For All the Saints
"Evangelicals," gather round. Fellow-travelers and outsiders, lend an ear. For we are about to talk about evangelicalism's "dirty little secret." It's what historian Richard Lovelace has called "the Sanctification Gap." And it was the subject of a conference held in October, 2000 at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama, which has now resulted in a book worth reading.
The book, like the conference, is titled For All the Saints: Evangelical Theology and Christian Spirituality (Westminster John Knox, 2003). Its editors, Timothy George and Alister McGrath, were also key players at the conference.
In their introduction, George and McGrath remind us that evangelicals are famously focused on conversion. As insider historian Grant Wacker likes to quip, an evangelical is someone who gets on a bus and asks "Is this seat saved?" and then, quickly, "Oh, by the way … Are you?"
But this attention to the born-again experience has not always been matched by a similarly strong emphasis on a disciplined, holy Christian life—or to use the fifty-dollar theological word, "sanctification." (One exception in the modern era is the subject of our current issue: Issue 82: Phoebe Palmer and the Holiness Revival.)
The core of the problem, say George and McGrath, is this: the crucial experiential reality of "union with Christ" has gone missing from evangelicals' description of what salvation means: "These two realities, justification by faith alone and union with Christ" must be seen as "indissolubly bound together—as two distinct but inseparable aspects of the same saving event."
One of the most telling signs that these two halves of the Christian life have come apart—but are coming back together—is a recent re-visioning ...