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Discussion in 'The Pilgrims Progress' started by Romans922, Oct 26, 2007.
Can someone define/describe what 'sonship' is and the good points/problems with it?
The Sonship course is sort of an introspective study in grace. PCA pastor and missionary Jack Miller put it together and World Harvest Mission (a Presby missions group I believe) uses it.
SOme of its foci: Not living as orphans but as sons. In other words, we verbalize salvation by grace, but we base our happiness and our feelings of "Elect-edness" on our performance. If we have a bad day we think God hates us; a good day means that God loves us. The Sonship course buries these myths and stresses God's love for His children and how we should live in that grace. We are sons of God.
Key readings would be Luther's preface to his commentary on Galatians.
I am sure someone here will find areas to critique Sonship, but overall it is a good study into one's personal patterns. It is edifying and causes one to look inward at how they live out the graceof God in their life. Us "reformed" folks like to dot theological eyes, but to look inward at motivations and feelings (ohhh....) is a little harder for us.
I have listened to Jack Miller's tapes and read his wife's book and overall I think it is very good stuff, and very practical too.
They are trying to create a "higher Christian life" within a Reformed context. So they believe that most Christians have all sorts of psychological hangups because they don't understand that they have been "adopted" into the family of God. They are "orphan" Christians who need to experience "sonship" to have a good self-esteem.
People in this movement talk in slogans about how you ought to "preach the gospel to yourself" and whatnot. They overemphasize the doctrine of adoption to the extent that they wind up downplaying imputation. They give easy answers to hard questions. It isn't necessarily heretical, but it isn't very helpful, either. John Owen on sin and temptation deals with the same problems Sonship wants to fix, without the buzzwords.
Yes, Jack Miller was fond of saying, "Preach the Gospel to yourself daily."
What's wrong with that?
I have never heard any downplaying of imputation. And what's wrong with phrasing things smartly so that people remember it?
It has seemed helpful to many people; and within the bounds of good doctrine. Are we not loved by God, or are we?
It's too glib. The Bible tells us to "pray without ceasing." There's a subtle difference from having a conversation with yourself. Besides, we have Word and Sacrament ordained as means of grace to present the Gospel to us.
It is the same error of technique that shows up time and again in Evanglicalism. Everybody has personal issues -- and they don't go away if you throw proof texts at them. Sanctification depends on operations of the Holy Spirit, who is not bound to our agendas.
Well, they force-feed this stuff to missionaries.
Sure. My concern is that sanctification is not based on reminding yourself of your adoption.
I suppose it depends a good deal what one’s sources of knowledge are concerning this matter. One may hear (or read) a poor teacher on “Sonship”, or hear from an objector to the teaching, and have one’s views strongly affected, negatively.
Jay E. Adams wrote a booklet critiquing the movement/doctrine – called Biblical Sonship – and then Ed Welch wrote a gentle and warm response to Adams, but strongly defending Sonship, which was distributed to CCEF faculty and a few others. Adams is sort of their grandfather, from whence they sprung, and they love him.
Those who know the materials that come out of CCEF know that a good bit of it is profoundly informed by the Sonship view of the Gospel. Two areas (among many others) involve the concept of “idols of the heart”, and the expulsion of these “lesser loves” by the power of a greater love. There is also an examination of this “modern” idolatry and how it affects what drives/motivates us, as in “what is the sin underneath the sins” we seem to persist in and have great difficulty mastering? I have seen the Sonship awareness bring light into dark regions of the heart, leading souls to genuine and healthy holiness. I rarely use the word “Sonship,” as it is simply the Gospel.
Another area is summed up in this brief meditation:
Galatians 3:3 -- After beginning with the Spirit,
are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Christians will always drift back toward a legalistic view of salvation. It starts subtly: our spiritual fervor, or devotion, or ministry involvement, or consistency, or new-found obedience really are signs of our Christian vitality. Before long, however, we begin to think of them more and more as the cause of our vitality.
Being right with God slowly drifts from grace alone to grace plus achieving this standard. At this point, Paul tells us we have created a false gospel, a gospel of law rather than grace. The same grace that began our relationship with Jesus is what keeps us in that relationship. "Lay your deadly doings down, down at Jesus' feet; / Rest in Him, and Him alone, gloriously complete."
From lesson Three -- In Line With the Gospel (Study: "A Community Which Serves God's Purposes"). Redeemer PCA, NYC
In other words, in answer to this statement, “My concern is that sanctification is not based on reminding yourself of your adoption”, I would say sanctification is vitally connected to justification, which is a component of adoption. Even when I was an enemy, ungodly and a wretch, Christ loved me and called me to Himself with an irresistible love. He loves me not one whit less today than He did some 40 years ago when He first revealed Himself to me (in the midst of my vigorously arguing against the person bearing witness to Him!), and it is this grace first revealed when He justified me before the Father that is even today a mighty factor in my ongoing sanctification.
