Paul's Passing Thoughts

A letter From “Bob”: How GS/Sonship Theology Affects Church in Real Life

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on March 10, 2011

I received the following email from a reader this week. My response follows. His name and some other details have been changed to protect his identity. Of course, not all GS/Sonship leaders are heavy-handed, but in many such churches the following post would result in church discipline. The email is modified and posted with permission from the sender.

Dear Paul: In your 31. January 2011 blog, you open by stating:

In all of my writings on gospel-driven sanctification / gospel sanctification, and its apparent mother, Sonship Theology, I have primarily addressed the error, and not its ill effects on discipleship and people’s lives. Basically, refutation of false doctrine has prevention in mind, not theological debate for entertainment purposes.” (emphasis added)

I got mixed up in the [name of church excluded], a PCA church. I had previously been involved in a Kellerite church, so I had been swimming in a sea of sonship (and taking on water from it!) for a couple of years in both places, but without ever having heard of sonship theology, (esp. not by name!), or known that that’s what was really being promoted there – it’s taught more by stealth, than openly admitted! Only when I was finally given the label – alerted to its existence by a pastor in another state. was I then able to put the dots together, and see that there was in fact a most definite method to the malaise which I had clearly perceived, but been totally ignorant of both the source, and the systematic nature of the problem!

However, until today, I’ve searched largely in vain for any solid critical material, or in-depth analyses directly addressing those errors of sonship theology that I’ve clearly experienced.

As your opening reference makes it sound like you yourself have written fairly extensively on this subject on various previous occasions, (“…all my writings…” ), I was wondering if you could therefore please be so kind as to e-mail me, or direct me to, any further details / critical analyses – both by yourself and others – of this movement, and its directly related errors?

Thanking you sincerely,


P.S. Can you also possibly shed any light on any particular (or non-standard) doctrine of “repentance” associated with sonship theology? (–the existence of which I’ve so far been similarly unaware of, but which I’ve just lately also begun to suspect…)

To wit: I quote some anonymized portions of an e-mail from someone else at [name of church excluded] (who claims he hasn’t been particularly exposed to their “sonship” teachings, but) who’s suddenly tried to begin invasively ‘counseling’ me in certain areas: [warning: a sudden interest in your life by elders of said churches could mean you’re asking too many questions—paul ] He wrote:

[ The content of this correspondence could reveal Bob’s identity so it has been excluded. The leader responded to Bob’s questions by asking Bob if he had applied any of their teachings to his life, and how that had been accomplished, posing the questions in such a way that called into question Bob’s humbleness and attitude toward “repentance.”]

(– His questions were in fact to a large extent totally off-base, and demonstrated a failure to have even read what I had written to him; but) some of his queries about repentance are kind of non-sequiturs, so I’m wondering if this individual may be operating from some particular understanding of “repentance” which I’m not familiar with? If he has some particular doctrine of, or expectations concerning “repenting” (how one repents, and then can testify to or document having done so?, or can measure one’s progress in having done so?) As I’m a bit mystified by his language and apparent, specific expectations, and wondering if there is also something more to this than meets the eye, at least, that of the uninitiated?

Thanks for any light you can shed!


My Response:



My blog is dedicated to believers such as yourself for the purpose of contending for the faith and thereby pleasing the Lord. Last week, I added the Gospel Sanctification / Sonship Theology network, . Links to other material that contend against elements of this movement are in the right-hand column. Most of the writers are addressing elements but don’t understand how the elements / tenets fit together as a movement. This is because of the covert MO you mentioned that is prevalent within the movement. However, Jay Adams would be an exception to that (in regard to being opposed to the movement) and has even added a “Gospel Sanctification” archive to his blog:

I have written a book that covers elements / tenets in detail that will be printed in a limited addition because I have been persuaded to write another book on GS from a different approach. The present book is in essay form and doesn’t cover the history of the movement as much as it should. The next book will be in chapter form and will include a detailed history of the movement, Lord willing, of course. The present book, which will be in print approximately four weeks from today, will stand in the gap until the next book is published.

Sadly, you are right, information regarding GS / Sonship is very scarce. First, in my opinion, I think many want to protect the integrity of Westminster Seminary, especially those who obtained their doctorate degrees there. Most of the doctrine’s elements were conceived by professors at WMTS. Secondly, there is a reluctance to stand against the “big names” in reformed circles. Thirdly, those who proffer the doctrine are deeply deceptive and ambiguous. Therefore, unraveling their deception is very labor-intensive. Fourthly, as you eluded to, they avoid labels for purposes of stealth, but invoke “THE GOSPEL” nomenclature as often as they can in their verbiage. Who wants to be perceived as being against the gospel? It’s a very effective cover. Fifthly, most reformed churches practice church discipline. Therefore, those who stand against this doctrine are in danger of being muzzled accordingly. Church discipline and excommunication have a huge stigma in reformed circles while the attitude among reformed leaders is “any Church discipline is good discipline.” They see church discipline being used as a weapon to muzzle as unfortunate collateral damage that is necessary for the betterment of the church as a whole. So, here is the point: a parishioner in church A can be placed under discipline for blogging about a reformed leader in church B. I have firsthand knowledge of a guy who pulled his blog down because the leaders of his church liked the other leader; he smelled church discipline coming.

This ministry has, and continues to counsel people on how to leave reformed churches who practice this doctrine with as little stress as possible. Furthermore, the conversation you shared with me in your correspondence is very indicative of the intimidating, heavy-handed methods of those in the movement. The Coral Ridge hostile takeover is a good example of this. Sixthly, the movement is new. It’s conception probably doesn’t date before 1980. Not only that, It started out as Sonship theology and changed to GS (gospel verbiage) when the Sonship label started taking on heavy fire. Therefore, God’s people really haven’t had time to get a full picture of the movement yet. These are six reasons among many others why I think information on this movement is scarce.

Well, that should take care of the “can I get more information?” question. Now for the “repentance” question. Yes, the movement practices an unorthodox form of repentance known as “deep repentance” or “intelligent repentance” or “repentance as a lifestyle.” Since the movement involves, as Jason Hood recently stated it, “sanctification by justification.” and justification is by faith and repentance only; hence, the only two supposed elements of sanctification must necessarily be embellished. Sonship theology has been confronted with three primary inquisitions over the years. First, “What about an ongoing practical application of the narrow concept of justification in the sanctification process?,” or, “So, what are WE supposed to do?” David Powlison answers that question with “heart theology.” The form of repentance you are talking about is part of that GS tenet. Secondly, “How do I know when I am obeying in my own efforts or yielding to Christ’s power?” John Piper answers that question with “Christian Hedonism.” And Thirdly, “How is the Bible used for justification only?” That’s answered with the Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic.

Lastly for now, I think your letter and my response can help many people. I would like to post on this while protecting your identity. This will also involve changing you name and some details you closed with. Let me know,

May we love the Lord’s truth more than men,

Paul M. Dohse

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