I remain convinced that the puritans offer us some of (if not) the most rich and practical models and theological resources for the Christian life, but some obvious omissions (they limited their list to ten so omissions are inevitable) come to mind – in no particular order:

Christian Perfection, by P T Forsyth (republished in God the Holy Father; the best treatment I am aware of on sanctification)

Possessed by God, by David Peterson

Hebrews and Perfection, by David Peterson

Faith and Sanctification, by G C Berkouwer

Holiness Past and Present, edited by Stephen Barton

Holiness, by John Webster

The Assurance of Faith, by Randall Zachman

Hearing God’s Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality, by Peter Adam

Letters and Papers from Prison, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On Purifying the Heart, by Thomas Goodwin

Commentary on Psalms, by John Calvin

Graded Holiness: A Key to the Priestly Conception of the World, by Philip Jenson

Lectures on Philosophical Theology, by Immanuel Kant

The Grace of Law, by Ernest Kevan

The Struggle of Prayer, by Donald Bloesch

I could go on and I know that I’ve missed a truck-load, but I’m keen to find out what essays you have found helpful in this area, both personally and academically. Suggestions … ?

Barth on human existence

‘He who in revelation calls us from our enmity towards him unto himself, from death to life, by so doing, also gives himself to be known as him who previously called us out of nothing into existence – into existence as pardoned sinners, yet into existence as pardoned sinners. We cannot hear the Word of justification and sanctification, without it reminding us that it is just through this Word, in no other way and from no other cause, that we even exist, we who are justified and sanctified through this Word. This Word is the ground of our existence beyond our existence, it is just in virtue of its superlative existence, whether we hear it or not, whether we are obedient to it or disobedient, that our existence is a reality. This Word reached us, or ever we came or failed to come, by our coming or failure to come. Our coming or not coming is itself only possible, because this Word is real’. – Karl Barth, CD I/1, 508.