In the mornings, when, with my coffee and Bible, I seek His face and the intimacy of His heart, I am not deterred by the coldness and sluggishness of my own heart, nor by my poor performance in one area or another, neither by my knowledge of strong corruption within me, for I know His heart me-ward, and I remind myself – preach to myself, if you will – of His steadfast love:
Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted in me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance. (Ps 42:5)
And I recall, sometimes on a field of spiritual battle, sometimes in a pit of devastating failure, sometimes in a fiery furnace of testing, “I am a beloved son, adopted into a royal family, clothed in a priceless garment made by the Son of God, cleansed in the very fountain of eternal life (Zech 13:1), and it is well with my soul! Nothing can separate me from Father’s love, for I am in His Beloved.”
When in Africa, encouraging my class of 40 men who were bound to shortly return to their villages (mostly in South Sudan) and likely opposition, and in some cases possible death, I would talk to them about how they looked in the eyes of angels – and the eyes of those in Heaven if those were given to see them – that they were royalty, not merely the simple villagers others, or even themselves, might look upon them as, but younger brothers of the Lord Christ, of whom the world is not worthy, and children of the great God, the Almighty Father, who from an eternal love of them adopted them to Himself in Christ Jesus. “Remember,” I would tell them, “remember who you are, Whose you are!”
I, and many I come into contact with, have great need for sustaining power in tribulation, and this “Sonship” awareness of intimate fellowship with the God who gave His only Son for me braces my soul to stand in the evil day.
…the young King, He who is so glorious in majesty that the angels shield their eyes….leads His people into the fray against the powers of darkness – they having learned that the “jaws of death” are sometimes the bite of exquisite pleasure – and turn from the allurement of the world’s fair beauties to gaze, if but fleetingly, upon the smiling face of Him who flung forth the billions of galaxies, and the Creator of all this earth’s pleasures; His smiling approval is a beauty that satisfies the heart and steels the nerves; men and women both will walk through fire for His love. [from, “Battlefield of Beauty”]
I suppose anything with a label given by men may be brought under suspicion (look, even “Presbyterian” is disparaged by some!), and sometimes rightly. But the gospel in its purity never – not in truth – and I see this teaching as the gospel, plain and simple.
Chris's statements are really quite unfounded, and are a good reason why it is always better to read something for yourself, rather than to take someone's critique of it at face value. Miller's writings do have a definite piety to them that make the more intellectual and objective types within Reformed circles uncomfortable, and therefore to "pooh-pooh" them, but the substance of his writings are usually not very thoughtfully dealt with by his opponents. This goes for Chad Van Dixhoorn's attempt to critique Sonship in his WTJ essay as well, where not only does he not fairly represent, nor really seem to understand, the theology of Jack Miller, but also gives a one-sided interpretation of the WCF on the issue, ignoring significant statements therein which both simultaneously uphold Miller's theology and undercut his own critique.
Sonship is not an attempt to create a "higher-life" movement within Reformed circles, but is indeed a helpful paradigm in Christian discipleship that places a renewed focus upon God's grace, and His benefits to us in our salvation, for dealing with the inevitable difficulties and setbacks that arise in the Christian walk. I have found the summary of "sanctification by faith" to be an edifying and thought provoking way of looking at the whole in summary fashion.
That is the basic message of Sonship; that not only are we justified by faith alone, we are also to progress in our sanctification by that faith, and to strengthen it by our knowledge of who we are in Christ.
Anyone who has a problem with that, has a basic problem with understanding the message of the Scriptures on the Christian life.
Great post, Steve. You have enunciated much of what I was getting at - we were just apparently writing our posts at the same time.
I went through the course some years back, and benefited from it, although I heard some criticisms of it that may have been valid in certain cases.
One part of the teaching is that in the verse...
...you can replace the words circumcision and uncircumcision with anything. The Elder teaching the class, who felt I was a tad too strident (and maybe was) about being Reformed, asked me if I thought you could say, "Neither being Reformed nor not being Reformed counts for anything...". My reply was to ask if he thought we could say, "Neither being Christian nor not being Christian counts for anything...". He said, "Well, no.", to which I replied, "some of us consider those two statements to mean the same thing.". He was not pleased.
Sonship uses artificial categories of "orphan Christian" and "adopted Christian." This bifurcation does not exist. Scripture knows nothing of it.
