A Biblical-Theological Review of Michael Allen’s Sanctification, Part 9: Chapter 8: Grace and Nature

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Chapter 8 considers “two realities: the promise of the new creation and the nature of the new creation” (200). Allen addresses “how the grace of new creation relates to the nature we have been granted, namely, how regeneration pertains to and informs our thinking of the relationship of grace and nature” (200). He concludes that “the dynamic of biblical sanctification … can only be described fittingly in eschatological terms: the moral tension involved here is neither sequential (as if holiness means the simple transversal from sinfulness to righteousness, with no remainder), nor partitive (as if some portion of the self were holy, with others remaining depraved), but redemptive-historical (wherein the Christian is marked by the sign of the pilgrim, no longer captive in Egypt yet still sojourning to Canaan)” (211).

Affirmation

Allen uses Hebrews 3-4, 8, and 12 to frame a realized eschatology in terms of Israel’s journey to Canaan. I applaud his avoidance of typologies untethered from the text and his refusal to let past typological excesses scare him away from following what the text endorses. The people of God do journey between freedom from bondage and entrance into perfect rest. Trials and temptations beset them, but perseverance in faith will see them through.

Critique

Allen’s approach to evaluating views of Romans 7:14-25 struck me as even-handed. However, the two reasons he offers for rejecting the pre-conversion view seemed weak. His first reason is “certain claims speak of a struggle that is itself a sign of growth and transformation, and by extension, not fitting one who has yet to be yoked to Christ” (210).

Three texts, I believe, demonstrate that signs of growth and transformation are indeed fitting for one not yet yoked to Christ (Mark 12:34; Acts 17:17; Phil. 3:5-6). In Mark 12:34 Jesus tells a scribe he is not far from the kingdom and that he has properly discerned the chief principal of the law. Nearness to the kingdom may imply movement or growth. In Acts 17:27 Paul asserts unregenerates are given revelation “that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him.” I affirm with Allen, Kathryn Tanner’s analogy:

“We are opened to God by our nature in no more than the way in which the essential properties of large bodies of water make them … open to the pull of the moon. At issue here is a purely passive capacity and not an active orientation toward anything. Although it makes a very big difference to us when its effects are felt, we do not seek out God’s grace of ourselves any more than the ocean seeks out the moon that produces its tides.” (Christ the Key, 118-19; cited in Allen, 219)

Yet, since God has built grace into nature (Rom. 1:18ff) and conscience (Rom. 2:11ff), grace’s pull is responsible for any seeking of God. Our heart’s rising tide is a response to grace’s gravity. Again, growth and transformation are fitting for those being drawn to Christ by the Father.

Perhaps most tellingly, in Phil. 3:5-6, Paul parades his pre-conversion passion for the law, zeal in persecuting the church, and blamelessness in the righteousness found in the law. All this gain he discards for the righteous of God in Christ. Phil. 3:5-6 displays a level of nearness to grace that should be read in concert with Rom. 7:14-25.[1]

Allen’s second reason for rejecting a pre-christian reading of Romans 7 is “The pre-christian reading struggles mightily at a rhetorical level when read in context: why on earth would Paul, at this point in his argument, turn to describe his pre-christian self?” (211). In addition to the standard contextual reasons for a pre-christian reading, I see at least four rhetorical reasons for a turn to describe Paul’s pre-christian self: 1) In Rom. 7:1, Paul continues his epistle-wide rhetorical pattern of addressing Jewish concerns (Rom. 2, 4, 7, 9-11); 2) Paul has already introduced his pre-christian self in verses 7 to 13 as an explanation of our changed relation to the law because of our marriage to Christ (7:4-6),[2] 3) Verses 14-25 fill out the experiential dimension of what Paul means when he says that he was alive prior to the law but when the law came he died (Rom. 7:9), and 4) The description of 7:14-25 sets up a contrast on which Paul capitalizes as he pivots to the Holy Spirit’s role in our sanctification in Romans 8.

 


 

Originally published at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

  1. An OT example of transformation prior to justifying faith is Abraham’s faith response to Yahweh’s call in Gen. 12 prior to his justification in Gen. 15.
  2. Allen rightly rejects the “corporate Israel” reading of the “I” in Romans 7:7-13 (208-209).
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).