Review of The Hole in Our Holiness, by Kevin DeYoung

In The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung draws our attention to a noticeable—well, hole—in modern American evangelical preaching and teaching. Most churches today are aware of the mistakes of past generations. We know that legalism is bad, and so is social isolationism. But now it seems that the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. With our heavy emphasis on grace, relevance, and cultural engagement, we are neglecting the Bible’s equal emphasis on personal holiness.

According to DeYoung, there are various reasons for this. We are averse to the idea of excessive rule-making, whether the rules are biblically-based or not. We are afraid of coming across as narrow-minded or holier-than-thou (never mind the fact that we should be holier than unbelievers!). We may think that any stress on commandment-keeping (imperatives) could compromise the gospel of free grace (indicatives). Further, many believers are under the false impression that genuine, God-pleasing piety is simply an impossibly high standard—after all, aren’t even our best deeds nothing but “filthy rags” in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6)? All these misconceptions amount to what DeYoung calls a widespread “nomophobia” (fear of law) in the church.

Against such notions, DeYoung presents holiness as the real, achievable, and necessary response to the grace God shows us. One of my favorite takeaways from this book is DeYoung’s defense of John Calvin’s “third use” of the law—the law as a “blueprint for holiness” (p. 51). Contrary to interpreters who denigrate God’s law—by making it either a relic of a bygone era of redemptive history or a crushing taskmaster that only “tears us down” so the gospel can then “build us up”—DeYoung presents the law as a gracious guide for God’s people. We may not be justified by the law, but we are sanctified by it. What’s more, says DeYoung, what the law demands of us is something that we can actually do! How else can we make sense of the Bible’s numerous godly examples, like Noah, Job, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Paul?

Part of the problem is that we tend to equate holiness with absolute, sinless perfection. Of course, we will never be completely free of selfish motives, at least not this side of glory. But through our union with Christ, our Spirit-powered, gospel-driven, faith-fueled effort (which, says DeYoung, is not a four-letter word!) can be sanctified and presented as pleasing to the Father.

This book is not an academic treatise. You won’t find in it a thorough exegetical study of key passages, or an exhaustive, systematic treatment of relevant doctrines (like the law/gospel distinction, for example). Instead, this book is best suited for pastors who want to know how to rightly preach holiness from their pulpits. It would also be of value in Sunday School classrooms and Bible studies—the book ends with helpful study questions for each chapter.

I could not recommend this book more highly. DeYoung brings a much-needed corrective to American churches today. Preaching grace is important and necessary—let’s not lose sight of that. But the Christian life does not end at justification. We’ve been saved by grace alone through faith alone; therefore, let’s use that grace to pursue a life holy and pleasing to God!

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