Key Themes in Renovating Holiness
I am so encouraged by the conversations the new Renovating Holiness book is sparking! Discussion groups, pastors’ retreats, online communities, Sunday school classes, reprints in periodicals, and more are fueling this interest in embracing holiness anew.
The Renovating Holiness book brought together 100+ Millennial and Xer leaders in the Church of the Nazarene. The nearly 500-page book includes contributors from more than 30 countries. We are excited that a large number of women contributed essays.
My own essay in Renovating Holiness offers some summary comments that identify key themes in the diverse essays. In a few previous blogs, I focused on six of them, and in this blog, I address three more…
The issues of love are paramount.
Those contributing to Renovating Holiness talk a lot about love. The essays demonstrate that love plays a central role in Xer and Millennial understandings of holiness.
In one sense, the emphasis upon love as the core of holiness represents a conservative trend in the Church of the Nazarene. After all, several hundred years ago John Wesley identified love as the heart of holiness: “No true Christian holiness can exist without the love of God for its foundation.” And the denomination has long embraced Wesleyan theology, at least most of its theological scholars have embraced it.
In another sense, however, believing love is the core notion of holiness represents something new. Scholars might point to Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s book, A Theology of Love, which she wrote in the 1970s, as an important precursor to the current link many see between love and holiness. Wynkoop went even so far as to equate holiness and love.
In recent decades, many of the denomination’s theologians have stressed the centrality of love for understanding sanctification. A little book I co-wrote with Michael Lodahl, Relational Holiness, has made a difference here. Diane Leclerc’s denomination-commissioned text on holiness, Discovering Christian Holiness, emphasizes love as well. Other influential theologians in the denomination regard love the heart of holiness.
The Bible still matters.
Essayists in this book promote biblical holiness, even when they do not explicitly refer to the Bible. Some emphasize the biblical witness more, of course. But current denominational leaders who may have worried that Scripture is no longer important to the Millennial and Xer generations should worry no longer. The Bible matters.
I find it interesting, however, the way in which essayists use Scripture in these essays. Earlier in the denomination’s history, it was common for preachers and writers to find in the Bible numerous examples of secondness, the number two, etc. Many thought these passages provided evidence for entire sanctification as a second work of grace.
If the essays in this book are a good indication, Millennials and Xers do not look to Scripture in that way. Instead of finding second or instances of two, essayists point to particular biblical themes they deem important for understanding holiness. The scriptures that they cite in their essays rarely concern a second definite work of grace.
And this leads me to wonder…
What is entire sanctification and what role does it play?
You might think a book on holiness written by leaders in the Church of the Nazarene would include numerous essays promoting and appreciating the phrase “entire sanctification.” But relatively few essays in this book use that phrase explicitly in a positive sense. When the phrase is used, most writers mention the confusion it carries.
I’m not sure what to make of this. A big part of me is not surprised, because I rarely hear “entire sanctification” spoken in the numerous denomination’s churches I have attended. I only hear the phrase at district assemblies or used by scholars trying to explain what they mean by it. (And scholars don’t agree among themselves.) As these essays indicate, most people are confused by the phrase and what it entails.
If the Bible matters to Xers and Millennials, which it does, and if only one major biblical translation uses the phrase “entire sanctification” and then only in one passage, which is true, using biblical language does not lead one naturally to the phrase. This doesn’t mean we need to throw it out. But the absence of the phrase “entire sanctification” in the Bible does account for some of the confusion surrounding the phrase.
I think we are seeing a significant shift in the holiness tradition. Young leaders in the Church of the Nazarene are not rejecting holiness nor are they dismissing the multiple ways holiness might be understood. These essays witness to the importance of holiness in this emerging generation of leaders. In these essays, we find young leaders today speaking often of living a transformed life or being devoted entirely to God. They speak of God’s holiness. In particular, the idea that love is the heart of holiness is present in many essays. (I’ll explore issue this next.)
Use of the phrase “entire sanctification,” however, seems to be fading. A major reason for this fading is the confusion the phrase elicits. Millennials and Xers use other terms and phrases, although some of those mean what previous generations meant when they talked about entire sanctification. These 100+ essays may be making explicit a shift that perhaps has been largely unnoticed for some time.
Join the conversation!
My co-editor, Josh Broward, and I hope you join this conversation. If you haven’t had a chance to read the book, we hope you get one and read it soon. The future depends upon how we engage the biggest issues of our lives, and we think the issues of holiness are pretty big!