Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lovelace on the "indissoluble connection" of Justification and Sanctification

One of my former pastors -- a church planter influenced by Tim Keller -- told me I should read Dynamics of Spiritual Life by Richard Lovelace. Five years later I'm taking him up on his suggestion. Lovelace was one of Keller's professors, and one doesn't have to read far to recognize Lovelace's imprint on Pastor Keller's ministry.

At the outset Lovelace acknowledges the huge debt his book owes to Jonathan Edwards. In Dynamics he was attempting to write a "manual of spiritual theology" along the lines of Edwards' work defending and critiquing the First Great Awakening. Lovelace saw a spiritual awakening happening in the 1970's with the rise of the Jesus Movement and the resurgence of evangelical faith on college campuses. He may well have been right. Not only Keller, but present-day leaders like John Piper, Bill Hybels and Chuck Smith came out of the milieu that Lovelace chronicles in the opening pages of the book. In any case, his main concern was to identify the elements of individual and corporate vitality that mark periods of renewal, or revival, throughout biblical and church history.

One of the reasons my former pastor loved the book was because the gospel is always at the front and center of Lovelace's arguments. A chart on pg. 75 (of my older edition) describes the three stages of renewal as I. Preparation for the Gospel (we're gripped by an awareness of God's holiness and the depth of our sin) II. Depth Presentation of the Gospel III. Outworking of the Gospel in the Church's Life. The second of those stages he divides into four primary elements. They look something like this.

A. Justification: You are accepted in Christ

B. Sanctification: You are free from bondage to sin in Christ

C. The indwelling Spirit: You are not alone in Christ

D. Authority in spiritual conflict: You have authority in Christ

Regarding A and B there is an "indissoluble connection between our appropriation of justification and our experience of sanctification." Confusing or conflating the two inevitably leads to some form of works-righteousness. Examples of this are Augustine's teaching on "infused grace" and the "calculus-of-merit theology" of the medieval church. It was against this backdrop that Luther's rediscovery of justification sola fide came like a lightning bolt across the night sky. However, Lovelace reminds the reader that preaching and piety that emphasizes justification by faith alone without an equal commitment to progressive sanctification leads to the spiritual virus the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer diagnosed as "cheap grace." On the other hand, an emphasis on sanctification that isn't grounded in an unalloyed doctrine of justification results in legalism and/or a theology of merit. Lovelace is worth quoting here since yours truly and some regular readers of this blog grew up in a tradition that was prone to the latter error.

. . . the conscience cannot accept sanctification unless it is based on a foundation in justification. When this is attempted the resulting insecurity creates a luxuriant overgrowth of religious flesh as believers seek to build a holiness formidable enough to pacify their consciences and quiet their sense of alienation from God. Theoretically this should be a disorder limited to Catholics—medieval asceticism is the largest monument in history to the uneasy conscience which results when justification is misconstrued—but the large number of serious Protestants who are essentially insecure about their own justification makes it common in the rest of the church also.

Here are two more quotes on justification/sanctification.

Viewed from one perspective, the Protestant Reformation was an effort to remake every sector of the church according to biblical direction. In another sense, however, the spiritual heart of the Reformation was more simply an effort to rebuild the understanding of the Christian life, incorporating Luther's insight on justification.

A large part of institutional Protestantism assumes that all professing Christians (and perhaps all men) are justified, whether or not they show evidence of conversion and sanctification. This is simply the modern form of cheap grace.

And here Lovelace cuts to the chase.

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God's holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification, in the Augustinian manner, drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther's platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasting work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation. [emphasis mine]

I look forward to sharing more from this book!

Quotes from Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979) pp. 100-102, 104

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