Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The 2008 Chamberlain Holiness Lectures At Wesley Biblical Seminary

Every year, during the last week of September or the first week of October, my theological alma mater, Wesley Biblical Seminary hosts the week long Chamberlain Holiness Lectures. This past year, instead of inviting an outside speaker, five professors from WBS gave the lectures. These five lecures reflect the outstanding scholarship as well as the deep love of God among WBS's faculty. They also give the listener a clear exposition of just what is Holiness from a historical Wesleyan perspective. They make it clear that this theology is not just a sectarian phenomenon but has been a major factor in shaping the religious mindset of the developing American nation. They also demonstrate that Holiness reflects the ultimate purpose for man as outlined in the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. The proclamation of Wesleyan Holiness Theology is the rational for WBS's existence. Wesleyan Holiness theology is the theology this blogger seeks to make known. Here are links to each lecture plus a brief synopsis of each one. (Which unfortunately, do not come close to reflecting the richness of the contents of these lectures.):

The Holy One of Israel by Dr. John Oswalt: Why didn't God identify Himself as The Holy One at the beginning of human history as recorded in Genesis? Because God had to establish His trustworthiness to mankind before he could fulfill His purposes for Man to be in fellowship with Him. God demonstrates that He is completely trustworthy through the accounts of His dealings with Abraham, Jacob and Joseph. Genesis also demonstrates that for God's goal of mankind to be in the image of God, sin had to be defeated. Another way to state that we were to be in God's image is that we were to be holy as God is holy. (Gen. 17:1) This holiness is not just an Old Testament standard that was made irrelevant by the New Covenant, but is what we are to be in Christ: Eph. 1:4, 2:10, 3:19, 5:1-2, II Pet 1:4. Holiness is reflected in the relationship of Israel to God, who had delivered Israel from slavery. If Israel would trust the God who had delivered them, if they would show their trust by entering into a God's Covenant with them and obey that Covenant, then they would become God's royal priesthood; they would partake in God's most essential attribute, Holiness. Mere deliverance from slavery was no more the final goal of God anymore than the forgiveness of sins was God's exclusive purpose for sending His Son to men. We who are forgiven are to be reflecting God's character by our treatment of others. Holiness is not just one of the attributes of God; Holiness is God's supreme attribute. Holiness is the box in which all the other attributes are contained. In Revelation, God is called Holy in three important passages: 4:8, 6:10 and in chapter 15.

You Have Come To Mount Zion by Dr. Gary Cockerill: The Church in North America has become just a provider of services. How does the Church escape this situation? By recovering Church life as the community of God's Holy people. A picture of this community may be found in Heb. 13:1-6. The early life of the the people of God was characterized by brotherly love. Brotherly love in this passage is not just part of a list of characteristics; brotherly love is the foundation of the characteristics found in this passage. Then the author of Hebrews, who Dr. Cockerill describes as the pastor who wrote Hebrews, goes on to warn his flock to avoid those dangers which destroy brotherly love, such as greed. The wilderness generation in Exodus typified the faithless generation. Their repeated behavior revealed the same lack of trust in God present in us before our hearts are cleansed of sin. Heb. 4:14-10:18 describes how Jesus cleansed us of sin so we can be in God's presence. Hebrews tells us that those of us who have had our hearts cleansed of sin are made perfect through Christ's cleansing. It is after this cleansing that we can approach Mount Zion, the Holy of Holies, which is God's presence. Dr. Cockerill does not state whether the Holiness movement is dead, but he maintains that the only path for its revival is not fresh theology, but a return to a Holiness of heart and life that is manifested in the community of brotherly love.

