“Hole in Our Holiness” Book Review

The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness. By Kevin DeYoung. Wheaton: Crossway, 2012. 159. Available on Amazon.

Introduction & Summary

Kevin DeYoung composed The Hole in Our Holiness to exhort our contemporary church culture to pursue the oft-neglected quality of holiness (10). While God exhorts His people to be holy, as “I the Lord am holy” (Lev 20:26), many professing Christians view holiness as a beneficial, but non-essential, facet of the Christian life, the mere avoidance of certain sins, or as an exercise too difficult for the average believer to undertake (16, 22). This mindset produces the “gap” between God’s gospel and our holiness that DeYoung seeks to address (16—22). After identifying holiness as the goal of the Christian life (24—6), DeYoung focuses on the need for, and joys of, holiness (23—29; 63—77), impediments to holiness (108, 107—21), and the essence of holiness as abiding in and obeying Christ (93—105; 123—35). DeYoung concludes by exhorting the reader to treasure holiness because, in pursuing it, God prepares us as a “blameless bride” for Himself so that we may enjoy His presence forever (145—46).

Doctrinal Analysis

In The Hole in Our Holiness, DeYoung exhorts his readers to strive for holiness and examines the doctrines of God, justification, and sanctification in relation to the godliness.

The doctrine of God: DeYoung examines the roles of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in calling, convicting, atoning, and progressively making “righteous” redeemed sinners in God’s sight (23; 32; 47; 81—82). DeYoung, moreover, focuses on the Fatherhood of God and its relationship to personal holiness. While many Christians belittle their own attempts at holiness or find selfish motivations their actions, DeYoung counters that God, as a loving Father, genuinely loves all of our attempts to obey Him (68—70). While good works cannot earn God’s favor, once we are in Christ, God does identify us as His beloved children, and in our attempts at obedience God is well-pleased (69; Matt 3:17; Eph 1:6).

DeYoung did not explicitly treat the doctrine of the Trinity and how Christians, as image bearers, reflect the image of the Triune God in our pursuit of holiness. As redeemed sinners who reflect the image of God, within the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Christians grow in holiness not in isolation from each other, but corporately amongst the body of Christ. DeYoung focuses on the individual’s pursuit of holiness, whether in obedience to God’s commands or in the believer’s identification with Christ, with only one page describing fellowship with believers (132). While DeYoung writes to motivate individuals, not churches, to pursue holiness, believers cannot be restored to the image of the Triune God in any kind of isolation from other believers and need the local church to grow in godliness (20).

The doctrine of justification: DeYoung affirms the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and identifies the goal of justification as enabling redeemed sinners to pursue holiness (23—26). DeYoung cites several passages in the Old and New Testament to highlight holiness as the reason for which God has redeemed sinners (ex., Ex. 19:4—6; Eph 2:10; 24). As if anticipating opposing arguments, DeYoung carefully emphasizes that justification comes through faith and cites holiness as the natural outworking of one’s redeemed status in Christ.

DeYoung spends little time examining the nature of sin, divine wrath, and the atonement through the work. DeYoung may have not unpacked the nature of these doctrines and their relationship to holiness because he assumed his readership would already be familiar with them. DeYoung wrote to address specific issues hindering the church’s pursuit of holiness, such as the sexual sins he addresses in chapter 8, rather than addressing all matters of doctrine related to holiness. While DeYoung did not to examine every relevant doctrine, it may have been beneficial in proving his points and extolling the importance of holiness in the wake of God’s wrath and man’s depravity.

The doctrine of sanctification: DeYoung focuses on sanctification, the “ongoing process of becoming righteous,” by which God “transforms us from one degree of glory to another” and restores us to the image of Christ (32; II Cor 3:18). DeYoung holds that believers very much cooperate in the process of sanctification, contra views that the believer passively allows God to work upon him, or that God’s precepts are no longer valid for Christian living (19, 55). DeYoung lists literally dozens of reasons why believers need to pursue holiness (57—60) and the means, such as prayer and Bible meditation, by which believers grow in godliness (130—33). Ultimately, holiness “looks like obedience to God’s commands” and like the model Jesus set down for us in His earthly ministry (45—47; 68—70).

I personally agree with DeYoung’s position on sanctification, in that we cooperate with God in this progressive work by striving to obey God’s commandments through Christ so that our obedience to God’s word is not mere rule-keeping (124—28). However, DeYoung provides only one page to the role of the local church in sanctification, in providing fellowship and constructive criticism (132; 138—39). Much more time could have been allotted to the importance of the local church, as the Bible does not treat sanctification as an individualistic enterprise, but one undertaken in and amongst the local church (Heb 3:12—13). While each individual Christian bears responsibility to follow God’s commands, the Bible does not treat this process as anything Christians can or should do entirely on their own.

Main Insights

The main insight I gained from the text of The Hole in Our Holiness came from DeYoung’s passage on the Fatherhood of God and the satisfaction God exhibits when we seek to obey Him, however imperfectly we may succeed in doing so (68—77). These passages tied together the whole of DeYoung’s teaching on the importance of holiness without leaving the reader feeling burdened about the need to keep all the tenets of the law. While indwelling sin prevents us from perfectly following God’s commands, God’s judgment and displeasure do not fall on His adopted children who earnestly try to please Him through obedience. DeYoung’s emphasis on the Fatherhood of God provides a great source of comfort and encouragement, as our attempts to obey God are genuinely appreciated by Him.  We will enjoy pursuing holiness more if we correlate our obedience with God’s pleasure and believe that our shortcomings and setbacks are covered with the loving mercy of our Heavenly Father.

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