A Biblical-Theological Review of Michael Allen’s Sanctification, Part 2: Chapter 1: Sanctification and the Gospel

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In Chapter One, Allen outlines and argues for his four-part approach to sanctification. He first asserts that the Bible will serve as the source of his theologizing and the judge of its legitimacy.

A Christian consideration of … sanctification seeks to do justice to … the Holy Scriptures. Exegetical reasoning, then, serves as a barometer of any claim regarding sanctification. If an approach cannot pass muster as an exegetical reflection upon texts like 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24, then it will not count as a truly Christian approach to the subject (27-28).

Second, he identifies the common inadequacies of merely exegetical doctrinal formulations:

Exegetical reasoning can easily be construed [too] narrowly, … offering literary and/or theological reflection upon those … passages … that employ the idioms of holiness and sanctification alone (28). Such an approach offers “more of an annotated lexical index of the terminology of sanctification than a full-dress theology” (28).

Third, he defines what dogmatic theology does and how he intends to locate the doctrine of sanctification within the theological loci he’s chosen.

“Dogmatics … offer[s] an orderly exposition of the gospel and its implications” (46). It shows “not only what the Bible says about [a topic] but also about how to think regarding this element of the Christian witness and its relation to other strands of scriptural testimony: … God, creation, covenant, sin, incarnation, Spirit, and church” (46).

Fourth, he delimits from his study 1) attempts “to offer an encyclopedic account of every biblical utterance regarding particular biblical terms,” 2) “the theology of sanctification in the life of ancient Israel or of the earliest Christian communities,” 3) “religious history” and 4) “scriptural excavation.” His goal is to “expound the logic and shape of the gospel attested in [the] Scriptures, inasmuch as it addresses the reality of the holy and the life of the holy” (46). Sanctification attends, therefore, not to holiness in general but to evangelical or gospel holiness.

Affirmation

In general, Allen sticks to his theological method and offers some excellent exegesis along the way. Happily, Allen’s grounding in scripture, as well as patristic, medieval, and modern theology guards his work from flights of fancy or philosophy. I resonate with Allen’s complaint that BT treatments can be too narrowly focused and just be an exercise in scriptural excavation. I appreciate and affirm the value of bringing BT into productive conversation with Systematic, or as he prefers, Dogmatic Theology.

Critique

In some cases, I would assign to Biblical Theology (BT) features Allen reserves for Dogmatics. For example, Allen distinguished dogmatic reason by saying it listens “to … exegetical reason, reflects on [the] breadth, coherence, and emphases [of specific texts], taking in not only their particularities but also their proportions” (146). I would assign these features to exegetical reasoning or Biblical Theology.

Although Allen lists the Spirit as one of the theological topics that relates to sanctification (46), he offers no sustained attention to the Spirit’s role in sanctification.  If Allen gave less attention to tangential matters in dogmatic theology that don’t advance engagement with sanctification, he would have space to engage this and other essential topics.

Extension

The BT data on sanctification is so vast that selective exegetical excavation will likely yield results that are at best partial. With nearly every chapter I observed uncharted regions of BT whose exploration would have enriched Allen’s work. By delimiting his study to evangelical holiness, and thus excluding holiness of things, of unsaved persons, and of corporate entities, Allen bypasses opportunities to enrich “thinking the holy”[1] in gospel contexts. For example, the Torah teaches us that there are degrees of holiness in things and people: the nation (Exod. 19:6) > the Levites (Num. 16:9) > Aaronic priests (Lev. 8:24) > High Priest (Lev. 8:12). If positional holiness admits of degrees, we may arguably see degrees of personal holiness. This line of thinking helps to see how holy people (1 Cor. 1:30) can still need to “perfect” holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor. 7:1).

 


 

Originally published at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

[1] Allen’s idiolectic includes turning adjectives into substantive objects of the verb “think”: “think the holy’” “think the human,” “think the gospel’s gracious character”; etc. He occasionally reverts to standard syntax, such as “think about holiness,” suggesting he was playing with language at the expense of clarity.

Philip Brownhttp://apbrown2.net
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).