Posts tagged ‘Thomas Jay Oord’

Altar Theology or Altered Theology? – Part One

There is perhaps no doctrine as closely associated with the holiness movement as that of entire sanctification. It is undisputable that this is a teaching that the holiness movement owes to John Wesley. Entire sanctification – or Christian perfection, as Wesley referred to it – was central to Wesley’s personal spiritual growth and the development of the 18th-century Methodist movement. Thomas Jay Oord recently pointed out that more than eighty Christian denominations today – among them the United Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, the Free Methodist Church, the Church of God (Anderson), and the Church of the Nazarene – consider Wesley to be their primary theological ancestor, which makes it hugely important that entire sanctification be defined precisely.

When Methodism came to America in the late 18th-century, it grew numerically yet departed from perfectionist teaching as a priority, causing it to suffer spiritually as a denomination. During the 19th-century holiness revival, entire sanctification once more regained its status, due primarily to the ministry of Phoebe Worrall Palmer (whom I’ve previously written about here). Randall J. Stephens credits the success of the holiness movement, particularly in the pre-Civil War north, mostly to her efforts. Yet even as Palmer introduced thousands to the concept of entire sanctification (through her Tuesday Meetings for the Promotion of Holiness and her prolific writings), she represented a divergence from pure Wesleyan teaching. Over the next few posts, I’ll be exploring the argument that Mrs. Palmer’s teaching on entire sanctification – her  “altar theology” – was in fact an altered theology of entire sanctification, to examine the consequences of that for the Holiness movement, and to briefly examine possible solutions for the problems caused by those consequences.

In this first post I’ll be discussing precisely what John Wesley taught regarding entire sanctification or, as he termed it, Christian perfection. By his own report, Wesley’s insights grew out of his readings of Jeremy Taylor, Thomas à Kempis, and William Law. Taylor and Kempis convinced Wesley of the importance of purity of intention and the giving all of one’s heart to God, but it was Law’s Treatise on Christian Perfection and Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life which had the greatest impact.

“Meeting now with Mr. Law’s Christian Perfection and Serious Call, although I was much offended at many parts of both, yet they convinced me more than ever of the exceeding height and breadth and depth of the law of God. The light flowed in upon my soul, that everything appeared in a new view. I cried to God for help, and resolved not to prolong the time of obeying Him as I had never done before. And by continued endeavor to keep His whole law, inward and outward, to the utmost of my power, I was persuaded that should be accepted of Him, and that I was even then in a state of salvation.”

Devotional material such as this, in addition to the Bible, was the source from which Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection was deduced. As early as 1733, it is possible to see the seeds of this had begun to sprout, particularly in Wesley’s sermon on “The Circumcision of the Heart.” Here Wesley begins to describe love as the essence of perfection, describing it as, “that habitual disposition of soul which, in the sacred writings, is termed holiness; and which directly implies, the being cleansed from sin, “from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit;” and, by consequence, the being endued with those virtues which were also in Christ Jesus; the being so “renewed in the spirit of our mind,” as to be “perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect.”

Early in his career, Wesley viewed sanctification as something to be achieved instantaneously, yet later in life he would admit that he had confused the consequences of the new birth (i.e., justification) with those of perfection (i.e., entire sanctification). By the time he published the first edition of A Plain Account of Christian Perfection in 1766, Wesley’s views had solidified into the avowal that God had given the promise of salvation from willful sin. Wesley found this promise in passages such as Deuteronomy 30:6; Psalm 130:8; Ezekiel 36:25, 29; Matthew 5:48, 6:13, 22:37; John 3:8, 17:20-21, 23; Romans 8:3-4; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 3:14-19, 5:25, 27; and Thessalonians 5:23.  Further, Wesley held that Scriptures such as Luke 1:69-75, Titus 2:11-14, and 1 John 4:17 gave signs that this promise of sanctification was to take place within the lifetime of the individual Christian.

