I’m grateful for Kevin DeYoung’s thoughtful response to my review of his The Hole in our Holiness. Instead of responding line-by-line, I wonder if it might be more helpful to comment more generally and more briefly on some things I’m learning through this discussion.
1) First, I just want to state my gratitude for the blessing of charitable dialogue among brothers in Christ. I think sometimes in the body of Christ we are so afraid of being or appearing divisive that we avoid frank discussion of different leanings we may have. Obviously, divisiveness is a real danger to be avoided; it’s not hard to find people who err in that direction. But dialogue can also be so helpful for challenging unspoken assumptions, for exposing blind spots, for helping us learn in ways we couldn’t learn on our own. It opens us up to the perspectives of others, and the experiences that have shaped those perspectives. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). No wonder we’re commanded to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16). There is much wisdom to be gained from patient, careful conversations within the body of Christ. I know I am learning through this one.
2) While I still feel the concerns raised in my review, I also want to state my appreciation of some of Kevin’s concerns. I still don’t find the image of a “gap” between gospel passion and the pursuit of holiness helpful – as I outlined in my review, I wish Kevin had spoken of effort after holiness as one component of gospel passion. At the same time, I think sometimes those of us who emphasize the gospel can at times make gospel-centeredness sound a bit formulaic or rote. Kevin writes:
My concern with Ortlund’s concern is that many Christians have become hesitant to employ the full arsenal of Scriptural threats, warnings, promises, examples, and commands for fear that unless we explicitly say something about our deep down gospel issues we aren’t really dealing with the ultimate problem and we aren’t emphasizing grace as clearly as we ought.
I think all of us involved in these conversations need to heed Kevin’s concern here. As we continue to seek the truth together about how the gospel relates to the pursuit of holiness, let’s remember this: the Bible is our authority in all things, including gospel-centeredness. Therefore to the extent that our gospel-centeredness becomes more formulaic than the Bible, or to the extent that our gospel-centeredness causes us to neglect certain biblical themes or language, to that extent our “gospel-centeredness” is unbiblical and unhelpful.
In my own preaching, I can look back on some sermons and see that I should have made clearer gospel connections. But I can also look back on others and see that I wove the gospel into it in a way that felt forced. What I want (what I think we all want) is a gospel-centeredness that is authentic to the text of Scripture, theologically rounded, and Spirit-inspired in its delivery. I’ve seen the beauty of this. While I think Kevin’s book could be strengthened in the ways I discussed in my review, overall I think it is a word in season to the church. It highlights an area of neglect, corrects an imbalance, and pushes back against simplistic understanding of what gospel-centeredness means.
3) As we continue to seek the truth together on these issues, I’m wondering if those of us who lean towards gospel-centeredness can at times make clearer that the gospel is more than justification? That might be a clog in some of our conversations, because when some people hear “gospel,” they think only “forgiveness.” But of course the gospel is not reducible to justification. I wonder if the doctrines of adoption and regeneration, in particular, have been neglected by some of us.
I’m grateful to have godly and thoughtful brothers in Christ, both Kevin and others, who are engaging in these important conversations about the gospel and holiness. They help me see things I couldn’t see on my own. And hopefully these conversations about holiness are helping us all pursue holiness more!