January 19, 2021

Just in case you’re wondering . . . holiness

Field with Ploughman and Mill, van Gogh

Field with Ploughman and Mill, van Gogh

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

• Colossians 2:20-23, NRSV

• • •

Just in case you’re wondering, I believe in holiness.

I think Daniel Bebbington missed something in his analysis of the commitments and characteristics of evangelicalism, though he hinted at it. The four marks he observed were:

  • Conversionism
  • Activism
  • Biblicism
  • Crucicentrism

I would add pietism. “Pietism” is another word for “holiness,” and it is one of evangelical religion’s great preoccupations. The word itself may be used to speak of a specific historical movement or a more general tendency in religion.

In church history, it refers specifically to a movement associated with Phillip Jacob Spener within 17th century German Lutheranism. Spener, reacting to the “dead” religion of the state church which had produced a moral and spiritual barrenness among the people, enacted a series of reforms to revive the community of faith. His classic work, Pia desideria (Pious Desires), set forth his program. Following Spener, leadership then passed to August Hermann Francke at the University of Halle, which became a center for pietism. This movement had a profound influence on other groups such as the Moravians and the Methodists through von Zinzendorf and Wesley. Pietism’s main concern was so-called “dead orthodoxy” — the lack of a vibrant, experienced and lived faith in the institutional church. Through various methods and reforms, it sought to promote a “living faith” along with its fruits in a holy and missional life.

The Methodists, of course, among others, were tireless carriers of this pietistic faith across the frontiers of the U.S. Revivalism in all its many branches and in its contemporary evangelical forms owes a great deal to pietistic movements like the Methodists and the spirit of holiness they promoted. Evangelicalism has inherited the ethos and language of “heart religion” along with emphases on personal holiness and holy activism in large part from those who emphasized pietism in the past.

The exact forms of pietism vary from church to church and group to group within evangelicalism. But there is an overall point to it, at least in how I have witnessed it within various entities: pietism teaches that one can be an “extraordinary” Christian, above and beyond those who are “ordinary” Christians. At its worst, it goes further, crossing a gospel-defined line and saying that one can only be a “true” Christian if one fits a certain profile defined by the group.

Here are some of the pietistic emphases that I went through or observed in my evangelical life and surroundings:

You can be an extraordinary (or true) Christian if you focus on . . .

  • becoming an expert on the Bible
  • maintaining consistent daily devotions
  • memorizing lots of scripture
  • learning the “secret” to the deeper (or higher) Christian life
  • having charismatic experiences, especially that of speaking in tongues
  • going to the right conferences or seminars (in my youth, this was the “Bill Gothard” seminar)
  • dressing in certain “approved” ways
  • avoiding drinking alcohol or participating in other “worldly” amusements
  • being at church whenever the doors are open
  • going on mission trips
  • even better, becoming a missionary (or a monk/nun, or a pastor/pastor’s wife, or a Christian teacher, etc. — engaging in “full time Christian work”)
  • taking a sexual purity pledge
  • holding the “right” political/social/cultural opinions
  • being absolutely “submissive” to authorities in your life
  • “separating” from the world: this might mean not having non-Christian friends, not listening to non-Christian music or partaking of other non-Christian media, not having a television, homeschooling rather than participating in public or even Christian schools, etc.
  • participating in small groups or accountability groups
  • considering only a limited list of “approved” vocations or careers

There are a thousand good things one can do as a Christian. Not a single one of them, however, brings me closer to God than what he himself has done for me in Jesus Christ. Pietism puts the burden of my relationship with God on my shoulders and refuses to rest in the objective truth of God’s grace and the objective means of grace offered me in the gospel. There must be more than that! I have to feel it, says the pietist. I have to experience something overwhelming. I have to see visible and demonstrable transformation in my life so that I look like ____________.

Green Wheat Field, van Gogh

Green Wheat Field, van Gogh

This is not holiness.

To be sure, “holiness” involves a call to be distinctive, set apart. It was the Law of Moses that defined “holiness” for the Israelites. This included codes of personal conduct, civic duties, and religious obligations. By keeping these statutes, ordinances, and commands, one would be marked out as one of God’s people, distinct from others in the world. The Law drew the boundaries, and those who wanted to stay within those boundaries dressed, and ate, and acted according to the rules.

The great argument in New Testament days took place when Gentiles began to respond in faith to Jesus the Messiah and join the communities of Jewish believers. Was faith in Jesus enough? Or must they, in essence, become Jewish too in order to become acceptable members of the Church? Were the practices required in the Law of Moses, such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and kosher food laws also incumbent upon Gentiles? Could one be “holy” without these?

The Apostle Paul’s great contribution to the faith was to answer this question. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

There is one thing, one thing alone that marks a person out as a Christian (i.e. makes a person “holy”): he or she trusts Jesus Christ, and that produces love.

