On the Renewal of Interest in the Doctrine of Sanctification: A Methodological Reminder -- By: Steven L. Porter

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 45:3 (Sep 2002)
Article: On the Renewal of Interest in the Doctrine of Sanctification: A Methodological Reminder
Author: Steven L. Porter

On the Renewal of Interest in
the Doctrine of Sanctification:
A Methodological Reminder

Steven L. Porter*

* Steve Porter is an adjunct lecturer of philosophy and theology at Rosemead School of Psychology, Biola University, 13800 Biola Avenue, La Mirada, CA 90639.

By now it goes without saying that along with the resurgence of interest in “spirituality” within our general Western culture there is also a renewal of interest in “Christian spirituality” amongst Christian believers. Surely within evangelicalism there is a movement afoot, if not already in full swing. My present concern is that evangelical theologians may fail to do their part in providing theoretical (i.e. theological) guidance to those who are examining again, or for the first time, what amounts to the Christian doctrine of sanctification. For whatever the motives of those who are thirsty for a deeper spiritual life, what they are seeking is a legitimate domain of Christian theology. Hence, in the midst of the flurry of popular writing and teaching on spiritual formation, evangelical theologians have a duty to offer a biblical presentation of the doctrine of sanctification in a clear, coherent, and comprehensive manner that is at the same time relevant to the lives of contemporary Christian believers. As Robert Rakestraw points out, there is a “crying need for a robust, Biblical theology of the Christian life that will refute and replace the plethora of false spiritualities plaguing Church and society.”1

But the doctrine of sanctification is tricky. First, it is a complex doctrine in that it is the culmination of conclusions reached in just about every other theological category (e.g. theological anthropology, harmartiology, soteriology, Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, etc.). Furthermore, it is a doctrine about which thinkers in other disciplines besides theology have something significant to say (e.g. psychologists). And lastly, the legitimacy of the doctrine can be tested in the actual lives of believers. It is truly where the theological rubber meets the road.2

In all of this, the worry is that in our eagerness to respond to those who buy books, go to conferences, organize retreats, and take classes on the spiritual life, we are in danger of muddying the waters when there is such an opportunity to lead with clarity of speech, depth of thought, and true insight regarding the nature of the way of Christ. The outcome of this muddying may be that “spiritual formation” becomes just another passing evangelical fad.

With this concern in mind, I intend to bri...

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