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Concluding Thoughts on DeYoung’s Hole in our Holiness

I’m grateful for Kevin DeYoung’s thoughtful response to my review of his The Hole in our Holiness. Instead of responding line-by-line, I wonder if it might be more helpful to comment more generally and more briefly on some things I’m learning through this discussion.

1) First, I just want to state my gratitude for the blessing of charitable dialogue among brothers in Christ. I think sometimes in the body of Christ we are so afraid of being or appearing divisive that we avoid frank discussion of different leanings we may have. Obviously, divisiveness is a real danger to be avoided; it’s not hard to find people who err in that direction. But dialogue can also be so helpful for challenging unspoken assumptions, for exposing blind spots, for helping us learn in ways we couldn’t learn on our own. It opens us up to the perspectives of others, and the experiences that have shaped those perspectives. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). No wonder we’re commanded to teach and admonish one another in all wisdom (Colossians 3:16). There is much wisdom to be gained from patient, careful conversations within the body of Christ. I know I am learning through this one.

2) While I still feel the concerns raised in my review, I also want to state my appreciation of some of Kevin’s concerns. I still don’t find the image of a “gap” between gospel passion and the pursuit of holiness helpful – as I outlined in my review, I wish Kevin had spoken of effort after holiness as one component of gospel passion. At the same time, I think sometimes those of us who emphasize the gospel can at times make gospel-centeredness sound a bit formulaic or rote. Kevin writes:

My concern with Ortlund’s concern is that many Christians have become hesitant to employ the full arsenal of Scriptural threats, warnings, promises, examples, and commands for fear that unless we explicitly say something about our deep down gospel issues we aren’t really dealing with the ultimate problem and we aren’t emphasizing grace as clearly as we ought.

I think all of us involved in these conversations need to heed Kevin’s concern here. As we continue to seek the truth together about how the gospel relates to the pursuit of holiness, let’s remember this: the Bible is our authority in all things, including gospel-centeredness. Therefore to the extent that our gospel-centeredness becomes more formulaic than the Bible, or to the extent that our gospel-centeredness causes us to neglect certain biblical themes or language, to that extent our “gospel-centeredness” is unbiblical and unhelpful.

In my own preaching, I can look back on some sermons and see that I should have made clearer gospel connections. But I can also look back on others and see that I wove the gospel into it in a way that felt forced. What I want (what I think we all want) is a gospel-centeredness that is authentic to the text of Scripture, theologically rounded, and Spirit-inspired in its delivery. I’ve seen the beauty of this. While I think Kevin’s book could be strengthened in the ways I discussed in my review, overall I think it is a word in season to the church. It highlights an area of neglect, corrects an imbalance, and pushes back against simplistic understanding of what gospel-centeredness means.

3) As we continue to seek the truth together on these issues, I’m wondering if those of us who lean towards gospel-centeredness can at times make clearer that the gospel is more than justification? That might be a clog in some of our conversations, because when some people hear “gospel,” they think only “forgiveness.” But of course the gospel is not reducible to justification. I wonder if the doctrines of adoption and regeneration, in particular, have been neglected by some of us.

I’m grateful to have godly and thoughtful brothers in Christ, both Kevin and others, who are engaging in these important conversations about the gospel and holiness. They help me see things I couldn’t see on my own. And hopefully these conversations about holiness are helping us all pursue holiness more!

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12 Responses

  1. Gavin, could you clarify? In point three you refer to “those of us who lean toward gospel-centeredness”. Are you implying that Kevin DeYoung is not one of those? Or that he leans away from gospel-centeredness? It may not be your insinuation, but that’s how I read it.

    1. Hey Kenny,

      no, I think all of us taking part in these conversations are gospel-centered, broadly conceived. In fact, I think Kevin’s book is part of this movement maturing and becoming more self-critical, as I said in my review. Within this movement, there are certainly different leanings, and I wonder if all of us (whatever our leaning) could benefit from more of a focus on adoption and regeneration.