I am concerned that those who find this stuff compelling have missed something fundamental about the Reformed Faith. If one was legalistic enough to find it liberating, then there is a theological problem. There are basic questions that Calvinism answers:
What are we saved from?
How are we saved?
What are we saved into?
We have catechism for this. We have 450 years of Reformed teaching on these matters. We have 52 Lord's Days a year on this. When the orphan/adopted dichotomy sounds good, something is wrong.
This is introspective, moralistic and morose. You will drive yourself nuts that way. That's too much "experiential" and not enough "Calvinist."
Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here in this world we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness.
Peter says we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.
No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small?
The analogy fits. The artificial dichotomy of "orphan Christian" and "adopted Christian" is nowhere found in Scripture. It originated with Jack Miller.
These categories do not exist.
What? If obedience is obedience, it cannot be legalism. It just can't. While even our good works are affected by sin, others cannot judge another's obedience as legalism.
Spend some time actually reading Augustine, Luther, and Calvin and you will find plenty of experiential faith within their works - it's part of being human. Christians (even Calvinist Christians) live with emotions, fears, struggles, setbacks, joys, discoveries of the faith, you name it. If one is to assume a view that seeks to overcome those realities by denying them, than that one has just adopted a docetic view of the Christian life that seeks to eliminate our human experience by focusing exclusively upon the divine promises. We are the church militant, the pilgrim people living out a theology of the cross. Human frailty is a reality with which we contend.
I understand your zeal in living out the freedom of the Christian life, but nowhere do I see apostolic encouragement to "sin boldly" and treat it with lightness. We are to live boldly in the grace of Christ, and fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil with an equal boldness.
Be a theologian, not a biblicist. Their are many categories in theological parlance that are not found in Scripture. The observation made there is founded upon the reality that many Christians live in their thoughts according to a view of life and themselves which is severed from the reality of who they have become in Christ. There are any number of realities for the Christian life that have been set before us in Scripture of which, in truth, many Christians need to be reminded.
It is a matter of motives, not practice. You can be obedient out of a legalistic drive, or out of a foundation of grace leading to thankful and joyful service. There is a large difference between the two, although the duties are the same.
Big red lights go off here. Sirens too. Justification is not merely a component of adoption. Instead, adoption flows from justification.
Both are legal acts. Adoption lets us call God "Abba," gives us the inward work of the Spirit and unites us with the Church. Packer calls it "the positive outworking of God's justifying sentence."
"Justification [secures] a restoration to the favour and fellowship of God. We become the sons of God by faith in Jesus Christ. (Gal. 3:26.) No one can read the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans without being convinced that in Paul’s apprehension a justified believer is something more than a pardoned criminal.
"He is a man whose salvation is secure because he is free from the law and all its demands; because the righteousness of the law... has been fulfilled him; because thereby he is so united to Christ as to become a partaker of his life; because no one can lay anything to the charge of those for whom Christ died and whom God has justified; and __because such believers being justified are revealed as the objects of the mysterious, immutable, and infinite love of God__." (emph. mine)
It doesn't matter. All our works are stained by sin. To strain the stain is itself legalism.
If a teaching is not found in scripture or a consequence of it, it is not teaching. It is speculation.
Are you serious? Personal experience, even the experience of the finest Christians, is not a test of religious truth. Sola scriptura, 1 Tim 3:16 and all that.
What you describe is more extreme than Sonship. I sincerely doubt that World Harvest accepts that view.
The teaching is classic Martin Luther. I have the "Sin Boldly" motto on a beer bottle with his face on it. I am an experiential Calvinist, sure, but moralistic introspection is a ticket to the funny farm.
Christ already defeated the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are free from the curse of the law. Hallelujah!
This has been a tremendous thread, and I've been edified by both sides. Here's hoping that cooler heads can prevail and this thread can be finished with Christian charity because I would like to see the conclusion of this one.
Dude, you're just shooting from the hip, and wasting people's time. Specifically, you're wasting my time.
The only thing that I will even bother to respond to is your assertions in post #19, since those became a personal challenge of orthodoxy. If you want to be snide with your "sola scriptura and all that" remarks, then why don't you sit yourself down in front of the Gospel of Mark for the evening (from which I happen to be preaching this week), and see just how much Scripture itself testifies to the struggles, fear, and setbacks of being human disciples who only slowly gain in our understanding of the knowledge of Christ, and who have to be constantly reminded of our position in him.
Although the Scriptures are our final source of authority, and the only revelation of man's salvation, it is rather myopic of you to insist that no theological understanding can be drawn from our observations of creation and human nature outside of the Scriptures. In basic theological terminology, which only the most strident biblicist will refuse to accept, this is usually called "General Revelation".
