Dr Rob Staples, Professor Emeritus of Theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary, once compared the holiness message to a gift. The color and style of the wrapping paper vary depending upon who is doing the wrapping, but underneath, the present itself remains unchanged.
That image came to mind as I perused Tom Oord’s and Josh Broward’s Renovating Holiness (SacraSage, 2015). After reading the more than 100 essays from contributors across the globe – all born after 1960 and most in their 20s and 30s – it’s apparent that younger Nazarenes are articulating holiness differently than those who came before. Still, the underlying truth is unchanging:
God in Christ wants to make us holy.
The chapters in Renovating Holiness are brief, most no more than 750 to 1,000 words, making it easy to read one or two essays in a sitting. A significant number of the chapters were written by those outside North America, including contributions from Africa, Europe, South America, and Asia. (Full disclosure: I contributed a chapter as an American ministering in Africa). This wide array of authors lends the volume a global flavor which is especially important since now less than 50% of the membership of the Church of the Nazarene resides in the U.S. or Canada.
Renovating Holiness has 32 solid essays on the biblical and theological formulation of holiness, addressing passages and themes that are sometimes overlooked. Examples of this are the refreshing treatment of holiness in Exodus by Marty Michelson and the questions on purity and impurity in Ephesians answered by Svetlana Khobyna. Elsewhere, Rob Snow’s treatment of some spiritual gifts is sure to generate conversation, especially in world areas where much of what is spiritually showy has long since been judged a shallow side-water outside the deep main current of historic Wesleyan concerns.
Yet for all the helpful attention given to biblical-theological themes, Renovating Holiness is strongest in the 2/3 of the book focusing on what might be termed the working out of holiness in the world. This is holiness with a social conscious never satisfied to barricade itself behind the four walls of church buildings and piously mouth “Maranathas!” Rather, in myriad ways, the core value of love – celebrated in the sacraments and fine-tuned through small group discipleship – must be expressed in redemptive ways that spill over into society. Essays under the rubric “On Engaging Culture” do this most clearly, yet the motif of what may be termed holiness for the sake of others recurs in numerous chapters, a golden thread that ties together an otherwise motley collection.
On the other hand, an unsavory element slipped into one of the meals served up by Renovating Holiness. James Travis Young’s otherwise insightful observations in “Some Call it Love” are marred by his claim: “We were told lies about holiness and were told about holiness by liars” (p. 94). Such incendiary language is a hot pepper that risks ruining the whole dish. His critique would likely be interpreted by most non-Western readers as out-of-bounds, violating the norms of deference and respect due to elders. If what the back cover says is true – that the doctrine of holiness has for some been considered a “sacred cow” – then in this instance a small stroke of the editorial pen would have improved the essay without compromising its main thrust.
These cautionary comments aside, Renovating Holiness should be celebrated as a gift to the Church of the Nazarene and the broader Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. In a significant way, it gives voice to rising scholar-practitioners who for too long have lacked printed venues where they can skillfully wrap up the gift of holiness in relational ways more appealing in today’s world. This book may signal the beginning of a long-overdue conversation as we collaborate – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – to present holiness in a fashion more winsome and contemporary.