Kevin DeYoung’s book, “The Hole in Our Holiness” (Crossway, 2012), provides a helpful antidote to some of the trends that are gaining popularity in broadly Reformed/Calvinistic circles today. The book is not a polemical piece, nor does he explicitly reference individuals that we might have expected as he tackled certain topics (e.g. the possibility of holiness, the grace of law). This is, of course, his decision and I don’t think we can fault him for such an approach (as one reviewer did), even if we are tempted to read between the lines a little.
The book is an easy read – one could polish it off in an evening if they wished – aimed at a popular audience. For that reason, identifying any weaknesses in the book should be carefully considered. As a minister in a (sort of) Confessionally Reformed denomination (PCA), there is little in the book that I find disagreeable. DeYoung rightly shows that holiness is necessary, possible, and indeed desirable. But it has to be said that while there are no obvious “sins of commission” there are in fact some “sins of omission”.
The major deficiency of the book is that it is not sufficiently Christocentric in the places where one would hope and expect it to be. Again, this is a popular-level book, not aimed at the academy, nor trained theologians, but the hole in “The Hole in Our Holiness” is Christ.
It’s not that DeYoung fails to mention Christ, but that he fails to see Christ in many of the most significant places. So, for example, in his questions in Chapter 1 (“Mind the Gap”), particularly with reference to the second one about the “holy Heaven”, there is a striking Christological omission. So concerned is DeYoung to note who will not get to Heaven – and he is quite right – that he fails to mention Christ’s central role there, even though he mentions God and the angels. In chapter 2 (“The Reason for Redemption”) he should have noted that the reason for redemption is the glory of God-man, Jesus Christ. Our holiness glorifies Christ (Jn. 17:10), which actually answers the first question in the chapter! In chapter 3 (“Piety’s Pattern”) there was a perfect opportunity for a thorough Christ-centered discussion, but he ends up relegating this topic to a brief section on “Christ-likeness” at the end of the chapter. “Christ-likeness” is the sort of theme that should dominate a chapter on “God’s image in us”, not act as a sort of appendix. Moreover, the prominent place of the beatific vision (beholding Christ by faith in this life) in our growth in holiness is completely omitted – of course, not only by DeYoung but by too many authors who write on sanctification/holiness – even Turretin is guilty of a sub-Christocentric view of the beatific vision. DeYoung actually cites 2 Cor. 3:18, which speaks of the beatific vision, but he makes the mistake of referring to “God” when in fact the passage is referring to Christ.
As most of us know, God’s holiness is a motive for our own holiness. And the motives that DeYoung lists for holiness will no doubt prove valuable to readers. But more importantly it is the holiness of God as revealed in Christ that we find our pattern/example and motive for holiness. God’s attribute of holiness (and any other attribute, for that matter) would be too much for us mere sinful human beings to bear and fathom if he did not relate to us by way of the Mediator. No wonder then that Isaiah saw Christ in Isaiah 6 (cf. John 12:41). The necessity that God reveals his holiness in and through Christ seems to me to be constantly overlooked in books on holiness. But a cursory glance at John Owen’s treatment on holiness (end of vol. 3) shows just how important this point is for our theology of sanctification.
I don’t want this review to appear too critical, so let me affirm that I am grateful for this book. I think DeYoung provides some helpful correctives to current trends. He is to be commended for his bravery, especially for arguing in chapter 4 for the positive use of the law – he even refers to “the grace of law”, which is bound to get some in a tiffy! I also appreciated his tone and hope that those who read this book will indeed be encouraged that not only is holiness necessary but holiness is possible.
I hope he will regard me as someone who shares his same basic concerns and that my own critiques will only sharpen him for future battles on this difficult topic.
In the end, the hole in our holiness is, all too often, Christ himself. If modern authors enjoy talking about “radical, scandalous grace”, let them not forget to make sure to put Christ in his rightful place. Good (Reformed) Christology, not acting like cheerleaders at a football game, will be the solution to ongoing debates over the matter of sanctification.