Melvin Dieter has noted that Wesley detailed features of this sanctification in his sermon “On Perfection,” which included:

1. To love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbors as oneself;

2. To have the mind that is in Christ;

3. To bear the fruit of the Spirit (in accordance with Gal. 5);

4. The restoration of the image of God in the soul, a recovery of man to the moral image of God, which consists of “righteousness and true holiness”;

5. Inward and outward righteousness, “holiness of life issuing from holiness of heart”;

6. God’s sanctifying of the person in spirit, soul, and body”;

7. The person’s own perfect consecration to God;

8. A continuous presentation through Jesus of the individual’s thoughts, words, and actions as a sacrifice to God of praise and thanksgiving;

9. Salvation from all sin.”

It is quite evident that Wesley saw entire sanctification as the conclusion of a developmental process, setting “a point after justification as a terminus a quo and a point, however indefinite, sometime before death as a terminus a quem.” Wesley at times had to combat his own earlier views on sanctification as occurring instantaneously with justification. In A Plain Account of Christian Perfection he clearly argues against this, saying, “Yet we may, lastly, observe, that neither in this respect is there any absolute perfection on earth. There is no perfection of degrees, as it is termed; none which does not admit of a continual increase. So that how much soever he is perfect, he hath still need to ‘grow in grace,’ and daily to advance in the knowledge and love of God his savior.”

Wesley’s view on sanctification can be summarized as a gradual yet dynamic process, not as a state that once reached remained unchanged. His teaching did not disavow that sanctification could be instantaneous but he did not see it as typical based on his gathering of the testimonies of many who had claimed the experience. Wesleyan scholar Randy Maddox views this confirmation through the experience of the individual Christian, as well as the attestation of the fruit of the Spirit in the life of the believer, as crucial to Wesley’s doctrine of Christian perfection as being a relation of love for God and others. Ultimately, for Wesley entire sanctification was understood – as Paul Bassett has expressed it – as “the perfecting threshold. Now the life of Christian perfection begins. One does not seek to become more perfect. One seeks, by grace, to express more clearly the gift of perfection that has been given.

In Part Two, I’ll be exploring Phoebe Palmer’s theology of entire sanctification

Thomas Jay Oord Review of “Love Wins”

Thomas Jay Oord, whom I have a lot of respect for, has posted a review of Rob Bell’s controversial book Love Wins. Oord is very positive about the book; in fact, he says it is a great book. I have not yet had a chance to read the book but since I have previously posted a link to a Kevin DeYoung review which did not view the book so positively, it seems fair to post a link to a review which takes an opposite stance. I remain concerned about the vitriol which has characterized discussion of the work – it just seems to me that it violates the Great Commandment.

Have you read the book? And what did you think of it?

Thomas Jay Oord on What It Means to be Wesleyan

Nazarene professor, author, and theologian Thomas Jay Oord has written a wonderful blog post on what it means to be Wesleyan. Oord points out that John Wesley is considered the primary theological ancestor of over eighty Christian denominations. Oord has written a list of 12 concepts that he believes paint a general picture of what most Wesleyans of today would affirm.

He is careful to note that not every Christian in the Wesleyan tradition would affirm every item on this list, and states that theologians like himself “wrestle over the details and haggle over concepts and language. But these brief statements provide an overview of what makes the Wesleyan theological tradition so attractive.”

1. God’s primary attribute is love. Or, as Charles Wesley put it in a hymn: “God’s name and nature is love.”

2. God is triune. The Father has been revealed in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.

3. God acts first in every moment to offer salvation, and humans freely respond to God’s offer. God’s action that enables creaturely free response is called “prevenient grace.”

4. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection make possible a fruitful relationship with God and hope for transformation in this life and the next.

5. God does not predestine some to heaven and others to hell. All have the opportunity to experience eternal life both now and in the future.

6. Christians should consult the Bible, Christian tradition, reason, and contemporary experience (i.e., the Wesleyan quadrilateral) when deciding how to think and act as Christians.

7. The Bible’s primary purpose is to teach the way of salvation. One may or may not affirm its statements about scientific, historical, or cultural matters.

8. The Church and its practices are crucial to Christian understanding, right living, and compassion toward others and oneself.

9. God values and seeks to redeem all creation: humans and nonhumans. God cares about the whole and not just a few.

10. Transformation from a life of sin to a life of love begins in this life. Christians are not merely waiting for the afterlife. They can experience and promote abundant life now.

11. Personal and corporate religious experience, not merely rational consent to Christian doctrines, characterizes the flourishing Christian. Both heart and head matter.

12. Christians are sanctified as they respond appropriately to God’s empowering love. Sanctified Christians love God, others, and all creation, including themselves. Some responses to live in holiness represent important turning points in the Christian life.

You can read the rest of his post here. What do you think of the concepts he lists?