There are no other “rules” for such a person. This person is free in Christ, fully accepted by God, a full member of the community of faith. No other boundary marker must be imposed upon them. Whatever good activities or practices are recommended for their growth and spiritual development must never be encouraged in such a way so as to give the idea that they will either make the person a “true” Christian or some kind of “higher” Christian. The baby, the defiant toddler, the rebellious teen, the wandering adult are all as much a part of the family as the compliant, obedient son and daughter. Both the prodigal son and his elder brother were members of the household, both welcomed by the father, both invited to the party.

What matters, what makes a person “holy,” has nothing to do with expectations imposed from the outside designed to make me “fit” the mold of a particular Christian community. That community might boast in its distinctiveness from the world in a host of areas, but there is only one that counts: Do they call people to a love-producing faith in Jesus Christ based on his life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and sending of the Holy Spirit?

Does their call echo the invitation of Jesus?

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.

• Matthew 11:28-30, MSG

For further reading, see our previous series:

Demythologizing “Radical” Christianity


  1. I have a question… And this will sound dumb, but I trust you guys.

    It’s it bad/un holy that often after prayer time I almost immediately go talk to someone else about some of the stuff I just prayed to God about? And am I more dependent on people, instead of God, when I find talking to them is easier and more burden lifting after I talk to a possession trust then when I pray to God about it?

    • Henry Darger says

      We are commanded to bear one another’s burdens, and to see God or Christ in our neighbor.

    • Without knowing any more about you than what you just wrote, I’d say “no”. Having a more tangible emotional response to a conversation between you and another human being, vice only praying to God about it, is normal (at least in my VERY non-charismatic experience). The Christian life is meant to be lived in relationships, not as a collection of loosely associated hermits.

    • And am I more dependent on people, instead of God,

      Does God create dependents?

      Should we rely on God for everything?

      • We talk often in my men’s group about the need to share burdens with each other. The “man” tendency is to just suck it up and soldier on. I put “pray to God about it but tell no one else” in that category.

        • My concern is that mindset that people are worried about whether they are being dependent on God or on man. As if being dependent on God is the goal, and being dependent on man is bad.

          It’s not an either or thing.

          If it was, it would be Gnostic. Spirit good, flesh baaaad.

          • God did not create us to be wholly dependent on him. That’s an insult to the Creator. He created us with brains, to be independent, to learn, to grow, to work, to take care of ourselves, to take care of each other, to take care of this world. If we sit around being dependent on him, we are basically blaspheming.

            I’m not a big fan of child-like, co-dependent christianity. I’m a big fan of grown up believers.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            If it was, it would be Gnostic. Spirit good, flesh baaaad.

            Just ask St Rose of Lima, who “Mortified her Flesh” by scratching her face into a mass of scar tissue when complemented on her looks, gargled lye to burn out her vocal cords when complemented on her voice, and died around age 25 of such “Mortification”. To this day I don’t know if she was canonized in spite of such self-destructiveness or whether the Church mistook her self-destructiveness for Spiritual Holiness.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          We talk often in my men’s group about the need to share burdens with each other.

          Problem is, Burden Sharing(TM) can become a tool of abuse and gossip. There’s a lot of horror stories on the Web (Wartbug Watch, Spiritual Sounding Board, etc) where “anything you share not only can but WILL be used against you” just like Scientology Auditing Records.

          • This is very, VERY true…sadly. I’m EXTREMELY careful who I share with. I also know the two or three guys I’d NEVER trust sharing something deeply personal with.

          • That said, I also know two or three guys I’m comfortable sharing even “heretical” thoughts when they bounce through my mind.

          • Oh, and that said…there has been a guy in the group, a newer Christian, actually, who has been VERY open about a struggle he’s having, and it has been refreshing to see someone taking that risk and that leap of faith.

          • Robert F says

            No sharing without good boundaries; no sharing without the trust that can only grow with time and testing and familiarity.

    • There are probably some Christians who would say that God is enough and there’s no need to do what you say. Those people are pushing people toward the post-Evangelical wilderness or might just find themselves in it, too.

    • Randy Thompson says

      Talking with someone else about your prayers is a way of learning to pray better, it seems to me. And, at times, talking to someone else may well prove to be God’s way of answering your prayer.

    • Consider that if you are talking to your friends about something after you talk to God about it, you did go to God first. That is indeed a salutary thing we could all learn to do better.

  2. Henry Darger says

    That list strangely omits the corporeal works of mercy (“feed the hungry” etc.), the practical applications of the commandment to love one’s neighbor. You’d think that evangelicals would leap to follow commandments specifically introduced by Jesus–on pain of outer darkness / “I never knew you,” no less. (If these seem too daunting, consider the parable of the talents.)

    Another activity mentioned by Jesus, but omitted from the pietistic list above, is prayer.

    • Pietism, at least in its Americanized version, is very inward-focused. If the idea/ideal is for YOU to become a Super-Christian, things that aren’t directly related to that tend to get short shrift.

      • Jesus, Others, You.

        Pietism, despite claiming to be all about Jesus, is hyper You focused.

