I finally got around to downloading and listening to the Chamberlain Holiness Lectures delivered last fall by Rev. Dr. Calvin T. Samuel at Wesley Biblical Seminary. I’ll say first that I wish had not waited so long. Anyone interested in what the Bible has to say about holiness needs to listen to these talks – multiple times. Samuel is Director of the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, England, and his work in these lectures is winsome, wise, relevant, and scholarly. These talks have challenged and illumined my thinking on biblical holiness in a variety of ways. Here’s a quick overview and a couple of points that I found particularly important.
The first lecture takes up a variety of introductory issues related to the importance of holiness, what holiness looks like, and how it is attained. If you only listen to one of the talks, be sure it is this one. It will give you a good introduction to the significance of holiness not only in our readings of scripture but in all of life. The second lecture provide a rich picture of holiness by tracing the motif in the Old Testament through the priestly, prophetic, and wisdom traditions. The third looks at holiness in Paul, and the fourth takes up the relationship between holiness and purity in the ministry of Jesus. All in all, Samuel demonstrates an impressive knowledge of holiness in both testaments and in the secondary literature that will push us to think more carefully about the way scripture deals with the topic.
I greatly appreciated what Samuel calls “360-Degree Holiness”, which is also the name of the lectures. By this, Samuel means that God’s sharing of his own holy character with us should transform us in such a way that we engage the world in mission to further spread God’s holiness. One of the ways Samuel fleshes this out is by contrasting holiness as a defensive posture with holiness as an offensive posture. A defensive attitude toward holiness seeks to protect holiness from the things that defile it. In contrast, an offensive attitude toward holiness sees holiness itself as an agent that transforms the unclean into that which is pure. This offensive posture, Samuel argues, characterizes the ministry of Jesus. When Jesus touched a dead body, he wasn’t worried about becoming ceremonially unclean. Rather, the dead body was transformed into a living body. That which once defiled has become pure by means of his touch. This raises questions with regard to our own posture toward holiness. Do we see holiness as something that needs to be protected? Or do we see it as a powerful agent that transforms the world?
The Eschatological Nuance
One particularly important topic that Samuel takes up is what he calls the eschatological nuance. This is a way of getting at the tension in scripture (and particularly in Paul) that we live in a time of tension in which the reign of Christ and the kingdom of God have been inaugurated even though sin and death have not been finally exiled from God’s good creation. Samuel emphasizes that holiness belongs to the age to come and is experienced presently only in anticipation of the consummation of the kingdom.
This is something Wesleyans need badly to wrestle with. We tend to refer to entire sanctification as full salvation. However, all holiness is an anticipation of the ultimate (and full) salvation that will be ours when Christ comes and raises our bodies from the dead. The perfection of our holiness in the present serves to point forward to the magnificence of God’s transforming power that will be fully manifest when he transforms our bodies from humility to glory and from death to life. The present transformation of our character points forward to the final transformation of our whole self, including our bodies. As far as I can tell, and I’ve looked into it a bit, this is not something that Wesleyans have generally taken on board in the way we talk about holiness. It is, nevertheless, the way the Bible talks about holiness. In this way, Samuel’s work in these lectures challenges Wesleyans to constantly ground our vision of holiness in biblical revelation.
These are just a couple of ways these lectures have impacted my thinking with regard to holiness. They can be downloaded from the WBS podcast page. Scroll down until you see the four entries titled “Chamberlain Lectureship Series.” Or, if you prefer, the transcripts can be downloaded from the main event page; the transcripts include footnotes which will aid you in tracking down the sources with which Samuel interacts. If you are at all interested in holiness – and you very well should be! – attend to these talks with care.