Randy Maddox on Wesleyan Views of Inspiration and Interpretation of the Bible

Thomas Jay Oord, one of my favorite theologians in the Church of the Nazarene, posts here with a preview of the  keynote address from the upcoming The Bible Tells Me So conference. The address is being given by Randy Maddox, considered by many to be the world’s foremost authority on the theology of John Wesley and how Wesley viewed Scripture. Of particular interest to me was Oord’s summary of Maddox on a Wesleyan  view of inspiration and interpretation of the Bible.

Maddox notes that Wesley affirmed the inspiration of the Holy Spirit both to the authors of the Bible and to present-day readers. “We need the same Spirit to understand the Scripture,” says Wesley, “which enabled the holy men of old to write it.”

Maddox says Wesley’s deepest concern was personal embrace of the saving truth in Scripture. Even “the devils” believe the Bible, says Wesley, but they do not embrace its saving truth for themselves.

Wesley believes we need to read the Bible “in conference” with others. Some people are simply more mature, and we can benefit from their insights if we listen in community. Meeting in groups to study the Bible is important for forming people and helping to identify the Bible’s central purposes.

Wesley recognized the limits of all human understanding. Even spiritually mature persons see through a glass darkly when interpreting the Bible. Wesley writes:

“Although every man necessarily believes that every particular opinion which he holds is true (for to believe any opinion is not true, is the same thing as not to hold it); yet can no man be assured that all his own opinions, taken together, are true.”

Part of interpreting the Bible well, says Maddox, involves “not limiting our dialogue partners to those who are most like us, or those with whom we already agree.” Those who see things differently than we do might identify places where our understanding of something in Scripture might be wrong.

The connected issues of inspiration and interpretation seem of particular importance at current time, when the Church of the Nazarene is assailed by those who insist on biblical inerrancy  –  which the Church of the Nazarene has never held as a doctrine.

2011 Reading List

I am astonished to realize that the first month of 2011 is already halfway done. One of the things I hope to accomplish this year is to become more widely read in the area of holiness and Wesleyan theology/history. With that in mind I have some specific books on my reading list.

1. H. Orton Wiley’s Christian Theology, volumes 1-3, which Thomas Jay Oord reviewed here.

2. Lorna Khoo’s Wesleyan Eucharistic Spirituality. I actually picked up a copy of this book last year after reading a post on Rich Wollan’s blog, and simply haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.

3. Richard P. Heizenrater’s Wesley and the People Called Methodists

4. J. Gregory Crofford’s Streams of Mercy: Prevenient Grace in the Theology of John and Charles Wesley

5. H. Ray Dunning’s Grace, Faith and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology. This has been recommended to me for some time, and I’ve decided I can’t get past 2011 without checking it out.

This is a short list, which I will certainly be adding to as the year progresses. Any one else have a reading list, or want to make some recommendations?

Thomas Jay Oord: Five Questions of the Bible

Theologian Thomas Jay Oord asks five questions of the Bible, in preparation for the upcoming The Bible Tells Me So conference:

1. What does it mean to say the Bible is inspired?

2. On what questions is the Bible a trustworthy guide?

3. Is the Bible without error?

4. How should we interpret the Bible?

5. Does postmodernism influence the Bible?

I found Oord’s discussion of these questions — as well as some of the comments on his post — challenging and thought-provoking.

Thomas Jay Oord on Augustine’s Deficient Theology of Love

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Nazarene theologian and professor Thomas Jay Oord has posted an excerpt from his new book, The Nature of Love.  The excerpt, Augustine’s Love Problems, deals with deficiencies which Oord identifies in Augustine’s theology of love. I’m in the midst of a class on the Doctrine of the Trinity, so this was of above average interest to me. I am especially struck by the following:

After admitting God only uses us, Augustine realizes he has another problem. His notion of use implies God desires something other than those whom God uses. But this cannot be, according to Augustine’s system of belief. God is the only valuable one.

Augustine eventually confesses that actually God “does not make use of us, either.” God does not use us, that is, “in the same way as we use things.” “Our making use of things is directed to the end of enjoying God’s goodness,” he says. But “God’s making use of us is directed to his goodness.” In sum, God only loves himself.

According to Augustine, therefore, God cannot love us in the sense of enjoying us. To do so would mean we have some value God does not yet possess. God cannot love us in the sense of using us. To do so would also mean God lacks something that God does not already possess. God cannot love us in either sense of enjoy or usethe only two ways Augustine thinks anyone can love.

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