Sanctification by Michael Allen

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Sanctification is one of the volumes in the “New Studies in Dogmatics” series edited by Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain.  Two other volumes have been published so far:   The Triune God and The Holy Spirit.  The series is a serious, scholarly interaction with Scripture, doctrine, and key theologians past and present.  In this book Allen engages principally with John Calvin, John Owen, Edward Fisher, G. C. Berkouwer, Oliver O’Donovan, John Webster, Thomas Aquinas, Karth Barth, Augustine and a host of others.  Allen is deeply invested in federal, or covenantal, theology (p. 34) and discusses the Covenant of Works (pp. 100-113) and the Covenant of Grace (pp. 124-143) at great lengths and uses redemptive-historical hermeneutics (pp. 97, 127).   Allen offers some helpful discussions concerning the image of God (pp. 78-85) and union with Christ (pp. 143-168).  And he engages several times with Radical Lutheranism, which sees law and grace at such odds that attempts to live in obedience, imitate Christ or apply the imperatives of the New Testament are framed as legalism and moralism (pp. 30-33; 263-286).   Allen rightly exegetes Scripture to teach that, while sanctification is a gift, we have been called to effort and obedience (pp. 29-39, 169, 189, 194-197, 225, 238, 247, 254).  Specifically the author details five biblical texts demonstrating this duel roll in the sanctification process (pp. 229-238).

The author basically offers a review of the content of Sanctification himself.  For those wanting to have a more in-depth understanding of the book I will quote him at length.  In summary of the volume up to page 199 he writes:

Sanctification of the creature occurs amidst a broader economy of grace, which can itself be appreciated only with deeper theological reflection upon the principles of its existence and character.  Hence we have begun with God himself-–the triune God’s possession of holiness perfectly-–and then turned to the ways in which that holiness has been manifested in the divine works.  Those works are communicative works demonstrating not only divine luminosity but also triune generosity as holiness is shared by God with those creatures who are made godly by God’s gifting.  We have considered ways in which creation and covenant mark the features of this holy creaturehood before God.  But we have also considered the ways in which sin undoes the order of holiness and casts awry the fellowship and presence previously enjoyed by and further promised to the holy ones of God.  Finally, we have reflected upon the promise and arrival of the Holy One of Israel in the form of his incarnate Son, the Messiah and redeemer who brings holiness.  By considering the work of Christ, both its substitutionary and its transformative facets, we have considered the good news that the God who is holy in himself has acted so as to share the holiness with others and, in Christ Jesus, has given us holiness yet again in spite of our sin, impurity, and uncleanness (p. 199).

As Allen looks to the final chapters he states:

Admittedly, we have ranged more widely than might be expected in such a study. We do well now to turn to some matters traditionally tied up with the doctrine of sanctification, that is, with the application of this transformation to individual men and women.  Our work this far has located this doctrine amidst the broader corpus of Christian teaching, seeking to see how various doctrines interpenetrate or shape our consideration of holiness in its divine and creaturely forms.  Now we must look directly at the subject of regeneration; however, the most helpful reflections upon God’s sanctifying work upon us can be appreciated by viewing it as related to other themes of the gospel economy.  The final three chapters of our study, then, will consider sanctification as related to three adjacent theological topics:  regeneration and nature, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and exhortation and divine discipline (through examples and through law) (pp. 199-200).

Sanctification is a thick, difficult read that is geared far more to the scholar than to the average Bible student.  For a recent book directed to the latter, I would recommend The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung.

Sanctification by Michael Allen (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017) 302 pp., paper $34.99.

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel

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