By your reasoning you just called the Apostle Paul into error, because he makes it clear that there are things that can be known about God from the natural order (in Romans 1:18ff, 1 Cor. 11:14, etc.). You practically just called John Calvin himself a heretic, because he opens his Institutes with the assertion that a knowledge of ourself is essential in gaining a knowledge of God, that our impoverished and miserable state leads us to look upward to Him and his perfections, and that our smitten consciences testify to our sin and fallen state, and consequently our need of a Savior. Merely read through the initial chapters of Book One of the Institutes.
I have no idea who you are, or the reasons for your contentiousness, but if I were you I would sit myself down in Sunday school for a few weeks and learn a bit more of a posture of humility. Then when you have become teachable, go back and read the Scriptures and writings of Church history on this subject. They are of one mind that theological knowledge (although never perfect - for that matter, neither can our interpretations of Scripture be perfect), may be found through observation of self and creation, and this includes making deductions from our frail human experiences as we study the Scriptures.
If you want to get confessional on this point, read the opening line of the WCF, which affirms the acquisition of theological knowledge (although not saving) from creation and providence, and the last phrase of 1.5 as well, which clearly states that our affirmation of the truth of Scripture comes not because it says that it is God's word, but through an experiential affirmation to our hearts by the internal working of the Holy Spirit.
Then go back and read Calvin again. Then the Gospels. Then... You get my point.
There is a time and a place for coolness, but the arguments above should be conclusive regardless.
If all of church history were conducted w/o passion, it would make for a rather boring read, don't you think?
(btw, passion is part of our, and of Christ's, humanity - don't get all docetic on me!)
I agree with Archlute here. You definitely are shooting from the hip and wasting my time too.
You are condemning Sonship and I would bet you have not even read of fraction of Jack Miller's material.
You make broad sweeping generalizations. You quote some unhelpful info.
"Sin boldly" emblazoned on your beer mug is, I am sure, quite a great witnessing tool.
Introspection of what Christ is doing in your soul is vital. What does it mean to work out your salvation in fear and trembling after all?
Much of the Christian life lies outside of learning your catechism. How do you mentally process disapointments in life? How do you handle those inner sins even when you can look holy on the outside?
Also, "they" don't "force-feed missionaries" this stuff. Most of them eat voluntarily and love the stuff! Many I have seen have been profoundly blessed. It is an intense application of sound doctrine into one's personal life. Some Reformed like to live in the realm of the ivory tower, but Sonship forces them into the real world.
If you do not bow down before idols of stone, but your life is devoted to things other than Christ that are hidden deep in the heart, you might do well to do a little introspection.
Jerusalem's Blade assessment is right on, thanks for that most excellent response.
Forgive me for sounding overly-pious in my post. I think passion is a tremendous thing, and if you and clstamper wanted to literally duke it out in the ring I'd grab a box of popcorn and be on the front row.
Seriously though, I was just hoping to glean some more from this thread before it came to an end. For the record, I agree with what you and Steve have been saying in this thread. I just wanted to hear more of where clstamper is coming from before things came to a halt.
The verse that keeps popping back into my head throughout the course of this thread has been,
Romans 6:11, "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Though I don't know much about this specific teaching of "Sonship" this verse seems to fit what has been said about it.
For your information Jack Miller uses Luther's Commentary on Galatians extensively in his material. He is not teaching a "higher life" view of carnal/spiritual Christians; we experience both the feelings of "orphans" and "sons" in our relationship to God, because we still have indwelling sin - which this program never claims to eradicate. I don't think Miller is as precise as he might be in his terminology, and every teaching requires examination and balance with other teaching, but this isn't "higher life," believe me, I would know; I was steeped in that as a child.
What really bothers me though, is your tone. There's no excuse for calling anyone's orthodoxy into question here, it's not done on this board unless someone says something truly outside the creeds and confessions, which neither Adam nor Pergamon have done. This is a good way to draw negative attention to yourself here.
No problem, brother. Occasionally, when my flesh gets the better of me, I have considered that a weekly bout in the ring with some of the local house church guru's would be a refreshing way to end the week. Like I said, when my flesh gets the better of me. None of that is meant as a swipe at you, Chris.
Well, legalism that calls itself "freedom" is still not a good thing. The Reformed church is supposed to clear out those things, not make up extra-scriptural categories as a man-made meter of spiritual progress.
You can't redefine justification as a function of adoption. You can't define Christian spirituality by your inner lights. That's truly outside the creeds and confessions.