Monday, October 23, 2017

Book Review: How Does Sanctification Work?

"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." - Philippians 2:12b-13

David Powlison is the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF). He has written 6 books and many more mini-books. His priestly and pastoral style is refreshing in a caustic and frantic world.

How Does Sanctification Work? is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because of its spot-on topic of sanctification and growth in faith. But the flavor is VERY different. Powlison is an author who is wary of pat answers, systems, and reductionism. He loves nuance. He exalts story. He won't give a formula. All in all, it's a good counterweight to The Relentless Fight, which often focuses on practical concrete steps and the formula motto, "Remember the Gospel, Keep Fighting".

Some key highlights:
  • "Remember the gospel" is insufficient: At first glance it seems Powlison disagrees with what's been written here on TRF, like in this post, "What is the Relentless Fight?" He says there is no pat answer, no one-size-fits-all solution to growth in the Christian life, that there is not one key to sanctification. And this is a helpful nuance! It IS insufficient to MERELY remember the gospel. There also must be fighting for affection for Christ, implementing strategies and wisdom, and help from accountable brothers in Christ. And the diverse ways that God grows Christians cannot be reduced to a mere intellectual "remember the gospel" which instantly results in change. This is a helpful counterweight to the emphasis of The Relentless Fight. 
  • Truth unbalanced and rebalanced: This is the title for chapter 3, and was one of the most helpful points in the book. “Here is a core premise: Ministry “unbalances” truth for the sake of relevance; theology “rebalances” truth for the sake of comprehensiveness." This is profound! In personal ministry, you can't say everything that is true about God. You have limited time, and must carefully select the particular truth that is most useful in that moment. "The task in any ministry moment is to choose, emphasize, and “unbalance” truth for the sake of relevant application to particular persons and situations. You can’t say everything all at once—and you shouldn’t try.” Therefore the wise counselor needs to develop a diverse toolbelt, and the wisdom to select the best truth tool. “In order to actually minister to people, you need wise selectivity, while bearing in mind the fullest possible repertoire of options from which to choose."
  • 5 Factors for Change: Though Powlison resists making formulas, he does identity five factors for change, to help provide structure for sanctification. Those 5 are: God changes you, truth changes you, suffering & struggle change you, wise people change you, and you change. “This is how sanctification works. Your entire Christian life is a series of variations and permutations of this five-dimensional process."
  • Stories: Powlison includes two chapters of his own story, and two examples of a man named Charles and a lady named Charlotte, to put flesh and bones to this nuanced view of how sanctification happens. 

In summary, How Does Sanctification Work? is a helpful nuance to the primary question that this blog is asking: how do I grow? You can buy the book here.

Note: Crossway provided a free ebook copy in exchange for this honest review, as part of their Blog Review Program. Win/win!