Kevin DeYoung: Why the church is so “Holey”

I’m reading through Kevin DeYoung’s new book, The Hole in Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness, and though I’m still too early into the book to know if he’s successfully navigated these challenging waters, I found one of his initial assessments on why the pursuit of godliness is often lacking in churches to hit quite close to home.

These past two summers, I’ve preached through sections of Proverbs because I knew it would be hard to do so in a gospel-centered way.  Oh sure, Proverbs is easy if one is simply looking to exhort people toward wise living.  But if one is seeking to uphold the law/gospel distinction and not drive people to despair with the force of Proverbs’ instructions, providing both sufficient instruction and sufficient comfort is a tough balancing act.  I struggled with how to preach Proverbs; interested readers can listen to the sermons here to decide if I was successful or not.

But this assessment of why churches are often not overly passionate about the pursuit of godliness was good:

Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion.  We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin.  We’re scared of words like diligence, effort, and duty.  Pastors don’t know how to preach the good news in their sermons and still strongly exhort churchgoers to cleanse themselves from every defilement of body and spirit (2 Cor. 7:1).  We know legalism (salvation by law keeping) and antinomianism (salvation without the need for law keeping) are both wrong, but antinomianism feels like a much safer danger.

Pg. 19

Of course, I’d nuance this a bit.  Conservative Christianity doesn’t automatically lean the way of antinomianism – I know many conservatives who think the biggest problem out there is antinomianism and actually believe the way of legalism is the safer danger!  But he’s right in that true gospel-centered Christianity can err on the side of antinomianism.  (Though even this could be nuanced!)

I wonder, however, if the terms “legalism” and “antinomianism” are tossed about too much these days more as bogeymen than as meaningful descriptions of different emphases.   We might not think someone is behaving in as pious a manner as we’d like, but does that automatically make them some stripe of antinomian?  We might think someone is too stodgy in their Sunday observance, but does that make them a de facto legalist?

Kevin does touch on something I’ve struggled with though.  I know how the law minus the gospel can crush the bruised reed so I seek to wield that law with great care.  And yet some imperative passages are so filled with emphatic particles and expressions that it is bordering on dishonesty to preach them with less force than the original.  This takes wisdom.

May God continue to guide us all as we preach both the law and the gospel unto his glorious name!

Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (Anaheim, CA)

7 thoughts on “Kevin DeYoung: Why the church is so “Holey””

  1. Kevin loves to talk about our effort – our work. Those whom he rebuts (tchividjian & co) love to talk about HIS work.

    Some preach the Christian, others preach the Christ.


    1. Interesting assessment, Mike. It sounds a bit glib though, so I’ll have to see if I share it with you in the end. But you’re absolutely right that those who focus on the Christian life at the expense of the announcement of Christ’s perfect life and sacrificial death are too anthropocentric (= not theocentric enough) in their preaching. It remains to be seen if KDY falls into that trap or not.

      Thanks for stopping by!


      1. I’m sure he is more balanced than I give him credit for; but every time I hear him speak he seems to be loudly pushing back against YRRs who want to talk about Christ and the gospel. He obviously finds that troubling.

        If I had the opportunity, I would love to ask him if he would consider Lloyd-Jones an antinomian.

        Great blog btw. Yours is one of my favorites.


  2. Two thoughts here. I have found many ref’d men to criticize the Puritans as legalistic. While I wished they would have been more influenced by Calvin’s exegetical concern and soundness, I don’t think the Puritans were legalistic. I’ve heard the same complaint about JC Ryle. I’m just throwing this out there, but my hunch is that the Puritans were experiencing the duplex gratia Dei and were quite taken up with God’s sanctifying grace. God gave them a sincere passion to purify the church and out of their love for God, they gave much thought to piety. It is not that the Puritans made themselves miserable in their quest for godliness, but that they were empowered by the grace of God and matured to a spiritual wisdom that is rare today. In other words, the lambasting of Puritans – and I say this as one who is not a Puritan devotee per se but does respect and appreciate them – is the reaction of one who has not received the same grace as they and therefore can’t see the truth and wisdom of their ethics.

    I am not terribly familiar with deYoung, but given the church today, he might be emphasizing holiness out of the grace God has given him (think Augustine’s “grant what Thou commands and command what Thy will”). Grace is not only about justification, but, while distinct, also contains our sanctification.

    Two. Mike, are you referring to when Lloyd-Jones, while preaching on Romans, said a man cannot preach the gospel rightly without being called an antinomian? As an aside, DA Carson has said no one would ever accuse John Murray of being an antinomian! If deYoung would say L-J was no antinomian, he’d be right. But L-J’s point was that the message of faith alone is so simple that it can seem like there are no commands from Christ the Savior. Zane Hodges has corrupted the truth of faith alone and argued for antinomianism while, ironically, making discipleship a works-based, second-step-kind-of “decision.”


  3. Law needs love for its inspiration. And love needs law to
    show us how to love our neighbor. Therefore love fulfills the law. (See Romans 12 & 14) Pastor Paul Christianson,
    Grace Reformed Church
    Clarkston, WA


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