White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Review of A Hole in Our Holiness

The following is by Rev. Andrew Compton, associate pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA. Rev. Compton is one of the bloggers at The Reformed Reader


I recently read Kevin DeYoung’s latest book, The Hole in our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. I had two reasons for doing so. First, I like DeYoung’s writing. His is a popular writing style that embodies a winsome presentation of the Reformed tradition. Second, I have been reading and studying piety and the pursuit of godliness for the past year or so. In addition to various Puritan works and books by Jerry Bridges, DeYoung’s book was a logical addition to my growing shelf of books focusing on Christian piety.

In general, I really enjoyed this book. I share DeYoung’s belief that the gospel as described in the Reformed confessions not only supports training oneself for godliness (1 Tim 4:7) and growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Pet 3:18), it is the only gospel that can lead people to a true and noble pursuit of godliness. Apart from the careful distinction between justification and sanctification, a firm affirmation of the imputation of Christ righteousness, and a confident embracing of sola fide, any so-called pursuit of godliness will be only a pursuit of civil decency (at best) or a pursuit of salvation-by-works (at worst).

DeYoung seems on track in noticing that there is a younger generation of Christians who have been liberated from the shackles of legalism and isolationism when they encounter the Reformation’s recovery of the biblical gospel. They find freedom in the Reformation’s bold assertion that vocation and cultural engagement (e.g., the arts, music, sport, etc.) are things that bring great glory to God. And yet they wind up pursuing any and all cultural endeavors with little to no critical reflection about whether the “lawfulness” of their actions overrides their “helpfulness” (1 Cor 10:23). This new-found liberty slips from its moorings in Christian gratitude and becomes a perceived liberty to neglect worship, prayer, sexual purity, humility and the like.

Positives

In a book that could easily become an overly prescriptive list of do’s and don’ts, DeYoung is modest and careful with what the pursuit of godliness will look like. He reminds us that God is a loving father to his children, delighting in even our most crude and remedial steps of godliness. He draws a nice parallel between the love a father has for the homemade birthday card his daughter makes, and the love our heavenly father has for our far-from-perfect good works (pg. 70). He notes that there are numerous “cheap imitations” of godliness (e.g., rule keeping and generational imitation; pgs. 33-38) which do not begin to plumb the beauty and delights of true godliness.

DeYoung does an exceptional job of expounding the difference between our union with Christ and our communion with him. He shows that our union with him, whereby we receive all the blessings of salvation, is infallible and unbreakable (pgs. 73-74). Our communion or fellowship with him, however, can ebb and flow, sometimes due to misplaced priorities, other times due to outright sinful behavior which is not befitting of God’s children and brings about his fatherly frown (cf. Heb 12:7-11). This distinction provides the categories for Christians to cultivate a closeness with God without seeing their works as gaining or sustaining their right standing before him. His “four practices for oneness with Christ” (pgs. 128-133) avoids the individualism that the spiritual disciplines usually breed and focus on several very corporate activities: prayer, reading/hearing the word, the fellowship of believers, and the Lord’s Supper.

Finally, DeYoung drives a stake in the heart of holiness and perfectionist movements, reminding believers that their growth in the grace of Christ happens over the long haul. He explains, “when it comes to sanctification, it’s more important where you’re going than where you are. Direction matters more than position…. So cheer up: if you aren’t as holy as you want to be now, God may still be pleased with you because you are heading in the right direction” (pg. 138).

Once the book got rolling, it steamed along delightfully. Chapters 5-10 were wonderful. They were pastoral, sensitive and encouraging, even as they exhorted Christians to strive against the world, the flesh, and the Devil in their pursuit of godliness. Their concrete suggestions for the exercise of godliness were reasoned and biblical. And what was most refreshing was the reminder that God intends the pursuit of godliness to be a joyful goal of our Christian life, not
a chore for us to slog through grudgingly. God has not only saved us from something, he has saved us to something and he is in the business of conforming us to the likeness of our glorious savior Jesus Christ even now!

