The Gauntlet Tossed to “The Grace Movement”
Posted on March 17, 2012
It is perhaps surprising that an essay published by group with such a fully deserved reputation for vilifying other Christians as the Trinity Foundation should be so theologically on target, not to mention uncharacteristically judicious and charitable as Timothy F. Kauffman’s “Sanctification, Half Full: The Myopic Hermeneutic of the ‘Grace Movement.'” Can a leopard change his spots and an Ethiopian his skin? In this case, it appears so.
Kauffman puts his finger on the heart of the issue: whether a gracious soteriology eliminates the need for an obligatory (intentional) obedience. The Lutherans (not Luther!) have long said that sanctification is “getting used to justification” and that if the former becomes more, the latter becomes less. I’ve never considered Kauffman’s conceptual handle that in “The Grace Movement” (GM) “justification completes our sanctification” and the function of the Word and Holy Spirit assigned by the WCF to sanctification get short shrift (in favor of the forensic righteousness of justification) in the GM. That description sounds about right.
What was particularly galling was his evidence that proponents of the GM are so careless (sometimes egregiously so, as with Luther’s Galatians commentary) with historical sources. At this point, their shoddy scholarship isn’t just embarrassing; it’s positively harmful. Timothy Keller’s comments about avoiding Biblical texts that don’t conform to his preconceived idea of redemptive-historical preaching stunned me — and not in a good way.
Kauffman’s metaphor of myopia is equally accurate. I revel with the GM in their desire to accent God’s lavish grace in Jesus Christ’s redemptive work, but I wonder why they always seem to stop at God’s grace in purging the (judicial) penalty of sin and never move on to delight in his grace to (progressively) eliminate the (existential) corruption of sin. That, too, is the glory of salvific grace.
In the last few years I’ve been teaching through Hebrews, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, and Mark. It seems that the calling in these books to sanctifying obedience (and the hard work necessary to obey) — and the judgment if we refuse to obey — is evident on nearly every page. If sanctification is “getting used to justification,” somebody forgot to tell these guys.
The myopia is ecclesially injurious because the GM has glossed over a significant portion of Biblical teaching in order to stress their pet project. It’s as though a theologian wanted to teach on justification by faith without consulting Romans and Galatians. They’re getting it wrong because they’re not looking at the entire Bible.
I’d quibble that Kauffman doesn’t say anything about what John Murray called “definitive sanctification,” which, as Murray notes, is even more prominent in the Bible than (traditional) progressive sanctification, but that omission doesn’t affect his basic argument.
This is a fine piece, judicious and fair-minded, without rancor, by which Kauffman throws down the gauntlet to the GM.
I hope they consider his points and respond.