Holiness in new words

Ken Schenck of Wesley Seminary here in Indiana wrote a post recently about reformulating the language of key Wesleyan doctrines on holiness to communicate better to contemporary audiences. The whole post is worth reading.

Here’s one small piece.

The old language of eradicating the carnal nature is dead. Nobody thinks in these sorts of terms. I tried to see if I could sell the following language: the Spirit part of your life can so come to dominate the flesh part of your life that you love God and others with ease, overcome temptation with ease, and sometimes don’t even notice that your flesh part is even there.

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9 thoughts on “Holiness in new words

  1. Reblogged this on Thoughts From The Heart On The Left and commented:
    A comment was made to me about the state of knowledge about Methodism among Methodists and the state was not good. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I will post links to other blogs that speak/write about key concepts about what it means to be a Methodist. This is a little convoluted because I am linking to John Meunier’s post and he is linking to the original. Hopefully, you won’t get lost in the clicks.

  2. I agree that our culture’s ignorance of Biblical and spiritual vocabulary is a problem. Rather than distorting these ideas and concepts, I would rather see preachers and pastors offer spiritual vocabulary lessons to Christians.

  3. I am inclined to agree with Holly. Let the traditional language stand, but let the preacher define, explain, and assist in developing application within the congregation.

  4. I appreciate the attempt, and agree we need to be able to put our talk about holiness and sanctification into other language as well.

    I’m not sure this is it, though. I find myself more than a bit concerned about the “spirit/flesh” dualism that could easily be read into what is offered here unless it is significantly unpacked as well. In other words, I suppose as things stand, talk of spirit and flesh are just as problematic as talk of holiness in our current context.

    The phenomenological reading he gives to the process of sanctification is quite clear and helpful.

    The limitation is that this is pretty much only a phenomenological reading, and, frankly, on that level, could describe just about any process of profound transformation persons may undergo in their lives, even without reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. Every transformation involves a letting go. But not every transformation is sanctification, or even necessarily a good thing.

  5. John, I’m a pastor too, and I know what it is to use illustrations and images to invite people to see something old in a new light and lean into understanding.
    But…I am also struck by the words of Stanley Hauerwas’ critique of the famous text by Richard NIebuhr “Christ & Culture”. I am sure you’re familiar but just in case. Niebuhr offers several orientations: Christ above culture, Christ of culture, Christ against culture, and then finally lands somewhere around Christ the “transformer” of culture. There is heavy reference to “translation” in order to transform culture.
    Hauerwas’ criticism is that we Christians forget that Christ IS culture: language, practice, life w/ God, etc. Sometimes in our effort to “translate” to culture, we forget or lose the way this language actually forms us. Hauerwas says it like this, “we can only act in a world we can see, we can only see what we can say” language creates a world. Even our God “spoke” the world into existence.
    I struggle with where using the language we receive and the common tongue intersect. How would God be different if I didn’t understand God as trinity? What is this thing called sanctification, etc?
    I am always thankful for your posts. Peace

    1. Josh, thank you for taking the time to read and comment. Your questions are ones that I share. The first serious Christian book I read was Hauerwas and Willimon’s Resident Aliens. Hauerwas’ arguments always are hovering in the back of my mind, but I’ve not worked out how far down the road I want to go with him.

      I picked up a copy of George Lindbeck’s book The Nature of Doctrine just last night to help me understand better what is going on behind Hauerwas’ arguments. I’m not sure I’ll figure it out, but I will keep trying.

      In peace.

  6. “The old language of eradicating the carnal nature is dead. Nobody thinks in these sorts of terms.”

    I agree that few think in these terms. The problem is not with the words themselves but with the fact that so few preach them. This Sunday I would wager that of all the sermons preached from Methodist pulpits only a handful of them (and I might be too generous) will speak about crucifying the flesh. And yet it was the hallmark of biblical preaching from Jesus to Paul to John Wesley.

    We don’t need new words. We need to speak more often the words we’ve been given.

    In my humble opinion 🙂 Thanks for your posts, John!

  7. Who says that “the old language is dead?” It’s always a little dangerous to say that “nobody” talks that way, anymore. It may only mean that we need to get out of our own circles a little more. Admittedly, I have not checked John Piper on his use of “carnal nature,” but I can guarantee you that he, Mark Driscoll and others in their network are using the old language. This is not an endorsement, only that we have to realize they have a huge reach while using “the old language.”

  8. I think Chad and Steve are saying similar things from different angles. I also wondered if he was overstatng the case.

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