The Gauntlet Tossed to “The Grace Movement”

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.


3 thoughts on “The Gauntlet Tossed to “The Grace Movement”

  1. Interesting reading at 4am. I would agree that it was surprisingly tame considering what I usually behold from The Trinity Foundation. Although I had to chuckle even an article that seeks to correct supposed errors on ‘The Grace Movement’ could still not resist mentioning the New Perspective on Paul, Auburn Avenue or The Federal Vision. *sigh*
    Anyhoo…I appreciated what Kauffman wrote on all three men. I’m somewhat familiar with Brown and Tchividjian but have not read much from either. Therefore commenting on Kauffman’s analysis with regards to both these two men would make no-nevermind. I’ll have to put it on a shelf and keep that in mind when I do sit down and read their work.
    As for Keller and his commentary on The Prodigal Son, I think Kauffman missed it (surprise, surprise!). Next time we are together you and I can discuss it. By the way, Keller’s take on Luke 15 was greatly influenced by Sinclair Ferguson. I would be interested in hearing Kauffman’s take on SF. Also Keller’s comments on avoiding biblical texts (my reason for reading the article in the first place) weren’t as shocking as would seem at first blush. His answer dealt more with ministering to his particular congregation than the text itself. In other words I didn’t think Keller was saying he would avoid texts because he didn’t like that part of the Bible but rather he was avoiding certain texts because of his particular congregation. That being said, we could discuss the wisdom or folly of his doing that at a later time.
    Speaking of wisdom…I think it would be wise to come up with another ‘moniker’ other than ‘The Grace Movement.’ It seems counter-productive to label something as majestic and amazing as ‘Grace’ in the negative. How about Hyper-Grace or perhaps Over-Balanced Grace? Just a thought.
    Miss you greatly Andrew! Hope all is well with you and your family! Have a blessed (Grace-filled!) Lord’s Day!

    Your continued friend and brother in Christ,


  2. Dave, it did my heart good to hear from you. Your ministry is a blessing to so many — including me.

    I think your comments are most relevant and should move the conversation along. I like your idea of “the Hyper-Grace Movement.” It makes better sense. I agree that the author didn’t need to criticize other movements as well.

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