Sanctification, Faith and Works: An Index of Recent Web Debate

Updated 6/13/14

Debates about various aspects of the doctrine of sanctification have been around for a long time. In the summer of 2011, a fresh round of debate on sanctification, works, faith, depravity, justification and union with Christ broke out on the Web and has continued, in one form or another up to the present.

Because the exchange has featured skilled and articulate participants, it has also been insightful. The following is offered as a tool for the benefit of anyone interested in studying the matter from the perspective of recent interactions among theologically conservative, mostly (but not entirely) Reformed leaders.

A few notes appear below, randomly. I hope to eventually annotate most of these entries more fully and fairly.

Despite the length of this list of links, it is not comprehensive. Feel free to post other links of importance in the comments.

The DeYoung, Tchividjian, Lucas, Evans, Phillips et. al. debate

  • William B. Evans 8/12/2011 Sanctification and the Nature of the Gospel
    “Reformed tradition has had considerable difficulty achieving balance and consensus on these matters, and that the tradition has tended to swing back and forth between legalism and antinomianism.”
  • Tullian Tchividjian 11/19/2012 Are Christians  Totally Depraved?
    “Paul’s testimony demonstrates that even after God saves us, there is no part of us that becomes sin free–we remain sinful and imperfect in all of our capacities, in the ‘totality’ of our being.” … “Many Christians think that becoming sanctified means that we become stronger and stronger, more and more competent. And although we would never say it this way, we Christian’s sometimes give the impression that sanctification is growth beyond our need for Jesus and his finished work for us: we needed Jesus a lot for justification; we need him less for sanctification.”
  • Rick Phllips 11/19/2012 Thank God that Christians Are Not Totally Depraved
    Responds to TT’s views on depravity. “The problem is that Tchividjian teaches that, apart from our change in legal status through justification, Christians are in the same spiritual condition after regeneration as before. Unbelievers are totally depraved and Christians are totally depraved; the same condition describes them both.”
  • Mark Galli 11/29/12 If at First You Don’t Succeed, Stop Trying so Hard
    Reviews DeYoung’s book The Hole in Our Holiness. “But in the end, books like this and the advice they give are best forgotten as soon as possible. They have a way of upsetting our timing. Better than examining ourselves and trying to be holy is to stop looking at yourself in the first place, and to start looking for the neighbor, moving toward him with the rhythm of grace.”
  • Rick Phillips 5/23/14 Where the Sanctification Controversy Lies
    After Tchividjian’s removal from the TGC blog and subsequent posts regarding the change. “[T]he sanctification debate involving Tullian touches on matters of such great significance to the church and to Christians that it fully warrants pointed debate.  For Tullian to claim that there is no controversy, long after Kevin has highlighted very significant matters of disagreement is, to say the least, surprising.”
  • Mark Galli 5/29/14 Real Transformation Happens When? 
    “I doubt the ability of Christians to make much progress in holiness.  I look at churches that are committed to transformation and holiness, and I fail to see that they are much more holy or transformed than other churches.   …I look at my own life, and marvel at the lack of real transformation after 50 years of effort.”

Less-direct interaction

Jason Hood

Heresy Is Heresy, Not the Litmus Test of Gospel Preaching

Reacts to the idea that accusation of antinomianism is evidence of gospel orthodoxy. Interacts with Tchividian’s Surprised by Grace.


Bob Hayton

Particular Pitfalls of Independent Baptists: Performance-Based Sanctification


James Hollandsworth

Effort or No Effort? That is the Question


Mark Snoeberger

The Biggest Lie about Law

Responds to Matt Olson’s (no longer available) post “The Biggest Lie about Grace”


Mark Snoeberger

Depravity, Regeneration, and Sanctification: Take Two


Mark Snoeberger

The Trouble with Gospel-Centered Sanctification


Bill Combs

Depravity and Sanctification


Will Willimon, Halee Gray Scott, and Margaret Feinberg

Do American Christians Need the Message of Grace or a Call to Holiness?


Mark Snoeberger

When Jesus Plus Nothing Doesn’t Equal Everything


Mark Snoeberger

Sanctification, Homosexuality, and the Church


Jay Adam, Lou Priolo, Don Arms, et. al.

