Is there a gap in our view of sanctification? Church Historian, Richard Loveless certainly through so and here’s why.
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.
What is the starting point for spiritual renewal and revival in the church?
This post is the first 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.
Spiritual renewal is another way of describing our biggest need in the Church – spiritual revival. Dr. Richard Lovelace made a name for himself tracing out the dynamics of spiritual renewal as a professor of Church History at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and as the author of Dynamics of Spiritual Life: An Evangelical Theology of Renewal. In his book, he identifies preaching and teaching as the starting point for personal spiritual renewal in the life of the local church. As individuals are revived, so is the Church.
The kind of preaching and teaching that brings renewal encourages an intelligent response to the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the empowering ministry of the Holy Spirit. According to Lovelace, the core doctrines of Christ’s redemptive work are justification and sanctification. Justification is God’s full and final forgiveness extended to all sinners who repent and believe in Christ. This state is based on God’s righteousness, not our own. The doctrine of justification leads, by necessity, to the doctrine of sanctification, which is the incremental progress believers make, empowered by the Holy Spirit, towards moral and spiritual maturity. In addition, sanctification means being set apart for God’s holy purposes. As believers are set apart, they should experience the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and a spiritual victory over their sins.
Lovelace summarizes these doctrines with the following statements: You are accepted, you are delivered, you are not alone, and you have authority. From his perspective, these are the themes that are overlooked in churches that struggle with spiritual apathy. Renewed and revived churches, on the other hand, feature preachers who are not afraid to bring these themes out of the pages of Scripture. Vibrant believers need frequent reminders of what it looks like to live in light of Christ’s work and the Holy Spirit’s presence. Vibrant believers are necessary for vibrant churches.
Effective preachers will explain, emphasize, illustrate, and apply God’s Word. Based on Lovelace’s advice, they should also look for ways to highlight these key doctrines. Those who are listening should look for reminders that they are accepted and delivered in Christ. They should take hold of the resources they have in moving toward maturity and victory. These expectations will make preaching and teaching a primary factor in our spiritual renewal.
Last Wednesday, the Lt. Gov. of Texas, Dan Patrick, said what many born-again, Bible-believing Christians were thinking – that you can’t cure racism and injustice without first accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior. This opens the door to a change of heart and a change character which allows individuals to love their neighbors as themselves.
There are no simple solutions for the racism and injustice that has been exposed by George Floyd’s death, but spiritual revival is a place to start. This approach reminds me of the connection that is made in the first chapter of Proverbs between reverence towards God and wise living. In verse 3, the Biblical author claims the righteousness, justice, and equity can only be achieved through obedience to God’s Word. Justice and equity are values we all really need right now.
Verse 7 is the theme verse for the whole book of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (NIV). It is repeated again 9:10 and 15:33 to emphasize the connection between fearing God and living rightly. When someone starts with a personal relationship with God and does their best to follow the path of life laid out in the Scriptures, they are much more likely to live overcome racism and injustice, in their heart and in their community.
Verse 7 also underlines the chaos that comes from marginalizing God and ignoring His Word. Lt. Gov. Patrick also spoke of the efforts of some to “kick God out” of our country. Those who discount faith in Christ and the wisdom of God’s Word should expect turmoil, confusion, and violence – and that’s exactly what we have right now in our country.
Once again, there are no simple solutions for racism and injustice and America, but there is a cure. Those who change their hearts towards God and the Savior that He sent, Jesus Christ, will be uniquely equipped to love their neigbhors as themselves, regardless of the color of their skin.
Do you agree with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick? What other connections do you see between faith in Jesus Christ and justice and equity?
I’ve met a lot of believers who are eager for revival and spiritual awakening to come to our nation or their community, but few who know what it takes to experience such things. Revival and spiritual awakening are a gift that only God can give, you and I can prepare ourselves to receive that gift. Here are three books you should read about the mighty movements of God.
1. Miracle in the Mountains by Lonnie and Belinda Riley
Lonnie Riley and his wife, Belinda, left a pastorate in a well-established church in Mississipi for an opportunity to serve God in Lynch, KY – with no official position and no salary. This book is about all the ways God took care of the Rileys and how He brought spiritual awakening to the town of Lynch and the surrounding area. Check out what God is doing today through the network of ministries that have grown up through their faith at www.meridzo.org.
2. Fresh Encounter by Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby
Henry and Richard Blackaby are most well know for their Experiencing God study. In this book, the Blackabys explore the factors involved in having a face-to-face encounter with God. They discuss the difference between revival and spiritual awakening then outline the seven phases of revival through Bible study and examples from history. This book would be great for those who want to teach and lead others to have a life-changing encounter with God.
3. Firefall by Malcolm McDow and Alvin Reid
In this book, McDow and Reid describe the revivals that have shaped the world from the first awakenings in the Old Testament to the movements of the twenty-first century. Even though this book focuses on the history of revivals and spiritual awakenings, it’s aim is contemporary. When I read this book, it makes me think more and pray harder bout what it would take to experience one more mighty move of God in my generation.
You can find these books at your favorite retailers. Feel free to share this post and share these books with the people who are eager for revival and spiritual awakening in our neighborhoods and our nation.