Negatives

Though as a whole I recommend this book, I am not wholly pleased with how DeYoung navigated these shoals. The ship did not run aground, but it did scrape bottom on a couple of occasions.

The first four chapters did not strike me as being as careful and nuanced as they ought to have been for a topic as easily misunderstood as this. Though my copy does have marginal notes reading “yes,” “n.b.,” and “nice!” in these chapters, I found myself writing “hmmm,” “yes & no,” and “needs nuance” more often than I would have liked.

While I do not believe that DeYoung is a biblicist (one who uses explicit language of scripture even though such language can be misunderstood apart from careful distinctions ) the way he articulates several points in chapters 1-4 sound biblicistic. In chapter 2, for example, DeYoung emphasizes that good works are “necessary” for salvation. He does not, however, parse out the different kinds of “necessity” that exist and the different ways in which we can speak of good works as being “necessary” for salvation. (E.g., our good works are a necessary fruit of our salvation, but not necessary as the ground for our salvation.) While he is careful to note that the “necessity” of personal holiness should not undermine our confidence in our justification (pg. 28), he still plays a bit fast and loose with expressions that have a long history of misunderstanding.

A few other topics have a biblicistic ring to them. When DeYoung says that “holiness is a possibility for God’s people” (pg. 65), he relies on the bare biblical assertion that Zechariah, Elizabeth and Job could be called this even though we know they weren’t sinless. And yet scholars in the past have written carefully of these three figures, noting in what sense they can be called “holy.” (Francis Turretin notes four kinds of “perfection” that are predicated of Zechariah, Elizabeth and Job. See his Institutes of Elenctic Theology 17.II.IV.)

Likewise, chapter 4, “The Impetus for the Imperatives” does not, in my opinion, tread carefully enough when using expressions like “there is grace in getting law” (pg. 53). Again, older theologians often used grace both to mean “unmerited favor” and “demerited favor,” but they were careful in doing so not to confuse the “grace” that God shows when giving good things to unfallen man (better described as benevolence) and the grace that God shows to fallen man when he gives them the opposite of what they have merited. And though DeYoung is right that as Christians, we begin to view God’s law as a precious gift to his children, calling the law “gracious” begins to muddy the categorical waters.

Conclusion

In spite of these criticisms, after reading The Hole in our Holiness, I was quite pleased with the book. I believe that DeYoung has written a fine book on the topic of the Christian pursuit of Godliness, though I don’t think that he has written the final word. To be fair, I’m pretty sure he didn’t intend to. And though I would recommend it to people interested in studying the topic, I’d be quicker to recommend Jerry Bridges’ books Growing Your Faith and Respectable Sins for a popular and gospel-centered approach to godliness and piety.

Lest this review sound too tepid, let me conclude by expressing my gratitude to Kevin DeYoung for his efforts on behalf of an oft neglected topic. He’s absolutely right; in many circles, holiness is the new camping: “It’s fine for other people. You sort of respect those who make their lives harder than they have to be. But it’s not really your thing” (pg. 10). What is sad is that a good many Christians enjoy the benefits of their union with Christ, all the while bearing the misery and discomfort of a sickly communion with him. They neglect to strive against besetting sin. They are inconsistent in availing themselves of the means of the grace. They wallow in their desires or frustrations, all the while missing out on the glorious gift of comfort and contentment that God is holding out to them in Christ.

In The Hole in our Holiness, DeYoung reminds us that justification and sanctifications are not two extremes in need of balance, but two equally wonderful truths – two equally exciting parts of our salvation. He is in good company. The Apostle Paul certainly seemed to think this too: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that on one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:8-10).

WHI-1127 | Exploring Covenant Theology

What is covenant theology and why is it crucial for our overall understanding of Scripture? How does covenant theology relate to our understanding of law and gospel? What is the difference between the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants? On this edition of White Horse Inn, Michael Horton will discuss these important issues with Mike Brown and Zach Keele, authors of a new book, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored.