Institute for Nouthetic Studies Archive on Gospel Sanctification

Priolo: “Meditating on what Christ has done by justifying us is not, from the human perspective, what brings about our progressive sanctification (it is not the scriptural modus operandi for or the practical key to it). Obeying Christ’s commandments (in the power of the Spirit and from a heart that is properly motivated) is what does. Understanding justification (and being appreciative for it) is our primary motivation for sanctification, not a principal means of it.”


Tullian Tchividjian

The Missing Message in Today’s Churches

“The hub of Christianity is not ‘do something for Jesus.’ The hub of Christianity is ‘Jesus has done everything for you.’” SI discussion here.


Jerry Wragg “The Gospel-Sanctification movement teaches that our thoughts and faith are active, but our will is passive—as if faith merely consists of right thoughts with no relationship to self-denial or yielding the will. But according to the entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews, true faith is always manifested in yielded obedience.” Jesus + Nothing = Everything God Promised 5/14/2014
Mark Snoeberger A Century-Old Answer to Tchividjianism: Studies in Perfection by B. B. Warfield  


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Aaron Blumer Bio

Aaron Blumer, SharperIron’s second publisher, is a Michigan native and graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He and his family live in a small town in western Wisconsin, not far from where he pastored Grace Baptist Church for thirteen years. He is employed in customer service for UnitedHealth Group and teaches high school rhetoric (and sometimes logic and government) at Baldwin Christian School.

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Aaron Blumer's picture


Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

SBashoor's picture

Nice to have a compendium

M. Scott Bashoor Happy Slave of Christ

Ed Vasicek's picture

Thanks, Aaron.  I sometimes wonder if anyone has got it together.  I think a lot of the answer can be found in places like Ecclesiastes and Proverbs.  To me, some of these approaches would not change one bit if both of those books were left out of the Bible.  It is as though each camp does just that -- camps on part of the truth and presents that part as the whole. If the Gospel were enough, we would not need most of Scripture.  But it is ALL Scripture that is both inspired and profitable to make us complete (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  Yet the Scriptures are not all truth, but the infallible standard by which all claims to truth are measured.

Seems to me like we have moved from bad to worse, from the whole of Scripture being a prescription book to part of Scripture (or certain theological truths) being the whole prescription.

What is rather strange about this is that such a reduction reverses the mentality of progressive revelation.  Later Scripture (namely the Pauline epistles) completely reinterprets the Scriptural background which existed before Paul wrote. The pursuit of wisdom is interpreted as a futile effort of depraved beings, etc.

Seems to me that a correct Jewish Roots approach -- recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, and understanding regeneration and the empowerment of the Spirit -- is a natural progression.  Endlessly repeating the word "gospel" or "worshipper" may be the trend, but that is not a viewpoint that allows for development of what was previously revealed.

There must be a continuity when it comes to sanctification from Old Testament believers to New. Changes and additions, yes, but an underlying continuity still the same.

Crazy if you ask me -- but, then again, nobody is asking me! Smile


"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture


The continuity point is a strong one, and if God has inspired more than "gospel" for us, we do need more than gospel as well.

I do think the issue of how often we say "gospel" or use gospel-hyphenated terms is superficial though, a bit of a distraction. There are some substantive and important questions about how the believer relates to "law" (though "obedience" is a better term in the NT context), what our responsibilities are, in what sense our choices matter or contribute or don't contribute to God's work of transforming us, etc.

Those questions touch on others that are arguably even more important, like in what sense are believers new, how do the new birth and indwelling Spirit alter the equation (compared to the all-faith-zero-works way we are converted), how does union with Christ relate to the "our strength" vs. "His strength" idea, and so on. Hence the depravity mini-debate among the links.

Much of mystery from my point of view, is what TT and others of that view are seeing that makes them think believers need so much encouragement to put less effort into living the Christian life. They are reacting to something; that's clear. I just don't really know what--and wonder if they are not misinterpreting what they're seeing.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Aaron Blumer's picture


Just posting to note that a couple of recent items posts have been added to the article.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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