Every generation has blind spots. The church is no exception. The church has always had rough edges and areas in need of reform. That being said, every generation of Christian has also had their strengths, and those strengths often serve as correctives to the blind spots of other generations.
One of the major blind spots of the twenty-first-century American church is its view of theology. For many in the church, theology is little more than fuel for controversy or a complicated, wet blanket for Christian sincerity and zeal. We live in an age when pastors are expected to be all things to all men—that is, except theologians.
Many churches and Christians today have filed for theological divorce—making clear distinctions between the rigors of the mind and the affections of the soul. Many sigh in exasperation: give me what my soul needs, not complicated doctrines! The reality is, however, theology was never intended for such abuse. This is our generation’s tragic blind spot.
But another generation has answers and cures for our doctrinal deficiencies—the generation of the Puritans. For these sixteenth and seventeeth-century Protestants, theology was not intellectual rough-housing, but the very soul of the Christian life. The Puritan Thomas Watson writes that doctrine “directs the whole course of Christianity, as the eye directs the body…. [It] is to the soul as the anchor to the ship, that holds it steady in the midst of the rolling waves of error, or the violent winds of persecution.”1
They knew that the head is meant to serve the heart. They were gripped by the reality that theology enjoyed in the soul would kindle worship and prayer. The Puritans were bent on making theology transformative for the soul.
And so, I wish to offer an example of a Puritan doing theology to answer a pressing question: how do I actually change and grow?
How does a Christian gain a practical, genuine holiness is the question of every age—a love-your-spouse and think-less-of-yourself kind of holiness. A holiness very much available to (and expected of) us in the here-and-now. Newly regenerated believers enter into the Christian life outmatched, overwhelmed, and often still somewhat enamored by sin. The war has begun. And thus there is an earnestness to the question: how do I practically increase in holiness?
This increasing in holiness is what the NT authors refer to as sanctification.