  2. Hi Gavin,

    I have been going to a gospel-centered church for a couple of years. I appreciate that the church is gospel-centered, but recently I have gone back to just reading large chunks of the Bible rather than trying to make everything “gospel-centered.” I have found a lot of joy and freedom in just reading the Bible. God seems more alive, more dynamic. It has been like going from black-and-white to color; from a formula to a relationship.

    I guess I have a lot of questions because I feel guilty for not being gospel-centered as I read the Bible. Instead, I just try to listen to what it says. I guess I am trying to ask, “Is it ok to just read/listen to the Bible without telling myself before hand what I am supposed to see in the Bible?”


    1. Hey Brad! For what its worth, my answer would be, YES!! As I’m trying to say in this post, a “gospel-centeredness” which is inconsistent with Scripture is unhelpful and needs to be corrected by Scripture. Great question!

  3. Gavin, thanks for your review, and this follow up. It’s the third concern I think is perhaps most important. And I really like this line of yours in point three above:

    I’m wondering if those of us who lean towards gospel-centeredness can at times make clearer that the gospel is more than justification.


    You mention adoption and regeneration as being neglected. I would add that sanctification itself fits in there – that is positional holiness (rather than progressive holiness). Just think of 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 1 Corinthians 6:11, or Hebrews 10:10, for example.

    Would you care to comment on whether progressive sanctification was rooted sufficiently in positional sanctification in Kevin’s work?

  4. Hi Gavin, and thanks for your quick reply, and the link. (It’s daytime Down Under in Australia!)

    I’ve got some thoughts brewing, which I might return too later, about how sometimes the the way sanctification gets defined in some reformed systematic theologies (and maybe even in those links) is made more systematically rigid than it ought to be and does not sufficiently follow the contours of Scripture. But I’ll leave it as a musing for now!

  5. Hi! Here is a comment I left on your blog via The Gospel Coalition. I see you respond to your posts via this blog… so here we go:

    I am going to argue that this book is written for a (very good) reason right now in this age of Christianity and in this culture. I disagree with this reviewer’s assessment when he states, “As a result, at times it seems DeYoung is targeting generalized tendencies that seem slightly exaggerated or caricatured.”

    For the last 4 years, I have served in a church that has used phrases like, “There is nothing you can do to make God more or less pleased with you,” repeatedly, and in many different forms. Anyone who would fight for personal holiness was absolutely considered “legalistic”. My church no longer brings up anything having to do with “fighting” in our walk with Christ. When asked about this, their response is that all we need is to know the gospel and how much God loves us, and that will create a sort of “flow” from the inside out where the believer THEN begins to walk “rightly” and live a holy life. There isn’t anymore instruction. There isn’t anymore talk of sin. The “hole” in our holiness that DeYoung speaks of is pungent in my Christian culture right now. [I feel I must add that this church has in the past been considered a strong, biblically centered, deep church and this was a complete trajectory change when the pulpit teaching began omitting holiness. This is not a church that was “seeker friendly” or “emergent” in the first place.]

    I remember when Desiring God posted a video of John Piper interviewing Kevin DeYoung regarding this book, and I watched glued with my mouth hung open when every one of Kevin DeYoung’s examples was EXACTLY what I watched happen in my church. To the “T”. I immediately thought to myself, “I am so elated that a Christian leader is addressing this! Hopefully it will keep other churches from ending up on the path mine is on now. Maybe… just maybe… my beloved church leaders will get a hold of this book and read it, too.”

    What are the implications of this “hole” going on right now? I been watching numerous people around me get stuck in all sorts of sin that wasn’t even on the horizon before this. Bondage. No more fighting. And even more devastating… less baptisms. Nobody talks about reaching the nations anymore. The reason I don’t buy that the problem is, “A failure to pursue holiness is itself a failure to appropriate the gospel” because this is exactly what my church has been pushing vehemently.

    Do we need to preach the gospel to ourselves and know how much Jesus loves us? Yes. Is it essential to know that our identity is in Christ? Yes. However, that is no excuse to act like scripture doesn’t speak of a fight for holiness. I’ve been watching my Christian culture become very sick and impotent as a result.

    1. Lauren, nowhere does this review say that ‘Scripture doesn’t speak of a fight for holiness.’ Quite the opposite, actually. Blessings!

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