Freedom and Progress: The Pillars of Christian Perfection by Dr. Ron Smith: Most religious historians who have examined the role of religion in American history are Calvinists. Not only do Calvinists misunderstand Methodist theology; they refuse to see how historical Methodism shaped the American mind. While Calvinism was the dominant theology of American churches at the time of the founding of the nation, its theology of the total depravity of man presented a problem in a new nation whose ideology was optimistic about man's capacity within an environment of political freedom. Holiness theology spoke of perfectionism, not a state where man no longer commits sin, but of the Holy Spirit living in the hearts of those who repent. This presence of the Holy Spirit allows men and women to reflect the love of God in our treatment of others. In loving others as God loves us, then we become perfect as God is perfect. (Matt. 5:48) Holiness, as compared to Calvinism, is an optimistic theology that spread rapidly across the new nation in the 19th century. Its doctrine of Prevenient Grace aligned itself with the new nation's optimism concerning human capability to govern itself. In its rejection of Predestination according to Calvinist theology, Methodism radically identified with all, especially lay people. Men such as Asbury lived and worked among them as other groups did not. Methodist doctrine was given great thought in these years. Contrary to what Calvinists contend, Methodism was not just "experience driven" religion. Nor was it, as Calvinists maintain, just a narrow sectarian movement. By the end of the 19th Century, it reflected the natural, intellectual, social impulse of most Americans. The current Holiness movement grew out of the discontent of many with religion after the American church split over the issue of slavery. The Holiness movement seeks to bring wholeness to the church in America again through the proclamation of what Wesley would call "Christian Perfection."

Publishing His Mercy To The World by Dr. Matt Friedeman: Dallas is considered to be a Christian ministry mecca. Yet despite the number of Christian ministries and mega churches in the Dallas area, Dallas ranks high in all the negative statistics concerning crime, broken families and illegitimacy. But it is little use focusing on Dallas alone, according to Dr. Friedeman. The same is true in all areas of the U.S. Why is it that even in areas where the Christian presence is huge, the Church seems to have little impact on society? Because the Church is raising its members to stay within its walls. What are the Evangelistic cures to a post-Christian America? First, all disciples must be trained to see themselves as evangelists. Too much has been made of the quote from St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words." The fact of the matter is that it takes verbal direction to lead another into surrendering to Christ and to becoming a disciple. Another remedy is to plant more Churches. This may stike some as odd since it seems in some places that there is a church on every street corner. Yet the lecture features the statistics to show that in the 20th century, the number of churches per person declined dangerously low. Dr. Friedeman points out that Wesley did not just preach, but he employed a methodology, derived from his theology, that not only educated disciples as to doctrine, but also got them to move outside the church walls. Wesley's converts reached people no one was reaching and cared for the physical needs of the bottom rung of society. Wesley' preaching and discipleship methods completely turned the culture around. The same cannot be said for Billy Graham. He made no impact on 20th century America. One reason is that Graham chose a wrong methodology with which to operate. Instead of organizing new converts into new churches, he left the discipleship to already existing churches, which were too inward focused to be trusted to disciple the newly saved. Jesus was always on the move, consequently, so were his disciples. As Jesus poured His teaching into them, He also had them engaged in ministry, enhancing their character in action. The early Church shocked pagan philosophers by its care for the needy. Dr. Friedeman recommends reading Wesley's Sermon #98. In it, Wesley quotes Eph. 2, in which it states that we were not only saved by grace, but that we were created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Holiness As Self Giving Love by Dr. Bill Ury: The title refers to the connection between the Wesleyan understanding of Holiness and the Trinity. The life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in Trinitarian terms is one of self giving love. Each member lives to support the others, not pursuing their own separate agendas. Jesus told His hearers the He came from the Father, and that whatever He did, He first saw his Father do. By saying this, Jesus was locating the origin of all love in the person of the Father. When Jesus emptied Himself of all but love, this action is not just to be looked upon as what He did but as an demonstration of who He is. Jesus was responding to the Father in love. The Father sent His Son, who is in the nature of God, not just because Man blew it in the Garden. The Father sent the Son because He so loved Man and wanted to demonstrate this love in a self giving act, sending His only Son to die for them. The Holy Spirit Himself talks not of Himself, but of the Father and the Son. When the Holy Spirit enters the heart of a believer, the actual life of the Trinity enters us. Our relationship with the Triune God is about more than salvation from sins; God prepares us to participate in the life of God before heaven. In the second work of grace, God himself empowers us to yield all of ourselves to others. As Dr. Ury points out, this Wesleyan understanding of Holiness as self giving love is not a 19th century tack on.

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