Monday, December 14, 2015

Let's hear it for holiness!

I recently read God’s Strategy in Human History by Roger Forster and Paul Marston. It is a new edition of a book originally in 1973. It is now in two volumes, the first (God’s Path to Victory) making the essential arguments, with a particular view of Scripture, and the second (Reconsidering Key Biblical Ideas) looking particularly at those concepts which divide Calvinists from Arminians. The authors come from an Arminian / Wesleyan / Anabaptist tradition, and (particularly at the end of volume 2) they attack doctrines that they see as having been innovations that were introduced to the church by Augustine around AD 400. 

The new two-volume edition is an enormous improvement on the earlier editions. With the promiscuous use of bold words and phrases and masses of footnotes, some of which were simply references, but others were important expansions and explanations from the main text, I found it almost unreadable. The new edition has almost done away with all footnotes. 

But it has also benefited from more recent scholarship, in particular the New Perspective on Paul, with N T Wright being its foremost proponent. One aspect of this is to redefine justification. Yes, that’s right. Augustine thought and wrote in Latin, and didn’t much like Greek, and he knew nothing of Hebrew. This led him into misunderstanding key things in the New Testament. Wright maintains that justification is not being made right with God, but being declared to be in right standing with God, on the basis of what Jesus has done for us. And there are places where the phrase ‘the faith of Jesus Christ’ has been translated (even in recent translations) as ‘faith in Jesus Christ’. Forster and Marston show that what Paul was talking about was the faithfulness of Jesus before the Father, going to the cross for mankind. Some scholars have apparently argued that there is a special Greek construction that means something in these NT references that is not found elsewhere in Greek, but that special treatment seems both unnecessary and obscures the wonderful truth. 

I think there is still room for editorial improvements, but this is undoubtedly an important book. But why am I writing about it here? (And if you have read this far, well done!) The answer is because I have found the Arminian position hugely liberating. That is not because I am antinomian, rejecting the idea that God has set standards and laws for us to follow, or that I think man can make himself acceptable to God by his own efforts. But it took me too long to discover that God really loved me. He doesn’t just tolerate me because He has to, because the work of Jesus on the cross binds Him to do so. And as long as I maintain the position that I am a miserable sinner saved by grace then I will feel my position precarious before God. But that is simply not the case. 

It was the writing of Norman Grubb that first helped me in this. His book Who Am I? set out the basic framework that showed me that at a very deep level I belong to God, and His Spirit lives in me and controls me. Being a part of Ichthus Christian Fellowship in south London for some years, and after coming in to WEC I have deepened my understanding. WEC gave me an understanding of holiness that the Church of the Nazarene helped me to hone. Now, being an interdenominational mission, WEC’s understanding and definition of holiness allows a good scope for various interpretations, but it became a core value of WEC out of Norman Grubb’s links with the Holiness movement. And it is not just about right behaviour. Much deeper is Peter’s statement that we share the divine nature. “His divine power has given us everything required for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. By these He has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desires.” (2 Peter 1:3-4) That is the basis for living, as Norman Grubb would have said, spontaneously. We still pray, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”, and we still need to take time to check our actions, but we can live in great freedom as those who know that God has given us a hope that is of a solid and permanent nature that cannot fade away.

“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

1 comment: