Paul's Passing Thoughts

Lou Priolo’s “Contention” is Missing the New Birth

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on January 29, 2012

Lou Priolo has a big problem with the slogan, “We must preach the gospel to ourselves every day.” Apparently, some suggest that we should do it every day, and Lou doesn’t think all Christians need to be sanctified by justification daily, only on an as needed basis. In the first post, I shared my dismay that his primary concern is the mere slogan of a doctrine that has been banned in several Presbyterian churches, including the one where he is an elder. Previously, that is. The document posted on their website was pulled down and copies of the statement were “lost.”

Priolo begins the article by concurring with the premise of Sonship Theology: justification is an ongoing work and our sanctification flows from it. Throughout the article, he flip-flops back and forth from the orthodox to unorthodox, and back again. This is very uncharacteristic of the Priolo I knew of in the early 90’s. But his assertion that justification powers our sanctification places him squarely in the Sonship camp. Of course, justification makes sanctification possible, but that’s not the issue here.

Also Sonshipesque in Priolo’s “contention” was the conspicuous absence of any discussion concerning how regeneration and the new birth fit into this picture. Yes, if that isn’t factored in, the power of our sanctification can only come from one place: justification. The absence of this subject did nothing to distance Priolo from hardcore Sonshippers. Readers here often comment, “The subject of the new birth is avoided like the plague in our church.” Priolo stated the following in the aforementioned article:

“Consequently, I have little desire to spend precious moments every day laying anew a foundation that has already been laid for me [But why not if that’s where our motivation comes from?]. Nor do I think that the foundation on which I am building my life somehow needs daily reinforcement [Why not if it motivates us to build?]. My foundation is firm! I would rather (and I believe the bulk of Scripture directs me to) spend my time building upon that foundation by growing in love, in holiness, and in good works [Right, motivated by the prior. No?]. (I don’t believe we should have a reductionist view of the concept of grace either—grace is more than unmerited favor—it is the supernatural ability and desire that God gives His adopted sons and daughters to obey Him [Ok, yes]).”

My focus here is on the statement, “I don’t believe we should have a reductionist view of the concept of grace either—grace is more than unmerited favor—it is the supernatural ability and desire that God gives His adopted sons and daughters to obey Him.” But what about the new birth? One is not possible without the other (sanct./just.), but they function differently. Primarily, sanctification is not powered from the finished work of justification, but rather the new birth/regeneration. The fact that regeneration is missing from Priolo’s argument is truly puzzling. I believe I am in good company here. Jay Adams states on page 34 of Biblical Sonship:

“The problem with Sonship is that it misidentifies the source of sanctification (or the fruitful life of the children of God) as justification. Justification, though a wonderful fact, a ground of assurance, and something never to forget, cannot produce a holy life through a strong motive for it….On the other hand, regeneration, (quickening, or making alive; Ephesians 2:25) is the true source of sanctification.”

Is everything that contributes to sanctification from “grace.” Doesn’t our new creaturehood  enable us make us participants who will be held responsible for how we use God’s gifts? Like most teachers of our day, Priolo fears to clearly state our role in sanctification and thereby suffer the wrath of antinomian reductionists. An increased role by the saints necessarily focuses on the primary tool for such participation: law/word/Scripture.

Priolo continues in the same article to pass on a biblically balanced view of sanctification in order to appease:

And yes, of course, I realize that I can do none of this apart from the Spirit’s enabling power, and that my motivation for working so diligently on my sanctification is out of a heart filled with gratitude for what Christ has done by justifying me (not to mention thanksgiving for a myriad of other mercies with which He has blessed me).

Clearly, Priolo is toeing the Sonship line that working in sanctification comes from “gratitude for what Christ has done by justifying me” [emphasis mine]. In other words, if I may borrow a phrase from Adams, “….a strong motive for it.” What’s the difference? Not much.

As I mentioned in the previous post regarding Priolo’s article, the notion that obedience is always accompanied by gratitude is patently false, and let me add here that it is no different than John Piper Christian mysticism (also note in the first quote his reference to “desire”). Furthermore, the “heart filled with gratitude” aspect hearkens back to Sonship/GS/NC/NCT  which teaches that contemplation on the gospel must first fill the heart with gratitude—and then all obedience must flow from that gratitude. Any less than this is “making sanctification the basis for our justification.”  Again, God uses many other things in sanctification to motivate us.

Moreover, the theological fencepost word of our day when talking about sanctification is enablement: “And yes, of course, I realize that I can do none of this apart from the Spirit’s enabling power….” Yes, of course Lou, we wouldn’t want to think that you think that it is anything more than that. And don’t worry, I don’t think anybody does.

First of all, I will stop short of speaking out of school because I have not yet endeavored to look into this whole “enablement” thing. Suffice to say for now that enablement doesn’t seem to be a significant biblical concept when compared to “empowered,” “colaboring,” and being “helped,” and “counseled.” In Strong’s exhaustive concordance, the word “enabled” appears once in the New Testament and seems to mean, “strengthened.” When we consider that “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” who’s doing the doing? And who “can.” It is assumed that God will strengthen us to do whatever He wants us to do; therefore, we are without excuse. But the motivation to do that will not always be gratitude. Hence, like all hardcore Sonshippers, Priolo makes “gratitude/desire” the “motivator/enabler.” But gratitude/desire doesn’t equal enablement. Christians are always thankful at some level, but that is one of many, many motivators in the many-faceted Christian life. Gospel Contemplationism > gratitude/desire > motivation > enablement > obedience is not the biblical schema for sanctification. But if there is something else in this article that Priolo didn’t “balance” with error, it is missing, and that’s on him.

Sometimes it will be fear of being chastised as a son. Sometimes it will be the fear of being held accountable by God’s people and losing the blessedness of their fellowship. Sometimes it will be a sense of duty/valor to take up our cross and sacrifice self. Sometimes it will be designed to encourage another person. Sometimes it will be the desire and privilege to actually please the awesome God who sustains the universe and the galaxies regardless of how we feel. But yet, a NANC Fellow wrote an article entitled, “The Danger of Pleasing God.” Where is the outrage among these supposed lovers of God’s truth?  Priolo’s ambiguity does not serve God’s people well in our day.

Like the worst of Sonshippers, Priolo reduces biblical motivation for obedience to gratitude only. If he believes there are other motivations, he certainly forgot to mention them. In the article, he criticizes reductionism while employing it in this confused treatise; one example is reducing all of the motivations/emotions experienced in sanctification to gratitude.  And worse yet, like all rabid Sonshippers, he excludes the new birth from the conversation, and probably in his counseling office as well.


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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on March 31, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Reblogged this on Paul's Passing Thoughts.


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