30 April 2015

Perfect? Not in this life.

by Phil Johnson

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following excerpt was written by Phil back in November 2006. Phil mentioned his brief flirtation with perfectionism, and discussed how and why he came to reject it.

As usual, the comments are closed.
I've said before that I despise all kinds of perfectionist doctrine. During college and after, I was enthralled with a kind of perfectionism for a few years. Far from being any help or encouragement to my sanctification, perfectionism was a constant cause of frustration and failure.

I finally purged every conscious taint of perfectionism from my thinking after reading volume 2 of B.B. Warfield's excellent Studies in Perfectionism. To this day, that book ranks pretty high in the top five whenever I'm asked to list the books that have influenced me the most.

My contempt for perfectionism (and not merely a doctrinaire commitment to Calvinism) is actually the main reason I'm something less than a fan of Charles Finney and his disastrous long-term influence on American evangelicalism.

As a matter of fact, my disapproval of Finneyism and my abhorrence of perfectionism are more than matched by the animus certain perfectionists have directed at me in return.

For those who imagine that they have attained perfect holiness in this life, I think more in-depth self-examination might disabuse you of that idea. Here are some questions to consider:

The first and great commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" (Matt. 22:37). How's your obedience to that commandment? Perfect? If imperfect, how close to perfection do you actually come? In other words, how does your level of "perfection" compare to Christ's absolute perfection?

Seriously: Is your love for God really something that moment-by-moment consumes your entire heart, soul mind, and strength? Have you managed to banish lustful and covetous thoughts forever from your mind? And if not, how frequently and how passionately do you repent of your sin against the First and Great Commandment?

Do you believe you can summon the willpower to obey even the Second Great Commandment (Matthew 22:39) perfectly? Is your love for your neighbor really equal to your self-love?

Reading perfectionist writings, ranging from Charles Finney to his latter-day heirs, one gets the impression they think their salvation ultimately hinges somehow on how well they obey from now on. Search your heart; if that's the way you think—and yet you still have hope that you will be saved, then you have not truly come to grips with what Scripture teaches about human depravity. You have too much confidence in the flesh.

This is precisely what I despise most about Finneyism and all forms of perfectionism: while talking a lot about "repentance," holiness, and sanctification, these views actually amount to a denial of what Scripture teaches about the depth of human sinfulness.

In other words, that kind of "repentance" (the kind that leaves a person thinking his own future performance is necessary to secure his salvation) is no repentance at all, but a stubborn refusal to acknowledge how truly sinful we really are.