This post is the fourth in a series tracing the dynamics of spiritual renewal in the Church as outlined in Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal by Dr. Richard Lovelace. Exerpts in this post were taken from the chapter called “The Sanctification Gap.”
Is there a gap in our view of sanctification? Church Historian, Richard Loveless, certainly thought so. In his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, he wrote a very personal chapter about his conversion to Christ and his spiritual journey as a churchman and an academic. In his experience, Loveless found a distressing disconnect between the doctrines of regeneration and sanctification in the average Evangelical church. It’s been a few years since Loveless passed away, and even more since the last edition of his book, but the gap still seems to exist.
In Lovelace’s view, the sanctification gap appeared as a result of the correction and over-correction of the theological pendulum swing. The English Puritans felt like the Reformation had only been a “half-Reformation” so they placed too much of an emphasis on initial conversion and the doctrine of generation which pushed some into Hyper-Calvinism. This was corrected (overcorrection) in the nineteenth century by Charles Finney and others, who stressed easier standards and spontaneous commitment. This Arminian development produced a disconnect between spiritual transformation and spiritual growth in our current understanding.
I believe some progress has been made on this issue since Richard Loveless sounded the alarm. In the past 10 to 15 years, there has been an uptick in interest in discipleship, spiritual development, and spiritual growth programming in the church circles that I am a part of. This shift seems to be an acknowledgment of the gap in our soteriology. Another change has come on the winds of culture change. The disappearance of “Cultural Christianity” in America and the pandemic shutdown have forced church theologians and practitioners to reexamine the essentials of life in the church. This recalibration, if you will, has produced a stronger link between Christian beliefs and active participation in the church.
Even though the gap is not as wide as it once was, Loveless’s suggestions for closing the gap are still relevant. First, he suggested that we simply acknowledge that the gap exists. Second, he suggested that we forge a valid biblical model of spiritual life for Christians in our day. This includes, from Loveless’s perspective “true revival preaching” which penetrates defense mechanisms, uncovering hidden sin, and leading people to repentance. Third, he suggested reclaiming the explosive heritage of spiritual renewal that is connected to the Evangelical movement. These ongoing practices could help us make even more progress in closing the gap in our view of sanctification.