Holiness without biblical morality?

Progressive Christians. Post-Modern Christians. All kinds of other Christians these days want to liberate us from the binding shackles of the moral norms of the Bible. These culture-specific and often barbaric or misogynistic or pre-scientific rules, we are told, do not bear the imprint of God’s revelation, but humanity’s limitations.

I know many people are not ready to embrace this move as liberation, but I’m trying to think about what this means for Wesleyan faith.

“Holiness of heart and life” is for Wesley often the very definition of salvation. Inward and outward holiness are essential attributes of the true Christian life for Wesley. The moral teachings of the Old and New Testaments provided the vocabulary of holiness for Wesley.

Not that Wesley was incapable of distinguishing or interpreting. He was famously opposed to slavery, which many Christians of his day found sanctions for in the Bible. But if we are suspicious of the Bible as a source of moral authority, then even the most subtle interpreter is handicapped by his starting materials.

So, if we view the Bible as a portrait of an antiquated morality, does that punch a hole in the center of Wesleyanism?

How do you construct a holiness without the foundation of biblical morality?


2 thoughts on “Holiness without biblical morality?

  1. You don’t. I’m studying Wesley’s three “Law” sermons right now, and he makes a pretty solid argument that the moral law is essential in pointing us to Christ (and pointing out our own depravity) and working as a guide to become like Jesus as the moral law is holy, just and good.

    he goes as far to say in “The Law Established Through Faith” that the Gospel itself is rendered dull and ineffective when no proclaimed along side the moral law. Or as Derek Webb has phrased it, not preaching the law “neuters the Gospel.”

  2. I believe in standards of morality and one of the reasons that I’m a Methodist is that I think that John Wesley was often on-track in the way that he understood the message of Jesus. “On track” with the witness of who Jesus was in the bible and “on track” with a good deal of historic Christian teaching (not all of which was Protestant! *grin*).

    But personally I perceive an awful lot of separate topics in your post: the process of biblical interpretation, theologies of salvation as well as holiness, and one’s understanding of human nature and even philosophy.

    As an example, I think the general argument that “that was a superstitious time, so the rules don’t apply to us” is often a very lazy way of dismissing something out of hand. On the other hand, it’s often legitimate to question whether something that applied 2000 years ago so should apply now but I think we have to do that carefully and thoughtfully as well as prayerfully. On the equality of women, for example, I’m actually quite happy to admit that Paul seems to have been “schizophrenic” on the matter. There are good reasons for believing that viewing women as equal to men is What Jesus Would Have Done, but the argument is by no means an open-and-shut case; part of the case does rely on naming ancient culture as inappropriately misogynist.

    And what do these labels of “Progressive” and “Post-Modern” mean? For a start, I think we’re all “post-modern” because we live in the post-modern culture. I certainly consider myself theologically “progressive” and I choose the word “progressive” rather than “liberal” because I *don’t* believe that anything goes. John Wesley arguably added the criterion of “experience” to the Anglican trilateral of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. He was certainly a progressive Christian in his own context.

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