Posted in book reviews

Renovating Holiness: Wrapping a gift in more attractive ways

RHDr 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.

Posted in ecclesiology & sacraments, reflections

Tom Oord calls for Nazarenes to “open the windows”

Thomas J. Oord

If the Church of the Nazarene were an army, then Tom Oord of Northwest Nazarene University would be one of the scouts riding out in front, probing new territory. Armies need scouts, and the Church of the Nazarene needs theologians like Dr. Oord.

Oord has written an intriguing essay, calling for us to “open the windows” in the Church of the Nazarene. He lists 10 areas where we need to “let the fresh air of the spirit blow through.” (No doubt he means the Holy Spirit, and not just any “spirit.”)

You can read all ten points over at his blog. They are all worth the reader’s time, but here I’d like to quote two of them as a springboard for further reflection. Oord writes:

1. Engage contemporary theology. Theological scholars in the colleges and universities sponsored by the Church of the Nazarene explore a variety of theological ideas. Theology in the denomination is significantly different today than it was fifty years ago. And that’s to be expected. Unfortunately, however, pursuing new forms of Wesleyan-Holiness theology in dialogue with these contemporary theological ideas is not encouraged as it should be. I believe the Spirit intends to do new things and guide the denomination in new ways theologically.

Tom Oord is justified in calling the Church of the Nazarene to the theological task. Each generation must grasp the biblical underpinning of the doctrine of holiness, but – having done so – must clothe the message in language relevant to its own generation and cultural context. It is not enough to just reprint old holiness classics. Those books use a distinctive idiom and illustrations that spoke to a time past. Who will write holiness theology in a language and style that touches the hearts of people in the 21st century? And the very style that makes an American writer resonate with American culture may for that same reason make the book ineffective in cultures outside North America. Our task as a global church is to raise up theologians from each culture where we are at work.

Yet is it enough to engage only the theology being written in our own culture? Worldwide – not just in the Church of the Nazarene – the Church is growing in what Philip Jenkins has called the “Global South,” including Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. More and more, contemporary theology is being written in these parts of the world, yet to what degree do seminary students in the United States grapple with theologians from these other cultures? Do our Nazarene universities in the U.S. read these emerging theologians? I admit my weakness in this area, but as one serving in Africa, am determined to become more conversant with thinkers like Kwame Bediako of Ghana. Who among our Nazarene theologians in Africa will rise to his stature?

The late Prof. Kwame Bediako of Ghana

Oord continues, underscoring the need for us to re-empower women in ministry. He sounds a clarion call:

8. Reestablish the power of and number of women in leadership. Many members of the Church of the Nazarene happily note that while the Roman Catholic church has not embraced the Spirit’s move to establish women in the highest positions of leadership, Nazarenes have affirmed this throughout their history. And yet a very small percentage of Nazarene pastors are women. And leadership in various denominational sectors is dominated by men. Steps must be taken to encourage Nazarene members to promote women into positions of leadership.

I believe that the Church of the Nazarene in Africa will set an example for other denominations in Africa and the global Church of the Nazarene in this regard. Currently, 14% of the nearly 1,000 students enrolled in the Nazarene Theological Institute are women. While we are not satisfied with this paltry figure, it is nonetheless movement in the right direction. Of the 16 students in a class I taught in Madagascar in 2011, 14 were women. Likewise, of nine who were ordained in Bukavu (Democratic Republic of the Congo), three were women, and a recent seminar on spiritual gifts (see photo) included a healthy representation of women.

Church leaders in Bukavu, DRC

The obstacles that African women must overcome to become pastors are daunting. If they can do it, what other culture in the world can be excused from fully empowering women to pursue all roles of lay and ordained ministry?

Thank you, Dr. Oord, for raising important issues. May the Holy Spirit continue to blow, refreshing His Church, including the small branch we call the Church of the Nazarene!


Photo credits:

Thomas J. Oord – from the website of the Zygon Center for Religion and Science

Kwame Bediako – from the Akrofi-Christaller Institute website