Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Holiness Manifesto

This book is the result of considerable consultation among scholars in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition operating first as the Wesleyan-Holiness Study Project and subsequently as the Wesleyan-Holiness Consortium. Member churches included Brethren in Christ, the Church of God, Anderson, the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, and the Salvation Army. There were also a number of lesser-known Holiness bodies represented such as Shield of Faith. Conspicuous by its absence is my own Wesleyan Church, a missed opportunity in my view. I wonder whether either the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel or the Christian and Missionary Alliance can really be said to belong to the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and their identification as such through their participation in this project is interesting. A more natural participant who would bridge the Holiness and Pentecostal traditions would have been the Church of God, Cleveland, but again that church is not represented here.

As for the essays themselves they give us, like all such multi-author collections,a mixed bag in terms of quality. Preliminary material includes an introduction by Kenneth Mannoia, a helpful historical overview by Barry Callen which will be helpful for those who may be unfamiliar with this particular theological and ecclesial tradition, the text of the Holiness Manifesto itself (2006) as well as the subsequent 2007 document on living out the Manifesto. The Manifesto is worthy enough but somewhat unremarkable as a confessional document. There is nothing in it to which a member of any Christian tradition could not subscribe. Perhaps this may be seen as its strength and indeed one of the great strengths of Wesleyanism itself - its essential catholicity, and lack of interest in theological innovation. There was a time when the Wesleyan-Holiness movement had a very distinctive (some might say quirky) view of entire sanctification as a definite second work of grace received instantaneously and which cleansed the heart from all inbred sin and filled it with perfect love for God and neighbour. As this volume, along with so many others being produced by the movement today makes clear, such a view is no longer being set out as normative for Wesleyan-Holiness belief. That is all fine, but one must then ask whether the tradition's ongoing purpose is simply to emphasise the importance of holiness, without holding any distinctive belief about it. What exactly is "the Wesleyan doctrine of holiness"? Since every Christian tradition is concerned for holiness in one way or another what is distinctive about the Wesleyan approach? My own view is that the distinctive feature of the Wesleyan doctrine of holiness is that it places no limits on the capacity of God's grace to perfect holiness in believers in this life. One need not be dogmatic about how this plays out in religious experience, but any movement claiming to be confessional must have some things to confess.

The essays in this volume are divided into disciplines - biblical studies, historical and theological studies, and ministry. Of the three biblical essays David W. Kendall's treatmeant of "Jesus and a Gospel of Holiness" is a standout. It's a pity there could not have been more historical material but Bill Kostlevy's paper on the rejection of lodges and secret societies by radical evangelicals in nineteenth century America is really excellent. The title - "The Social Vision of the Holiness Movement" - is a little misleading, since the paper is not as broad as the title suggests. His analysis is based largely on gender and race as he demonstrates that the world of the lodge was an exclusively white male domain to which Holiness and other radical evangelicals strongly objected. Associated with this was the perception that radical evangelicalism with its concern for womens' rights, antislavery, and perfection reflected the feminisation of evangelicalism during this period. The lodge protected male power, male dominance, and male concerns. The holiness churches expressed the more feminine qualities of altruism, compassion, perfectionism, and commitment to racial equality. Those in Wesleyan-Holiness denominations today who have wondered why their churches even have statements on lodges and secret societies will be helped to see the social justice origins of this stance.

Of the six esays on Ministry I found James Earl Massey's final essay on "Preaching as Charisma" the most interesting, though it is only tangentially related to holiness. I find odd the positioning of five appendices (or should that be appendixes?) in which participants each try to define holiness. These would have worked better in the earlier introductory section and this is where I have positioned them in the reading schedule for my students who are using this as one of their texts.

Overall I am pleased to see this volume appear and believe it will make a good contribution to reviving interest in the neglected doctrine of holiness. The fact that it is published by Eerdmans, rather than one of the Wesleyan-Holiness denominational publishers, will help provide a wider audience for what might otherwise have been merely an in-house discussion.

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