Though a short note to Tullian Tchividjian (hereafter Double T because who can spell that?) may be in order.
Mark Jones apologizes to me — 15 seconds of my 15 minutes? — in his double-dare to Double T to debate sanctification:
Commenting on what typically happens after times of revival – sorry, D.G. Hart – James Stalker wrote: “it is no unusual thing to find the initial stage of religion regarded as if it were the whole. Converts go on repeating the same testimony till it becomes nauseous to their hearers as well as unprofitable to themselves. In the religion of many there is only one epoch; there is no program of expanding usefulness or advancing holiness; and faith is only the constant repetition of a single act.” Indeed.
If I read this right (and I am still feeling a little foggy after the flight to Dublin), Jones is saying that revivalism tends to lock converts into a certain pietistical predictability. That sounds negative. Isn’t this one more strike against revivalism? Shouldn’t Jones be thanking me for leading the charge against revivalism?
But aside from (all about) me, I do wonder about a couple of matters in this kerfuffle between opposite points on the North American Presbyterian compass. First, we have yet another theological imbroglio among PCA pastors in which the courts of the church seem to have little or no bearing. No one seems to think of this as a denominational problem even though both men are part of the same communion. Could that be because the PCA has no real theological center, even avoids striving for one? To be sure, the Federal Vision was another theological problem on the PCA’s watch and some did try to remedy that situation. But it has apparently been left to presbyteries to decide. In the meantime, ministers can talk, act, and teach what they want with seemingly little sense of obligation to what will pass in the wider communion. (What happens in NYC, stays in NYC.)
Second, the conversations about sanctification are long, historical, sometimes exegetical, and incredibly abstract. Consider Paul Helm’s reflections on the controversy surrounding Double T:
Summarising, the idea that the law is no longer to be the moral guide, a point often insisted on by those dismissed as ‘antinomian’ (rather unjustly it seems to me) is clearly mistaken. The relevance of the moral law is a view endorsed by Christ and spelled out by the apostles. So in the most extended discussion of the nature of sanctification in the New Testament, Romans 12 and 13, the command to love one’s neighbour (12.9), and not to remain indebted (13.7), the laws forbidding adultery, stealing, covetousness are summed up, as Christ himself taught, as particular instances of ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’. (13. 8-10) But the law in not thought of primarily as obligations, duties, but as structural directions for the new life.
And this may be thought of as providential given the varieties of circumstance that the New Testament international church of Christ may find itself in. Without being relativistic, there may be across the world and down the centuries very different ways in which the injunctions are to be taken to apply to one thing and another. We must never forget that New Testament church is an international jurisdiction, by comparison with the Old Testament theocracy. . . .
All these forms of language in themselves strongly imply that Christian moral character is formed from the inside out, by means of the renewal of the mind, by the development of those seed-graces planted in regeneration. Morality is considered not of a code of separate acts of obedience which then develop in the agent corresponding habits of mind, but as an inner renewal which brings about the practice of the appropriate actions in a properly motivated manner.
This is useful, especially the point about the varieties of circumstance that confront believers. And it is these varieties that are so far from view in the shoving contest between alleged antinomians and neo-nomians. No one really asks a simple question like: so I am home from a not-so-hard day at work and it is the customary hour for an adult beverage and maybe a little ear-time with Phil Hendrie. Should I or should I not do this in my life of sanctification? Should I instead turn to Scripture with a time or prayer? Or maybe I should try to earn a little extra money with some on-line sales scheme in order to give more to foreign missions. Or maybe I should cut the grass a couple days early so that I can spend my entire Saturday in preparation for the Lord’s Day. Can I get a little help here?
Or to give the problem even greater concreteness, can someone claim to be more sanctified now than she was ten years ago even while being impolite — interrupting someone else who is speaking — to make this claim?
Which makes me wonder if we should postpone all talk about sanctification until the talkers are willing to mention specifics. The only people allowed to talk about it, in the meantime, are pastors who are preaching on texts related to the topic, church officers and parents who are catechizing children, and church officers doing the rounds of family visitation. I will grant an exemption to scholars who are writing commentaries or works of theology, but they must confine their remarks to the manuscript. Otherwise, sanctification may be a subject best left alone lest it become something so ethereal that we can affirm it without ever having to talk about how the dying to self goes in real time.