John Eldredge, Kevin DeYoung, and the Question of Holiness

DeYoung

Eldredge

Both Kevin DeYoung and John Eldredge have written on the subject of holiness recently.  I’ve read them both.  In fact, I’ve just concluded my reading of Elredge’s work (and see my review of DeYoung’s here).  Since both works are fresh in my mind, and since both writers tend to attract their share of readers, I thought I’d do something of a brief reflection on both–similarities and differences, if you will.

Titles, Theses

DeYoung’s work: The Hole In Our Holiness: Filling the Gap between Gospel Passion and the Pursuit of Godliness.  Eldredge’s work: The Utter Relief of Holiness: How God’s Goodness Free Us from Everything that Plagues Us.

Both writers are quite aware that many Christians view the pursuit of personal holiness as an option.  DeYoung writes, “There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness [he equates “godliness” with “holiness”].  This must change.  It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously.  It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God” (p. 21, emphasis added).  As for Eldredge, after making it clear that God’s purpose, in Jesus, is the restoration of the creation he has made–Jesus being “the first in the line of humanity restored”.  This is the purpose of Christianity, Eldredge argues.  “The intended shape of our existence is made clear in the person of Jesus” (p. 13).

Similarities

Both Eldredge and DeYoung make surprisingly similar points throughout.  Following are some of those similarities, though not in the order the writers developed them in their respective works: first, both writers view the pursuit of personal holiness as a natural consequence of our redemption.  Second, both are critical of mistaken legalistic piety as the path to holiness.  Third, both rely on the holiness of Jesus and our being in Jesus as the purpose and path to true personal holiness.  Fourth, both writers address holiness and the struggle for sexual purity.  Fifth, both see racism and prejudice as opposed to a life of holiness.  Sixth, both argue that a call to holiness is a call to obedience.  Finally, both see the pursuit of holiness and its byproduct as evidence of gospel living.

Differences

While both writers rely on the Bible as their primary source, both men appropriate different sections to make and develop their points.  But there are reasons for this approach, I believe.  For example, Eldredge’s work is divided into two sections: Section One: The Surprise of Holiness.  In this section, Eldredge draws primarily from the Gospels, while in Section Two: The Way To Holiness, from the writings of Paul.  DeYoung, though he draws from both the Old and New Testaments in heavy doses, the reader finds much of the Apostle Paul throughout.

Regarding secondary sources, this is where the reader sees the bulk of the differences.  Apart from a few works of fiction, Eldredge weaves the nineteenth century Scotsman George MacDonald throughout.  C.S. Lewis is echoed in a few places.  As for DeYoung, he draws quite a bit from the Reformed, Puritan, and Calvinistic camp–for example, Owen, Ames, Calvin, Baxter, Ryle, Packer, Bridges, Piper, Westminster Confession and so on.

But one big difference that deserves to be mentioned is this: while John Eldredge draws on the Holy Spirit throughout, he only does so as a guide, but in a secondary role.  I find this use of the Spirit to be insufficient and deficient, at best.  In the place of the Spirit’s power, what the reader finds, I believe, is a reliance on the speech-act theory (this is not to take away from the fruits of this theory either).  However, Kevin DeYoung does a much better job in his approach to holiness and the Holy Spirit.  In fact, one of DeYoung’s chapters begins: “Spirit-powered…,” and even a subsection in this same chapter reads, “Holiness by Holy Spirit Power.”  There is no such approach or material in Eldredge’s work.

Conclusion, Recommendation

Recently I noted John Eldredge’s influence in my own spiritual journey hereThe Utter Relief of Holiness served as a reminder despite despite my objection to his use of the Holy Spirit.  I continue to be impressed and encouraged on how Eldredge draws on the Gospels and the life of Jesus in particular.  I have no doubt that those in the Reformed and Calvinistic camp will be right at home with DeYoung’s work–and rightfully so!  Both men have their readership, with a few overlappers, including yours truly.

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2 Responses to John Eldredge, Kevin DeYoung, and the Question of Holiness

  1. Simon says:

    TC, my observation about the Reformed idea about holiness is that it seems to be conflated with “moralism” – i.e. good moral behavior is really depicted as what holiness is, with reference to the 10 Commandments or some other legal requirement. This is evident in what De Young and Eldredge are saying above in you summary (sexual purity etc). You also see this in guys like Packer and Sproul

    However, I believe that God’s holiness is none other than his co-suffering love for creation. This is manifest most fully, of course, in the person of Jesus Christ. You can discuss this is legal terms – i.e. love does no harm and is therefore the fulfilment of the law. But to think of holiness in only legal terms misses the point I think. One thing you can say about Christ is that he himself never referred to moralisms when teaching us how to behave. There is always an ontological or organic reality that stands behind the law. Goodness and love are not what they are because of some legal code – that would mean that we define what is holy by reference to something other than God, in effect making that thing being referenced our god. God is good and beautiful and lovely because that is who He is. As soon as we see that holiness is not some set of moralisms, but the perfect love of God, the more fully we can live out the life of God in our own lives.

    • TC says:

      Simon, neither writers took the moralism approach. In fact, both are critical of such. God and his goodness, as seen in Jesus, is the preferred approach, as you rightfully note.

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