RELATED ARTICLES

MUSIC SELECTION

Zac Hicks

PROGRAM AUDIO


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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Sacred Bond
Brown & Keele
Covenant & Salvation
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

Art and the Practical Nation

“What I’m arguing in this book is that liberals have to wake up.  Art is spiritual—it uses physical materials, but it’s a spiritual quest, and the artistic mission has a spiritual goal.  But nothing in the ideology or language of current academe—from Berkeley to Harvard—permits anyone to say that.

Watch InstaVision’s interview with literary critic and provocateur non-pareil Camille Paglia on her new book Glittering Images, written for homeschooling moms who want to introduce their children to art, and anyone who wants to understand why George Lucas’s Revenge of the Sith is the most powerful and significant work of art in any genre (including literature) in the last thirty years.

WHI-1126 | The Loss of Authority

One of the banners that was popular at the time of the American Revolution declared, “We Serve No Sovereigns Here!” But what are the effects of this democratic spirit on American Christianity? How has the erosion of authority in the wider culture affected our view of God, or the authority of Scripture? How has it changed the way we view our pastors and elders? On this program the hosts will discuss these issues as they conclude their series on “Recovering the Lost Tools of Discipleship.”

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The Kindergarchy
Joseph Epstein
Amateurs All?
D. G. Hart
Our Father in Heaven
Michael Horton

MUSIC SELECTION

Dave Hlebo

PROGRAM AUDIO


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RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Made in America
Michael Horton

RECOMMENDED AUDIO

WHI on RefNet.fm!

Beginning today at 11:30 AM White Horse Inn will be airing on the internet radio station Reformation Network (RefNet) from Ligonier Ministries. RefNet is committed to broadcasting God-honoring programs concerning the historic Christian faith 24-hours a day. It is a great honor to be on their lineup Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 AM (Eastern) and we hope that you listen in!

They have an iOS app as well as a mobile-friendly site for streaming on the go!

Half Devil | Half Child

Mike Horton was interviewed last year for a documentary on Bible translations to Muslims and the Insider Movements. We referenced the film Half Devil | Half Child back in February (More on Bible Translations to Muslims). The film is now being distributed on line (www.halfdevilhalfchild.com/). You can preview, rent, or download the film below.

Modern Reformation featured an article by the film’s Director, Bill Nikides, in our July/August issue on Insider Movements and you can read that here: Insider Movements and the Busted Church.

Once More With Feeling

It’s the day after Reformation Day. All the Luther and Calvin costumes are at the dry cleaners; the left-over party treats have been taken to the office; the post-Protestant hangover has set in. It’s as good a time as any to take a second look at what really divides us from our Roman Catholic friends, family, and neighbors. After all, Pope Benedict seems to have a soft spot for the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther–maybe we’re not so far apart after all?

At least one ELCA Lutheran thinks so and asked plaintively at the First Things blog why he couldn’t receive communion at the local parish church. In response, Anthony Sacramone detailed a few of the outstanding issues that still divide Lutherans (and the Reformed) from Rome. Here’s a preview:

Let’s cut to the chase: would the Roman Catholic Church today accept as doctrinally true the Lutheran teaching of the alien righteousness of Christ, of the great exchange of His righteousness for our sin, of our sanctification as being in Him, even though we are called to good works — but for the sake of our neighbor and not in aid of increasing our justification? If not, again, who are these Lutherans Reverend Saltzman is talking about whose differences with Rome are now of little significance?

Do these Lutherans now accept the existence of a Treasury of Merits? Or has Rome admitted that this was a bankrupt medieval invention and is now, in the interest of ecumenicity, disposable? Have indulgences, the flashpoint of the Reformation, also become irrelevant?

I ask this honestly: what is the true nonnegotiable here?

Let’s discuss the papal office for a moment: Was Pope Urban II Infallible, “evangelically understood,” when he declared, in regard to the First Crusade:

“If anyone who sets out should lose his life either on the way, by land or by sea, or in battle against the infidels, his sins shall be pardoned from that moment. This I grant by right of the gift of God’s power to me.”

