Mar 11

Session 6 Recap: Panel Discussion with Carson and Zaspel

2012 | by John Hunt | Category: Clarus 12

Editor’s Note: John Hunt is the Senior Pastor at Covenant of Grace Church in Albuquerque, NM. He is a member of the Albuquerque Chapter of The Gospel Coalition. This post is a summary of a Panel Discussion with D.A. Carson and Fred G. Zaspel from Saturday evening, March 10.


The question and answer segment of the conference dealt with three areas related to the Christian life: sanctification, old nature/new nature, and pacifist/activist approaches to Christian living.

Asked for a good definition of sanctification, Dr. Zazpel pointed out four senses: (1) positional sanctification, wherein we are sanctified in Christ; (2) definitive sanctification, wherein we are sanctified or set apart by Christ in the gospel; (3) final sanctification or glorification; and (4) progressive sanctification wherein we are progressing in holiness. To this Dr. Carson pointed out that while justification and sanctification are distinct, they are not inseparable. Justification and sanctification flow out of our union with Christ.

Dr. Carson explained that holiness is really an adjective for God. He represented holiness as three concentric circles. The center circle is God Himself, or Holy, Holy, Holy. The second circle is those things associated with God. For example, the shovel in the Temple was holy, not in itself, but because it was related to God. The third circle represents people. It is at this point that morality enters the discussion. However, it is not so much morality that is in view. God is not telling believers to be moral because He is moral. Rather, He is calling believers to become peculiarly His.

Related to this issue is Warfield’s denial that Christians have two natures. Dr. Zazpel pointed out that for Warfield, Christians have been renewed and that the grasp of sin has been broken. During the conversation, Romans 7 was bought up and discussed. It seems that the bottom line is this: the Christian must deal with a renewed nature that must eradicate sin. It’s not like two natures are warring against one another. Rather, it is the “I” who struggles with remnants of sin, but the “I” does so from the vantage point of a new, or renewed nature.

Closely related to the above discussion was the question posed to Dr. Zazpel regarding Warfield on “Perfectionism.” He pointed out that one cannot speak of “Perfectionism” without referring to the type one has in view, e.g. Wesleyan Perfectionism. Closely related is the Higher Life movement the roots of which go back to Keswick, England and the Keswick Theology that emerged.  The emphasis here was not perfectionism, but total surrender, living a victorious Christian life, letting go and letting God, etc. Dr. Carson added that for both Warfield and Luther, Christians will always be saints and sinners. A memorable saying offered by Dr. Carson (and I don’t think I have it exactly right) helped immensely: “I’m not what I ought to be; I’m not what I shall be; I’m not what I shall be, but I’m not what I was. By the grace of God, I am what I am.”

There was much more than here represented, but I close on a part of the discussion, which was very meaningful to me. The question was asked concerning a debate on the blog of TGC regarding rest and effort. Some emphasize the need to rest in Christ. Others emphasize the need to exert oneself in the Christian life.  As was pointed out, one could preach “Do, Do, Do,” which destroys God. On the other hand, one could preach “Done, Done, Done,” which results in a do nothing approach. Grace has entitlements of doing. So, what is the balance? The balance is found in Philippians 2:12-13, the Christian is to work out his salvation, because God is working in them. Every work of man requires the antecedent work of God.