A Biblical-Theological Review of Michael Allen’s Sanctification, Part 4: Chapter 3: Creation


Chapter three begins with human creaturehood. Allen rejects Barth’s incarnational anthropology and concludes that we should “think the doctrine canonically,” and then christologically (77). Allen then takes up the implications of “imaging of God.” He critiques four standard views of the imago dei[1] as 1) limiting the divine image to “one facet of human existence” rather than seeing that “it is the totality of the human that images God” (81), and 2) wrongly regarding “similarity between humanity and God” as the primary implication of the term image (82). Rather, the imago dei underscores the Trinity’s “intrinsically self-communicating” nature and highlights a) man’s difference from and b) man’s dependence upon God (82). The implications of his view of the imago dei for “thinking sanctification” are first, creation attests to “the participatory nature of creaturely holiness” (85), and second, “all creaturely holiness is communicated holiness in the same way that creaturely life is communicated life” (87). “Holiness is gift. Holiness is the generous blessing brought about … by the Triune God, who makes himself productive of and present to the human self” (88).


The simplicity and power of Allen’s analysis of the imago dei as necessarily implying difference and dependence stunned me. One need not dismiss the standard analyses of this topic to appreciate the value Allan’s insight provides. His exploration of the implications of difference and dependence for sanctification are worth the chapter: “When one’s existence comes from the outside and one’s identity is centered upon another’s relation to oneself, then one’s trust surely ought to be ec-centric as well” (89). Well put!

I also found Michael Allen’s linking of creation and redemption particularly compelling. He argues from 2 Corinthians 4:6 and Romans 4:17 that because “the new act is likened to a great act already completed, the new act is shown to be doable by divine standards. If God can create why not again? If God can set things in motion, why not set them apart? If this is the logic of the biblical reasoning from creation to new creation, then it might apply likewise to the doctrine of sanctification” (85-87).


First, even if we start with Genesis 1-2 surely John 1:1-3 should be brought to bear on the question of how creation intersects with divine holiness. God the Son is the One through whom all creation came into being. Seeing anthropology christologically seems, on a canonical 2nd reading, therefore, to be a Scriptural way to approach the subject. A helpful doorway into such an anthropology may be found in Dennis Kinlaw’s theological offering, Let’s Start with Jesus (Zondervan, 2005).[2]

Second, despite engaging substantively with the interplay between the image of God and sanctification, Allen left Col. 3:9-10, arguably the classic NT text on the topic, untouched. Yet, it certainly has wealth that deserved to be mined.[3] Creation in the image of God means sanctification involves our new man’s renewal in knowledge after the image of Christ our Creator. The epistemological implications of such sanctification are important. In particular, the fact that self-presentation as a holy sacrifice (Rom. 12:1) is followed by a call for ongoing transformation of the mind (Rom. 12:2) that is to flow out in faith-motivated, love-guided self-conception (Rom.12:3-8) and others-orientated affection, submission, and service (Rom. 12:9-15:7) highlights the importance of our mind’s sanctification.

Third, to treat of creation without mentioning the only place where sanctification occurs in the creation account seems odd. In Gen. 2:4, God sanctifies the seventh day and blesses it. I would suggest that the sanctification of the seventh day teaches us three things about the nature of holiness itself: 1) holiness is initiated by God; 2) holiness is always separation to God, that is, to relationship with God in some way; and 3) holiness has as its fruit the well-being, the life, the good of the ones encompassed within it. To put a finer point on it, we might argue that the holiness of non-personal things is always instrumental,[4] creating space, time, or means for personal relationship with God.[5] The instrumentality of non-personal holiness also points to a truth about holiness of persons: God sanctifies persons both in terms of status/position and in terms of moral character for ultimate ends—His glory, our good, His kingdom. The end of holiness is not fellowship with God alone but also entails service with and for God in His eternal kingdom, where even the pots and bridle bells will be instruments of knowing Yahweh (Zech. 14:20-21; Jer. 31:34).


Since the God we image is a tri-personal unity, we are most like Him when we also live in others-centered unity. Holiness is, therefore, communal, both as a descriptor of divine singularity and of human godliness. Pushing further into the imago dei’s trinitarian nature exposes its corporate and communal dimensions, dimensions that keep one’s conception and practice of sanctification from going individualistic or monastic. Individual holiness is formed, manifested, and measured in inter-personal engagement. To paraphrase John Wesley, there is no sanctification but social sanctification.[6] We are renewed in God’s image primarily in and through interpersonal interaction. We often seek to avoid such community because we think it makes us less holy, when in fact God intends it both to reveal the distance we have to progress in holiness (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 1:10; 3:1-3; Phil. 4:2; Jam. 4:1-4) and to strength our stride on the holiness marathon (Gal. 6:1-2; Col. 3:16; Heb. 3:12-13; 10:24-25; 12:12-13).



Originally published at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

[1] The four views he critiques are that we image God in our 1) spiritual/rational capacities, 2) ethical character and behavioral righteousness, 3) appointed status as God’s vice-regents, or 4) relational interdependence.
[2] Allen’s author index suggests he is not aware of Kinlaw.
[3] See, for example, Derek Tidball’s brief homily on this passage in Sanctification: Explorations in Theology and Practice (InterVarsity Press, 2014), 23-32.
[4] I’m indebted to Don J. Payne’s 2017 ETS paper “Sanctification: Neglected Aspects and Implications” for helping me see the instrumental function of sanctifying inanimate objects. Allen’s comment, “The Levitical holiness code guides human practice … to set apart persons, places, and possessions for divine indwelling” (119), opens a door to this observation, but he doesn’t explore it further.
[5] In his chapter on sanctification and covenant, Allen comments, “… in the Sabbath gift of the seventh day … we see that human beings are made for life with God. And by implication, we might say that God is intent upon sharing the triune life with us” (95). This appears to be as close as Allen comes to leveraging the sanctification of the sabbath in Gen. 2:30 for dogmatic reflection.
[6] This statement is found in Wesley’s preface to the 1739 edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems. “Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.”

Philip Brown
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).