Did the bishop of Rome have this authority? Urban II is addressing men who are off, he hopes, to kill the enemies of the Faith and to retrieve stolen property. Is this the true nature of the power of the keys as described in the Gospel of Matthew? Does this notion of dying in a holy war and going straight to Paradise sound familiar?

Here’s another question: Does the pope have this same authority today—to proactively forgive the temporal punishment for sins that would otherwise send someone to Purgatory (or to a purgative state), thus promising them a straight ticket to heaven in the event they died trying to kill someone else? I’m not interested in whether or not it is likely to be exercised in this day and age, nor whether the Muslims in the 12th century invited this response for overrunning the “Holy Land.” I’m only interested in whether Benedict XVI, by virtue of his office, has this authority, given him from Christ.

Whether the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals is inextricably tied to how justification is construed. The same can be said for the nature of the Eucharist, and the priesthood.

What is the wedding garment without which no one enters the wedding feast of the King? Is it something of our own, dry-cleaned, purified, and bleached? Or is it the gift of Someone else? Is it something we do to ourselves, by aid of grace? Something we endure, in the sense of suffer? Or is it something we receive, like the Eucharist, from Another?

For some, the alien, imputed righteousness of Christ is a legal fiction, and Luther’s image of the dunghill covered with snow is usually cited as evidence. And yet these same Christians have no problem with the transfer of the supererogatory merits of the saints to the accounts of the properly disposed.

The merits of Christ’s sacrifice transferred to the sinner, as a sinner, is a fiction, but the merits of Josemaria Escriva transferred by dint of papal proclamation — that’s real.

Really?

The issue remains the same today as on October 31, 1517.

The entire thing is worth reading.

 

Horton! Get Your Horton Here!

Zondervan is celebrating Reformation Week with an e-book sale (which is an arguably better way to do it than the let’s-get-bombed-on-six-kinds-of-sugars-and-additives tradition).  We think it’s a pretty sweet deal (pun totally intended) – $20 for The Christian Faith!

 

Go to www.amazon.com (or any other major e-book retailer) and stock up – just make sure you do it before November 5th.  

 

Happy Reformation Day!

WHI-1125 | What Does it Mean to be Protestant?

On this edition, the hosts walk through the central issues that they believe Protestants need to recover in our time. These issues include the solas of the Reformation, seeing law and gospel as central motifs in Scripture, being both missional and vocational in our outreach, recovering a Word and Sacrament ministry, passing on the faith to each successive generation through catechesis, and finally, holding fast to the truths of the Christian faith as summarized by our church’s confessions.

RELATED ARTICLES

MUSIC SELECTION

Zac Hicks

PROGRAM AUDIO


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Promises, Promises

Political candidates these days summon our confidence by promises they make about the future. We wonder whether we can believe them. Or we jump on one bandwagon or another as if it could actually fulfill our deepest hopes and dreams—and drive away our deepest fears.

But when Jesus says, “Fear not, little flock, I have overcome the world,” he is actually announcing an accomplishment of his agenda. The saints in the old covenant had to wait for the promises to be realized, but we stand on this side of victory. His representative life of obedience fulfilled the law; his death delivered us from the curse; his resurrection brought justification and inaugurated the new creation.

Down to the last word, John gives all glory to “him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom…” (Rev 1:6). He records the words of Jesus Christ: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’” (Rev 1:8). “When I saw him,” John reports, “I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (vv 17-18).

With this confidence as our ultimate anchor, we can be wildly optimistic about Christ’s future for us without being seduced by the false promises, ideologies, and idols of our age—and the illusion that somehow our cultural and political labors are building or restoring Christ’s kingdom. Rearranging the order of our loves, this good news frees us to exercise responsible vocations—including citizenship—without idealism or, it’s flip-side, cynicism. We can cast our votes while casting our fears on our risen and returning King. We can even promote our candidates (outside the church!), with restored sanity. United to Christ, we should be the most responsible and the least fearful people at the polls on November 6, 2012, because our King already achieved his landslide victory in Jerusalem during Passover, AD 33.

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