The New Theology artificially limits the gospel to counted justification alone. It understands justification as effectively separate from the question of whether the one justified is experiencing an internal holiness. These hold sanctification, the making-holy of a believer, to be a fruit of the gospel, and not a necessary part of salvation. Now, a few quotations from the wild. First, from Desmond Ford:
Traditionally, Adventists have erroneously placed sanctification within the scope of the Pauline ‘righteousness by faith.’ It is now time for a clear change to be made to correct that error. We should follow the decision made at Palmdale Conference, which I attended in the 1970s and which was written up in the Review as concluding that righteousness by faith meant justification only, though sanctification was always its fruit. This will safeguard the precious doctrine of Christian assurance.1
Another recent quote shows how this is presented in today’s Adventist Review.
An independent ministry published a while back a special issue of its flagship magazine.… To my dispirited disappointment, its definition of the everlasting gospel was that ‘every man, woman, and child must die daily. We must surrender our will moment by moment to God—the heart united with His heart, the mind united with His mind—only then can we think the thoughts and live the life of Jesus.’
Here we are in the twenty-first century—more than 113 years after 1888—and this is how some still define the everlasting gospel? Isn’t the everlasting gospel the good news that Jesus, the God-man, lived a life of perfect obedience to the law and then died as my substitute in order that I, by faith, can claim His perfect righteousness as my own, a righteousness that comes only by faith in His righteousness—a righteousness credited to me apart from ‘the works of the law?’
Through the power of God’s Spirit a believer can, indeed, die to self daily and, indeed, think the thoughts and live the life of Jesus. That’s good news too. But the moment these internal actions become conditions for justification, the moment they become the means by which a person is saved, the good news gets blunted—like with a sledgehammer.
Although the magazine’s editors would be shocked to realize it, its theology is just like Roman Catholicism.… Notice how humanistic, how sinner-centered, this understanding of the gospel is. We must die daily, we must surrender our will, we must do this, we must do that.2
Did you notice? The author rejects any conditions for salvation. According to him, justification stands alone with no conditions, no necessity for any internal saving work. The New Theology teaches that the gospel only includes justification; sanctification is effectively excluded.
When sanctification is excluded from the gospel, obedience is excluded. When the significance of obedience is excluded, the significance of disobedience is excluded. When disobedience is excluded, dealing with sin is excluded. Thus the gospel becomes news, not of deliverance, but of continued bondage.
Talk about blunting the gospel.
As someone pointed out not long ago, some who have been most eloquent in preaching (allegedly) “the cross” have, in recent years, left the denomination, on occasion carrying their entire congregation out with them. If legalism has killed its thousands, antinomianism has killed its ten thousands. Ought we not then ask ourselves just which cross they were preaching?
Was it the cross of Christ, or of antichrist?
We all do realize, do we not, that antichrist has a cross too? His cross is one we can bear without being converted. It is one we can bear while persuading ourselves in our preferred world that we are good, upstanding, religious, spiritual people. Most fascinating is that in the New Theology this cross substitutes a false Christ, a false Spirit, and false gospel. What is it that falsifies this gospel? Not its pious sounding words, or apparent Christ-centeredness, but its external-to-us-ness. But when we embrace the true gospel, its effects cannot be kept out of us or apart from us.
Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Notice that as the author of Hebrews focuses on the death and resurrection of Christ, he speaks of our being made perfect through the blood of the covenant. Perfect in a manner entirely external to us? No, for the word is “make you perfect in every good work to do His will.” No hints here that justification is kept apart as some obscure saving legal declaration. Where is this perfecting that Paul links to the death and resurrection of Christ? “Working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight” (emphasis added). It is indeed “through Jesus Christ,” but it is all one garment, both, Christ’s work outside of us on the cross, and His work inside of us through the Holy Spirit. Add this passage to verse 12, earlier in this chapter, which says:
Wherefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered without the gate (Hebrews 13:21).
Jesus’ death was not merely to count His people holy but to make His people holy. This and so many other texts show how that it is indeed perilous to commit the error of trying to define minutely the fine points of distinction between justification and sanctification (The Faith I Live By, p. 116).
How is it that the view excluding sanctification from the gospel is antagonistic to the core of Adventism? because it makes sin a light matter. It changes what we think the “cure” of salvation is. It changes what we think the problem is. It changes what we understand God’s mission for us personally and as an end-time people is. It obsoletes the message that takes sin seriously, so seriously that God proposes to seal His people and change their character to the likeness of the divine character.
NEXT: What is the New Theology Part 11: Does the 1844 Investigative Judgment Really Matter?
- Desmond Ford, Interview by Adventist Today,
http://www.atoday.com/resources/FordInterview-Part3.html, accessed August 26, 2004, 9:50 a.m. PDT.
- Clifford Goldstein, Adventist Review, November 22, 2001.