        Anyone choosing to spend an hour in prayer instead of helping another misses the point completely. Thankfully, most people grow out of this, but we all go through a phase of “sorry, can’t make it, I need to spend time in the word”.

        • There are instances in the gospel accounts when Jesus was able to get away and pray, and there are other instances where he wanted to get away and pray but felt compassion on the people around him and skipped the solitude. I have to admit, I’m guilty of not being like Jesus.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        After saying the Magic Words, you just sit on your butt being Saved(TM), clutching your Fire Insurance policy and complementary Rapture Boarding Pass. Taking every effort to keep your nose all Squeeky Clean (no contamination by Those Heathen Out There) so you can pass the Great White Throne Litmus Test and/or Not Be Left Behind.

        Spend more time in Scripture, more time in Prayer (“Fellowshipping with The LOORD”), more time in Devotions, more time in Church, See How SAVED I Am, CAN YOU TOP THIS?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          P.S. Until you’re like a Smartphone Zombie staring at their screen, completely cut off from outside Reality.

    • Robert F says

      Well, the Methodists were very outward directed; a kind of nascent “social gospel” was part of what Methodists did, and it was often Methodists worked politically to improve the plight of the working classes and downtrodden in England.

      Re: Zinzendorf: Despite his interest in promoting more vibrant and “lived” faith, he agreed completely with what you have said about what marks a person as being Christian. In fact, he and Wesley had a permanent falling out over exactly this question of holiness. Zinzendorf vigorously disagreed with Wesley’s idea that the Christian could ever grow in holiness. For Zizenforf, the Christian life was only about grace, and no work, no piety, could ever add any more holiness than was received at the beginning of that life of grace. He continued to be very Lutheran in his views about holiness/sanctification.

      • Wesley had his blind spots. Others, like Finney, just capitalized on them.

      • Robert F says

        “There is one thing, one thing alone that marks a person out as a Christian (i.e. makes a person ‘holy’): he or she trusts Jesus Christ, and that produces love.”

        Zinzenforf would have agree with this statement.

        Here are some excerpts from the final exchange between Wesley and Zinzendorf on the matter of sanctification, taken from the dialogue as recounted in its entirety in Moltmann’s “The Spirit of LIfe”:

        Z. I acknowledge no inherent perfection in this life. This is the error of errors. I pursue it through the world with fire and sword. I trample upon it: I devote it to utter destruction. Whoever follows inherent perfection, denies Christ.
        W: But, I believe, that the spirit of Christ works this perfection in true Christians.
        Z: By no means. All our perfection is in Christ. All Christian Perfection is, Faith in the blood of Christ Our whole Christian Perfection is imputed, not inherent. We are perfect in Christ: In ourselves we are never perfect…..

        W: Does not every believer, while he increases in love, increase equally in holiness?
        Z: Not at all. In the moment he is justified, he is sanctified wholly. From that time he is not more nor less holy, even unto death.
        W: Is not… a father in Christ holier than a newborn babe?
        Z: No. Our whole justification, and sanctification, are in the dame instant, and he receives neither more nor less…

        W: Were… the apostles…no more holy the day after Pentecost, than before Christ’s death?
        Z: By no means.
        W: Were they not on that day “filled with the Holy Spirit”?
        Z: They were. But that gift of the Spirit did not respect their holiness. It was a gift of miracles only…
        W: …Do we not while we deny ourselves, die more and more to the world and live to God?
        Z: We reject all self-denial. We trample upon it. We do, as believers, whatever we will, and nothing more. We laugh at all mortification. No purification precedes perfect love….

        A fiery fellow, that Zinzendorf, but saying pretty much the same thing as CM in this post. His pietism was of a completely different sort from what goes by the same name today.

        • Robert F says

          The pietism that Zinzendorf promoted was obviously not about sanctification, nor was it about making Christians “holier”. I think his objective was to help Christians personally know and experience the theological truth of Christ’s already perfect love infused in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and he wanted them to know this truth for their comfort. That’s why he was so impassioned in his rejection of Wesley’s thinking with regard to sanctification. In Zinzendorf’s mind, Wesley was erecting barriers and hurdles for Christians to clear before they could know the warm and personal love of Christ in their hearts; and according to Wesley’s words, the failure to live out this process of sanctification would mean that the individual in question was not a “true Christian.” Zinzendorf would have none of it, because he believed that such standards would make true, heartfelt piety, which is rooted in gratitude and liberty, impossible.

    • Evangelicals do a lot of mercy works, it just doesn’t get much attention like their beliefs about abortion or homosexual marriage, and prayer is definitely one of the things that is emphasized for holiness. You are not going to get the complete picture of evangelicalism from this website. It would be like trying to find out about a person by talking to their ex-wife or ex-husband. You will hear a lot of things that are true, but you should probably also talk to someone who is still in a good relationship with that person as well.

      • Jon, I actually get a better picture of Evangelicalism from this website than what I did from within Evangelicalism…

      • Tomorrow’s post will be on missionalism. I think you’ll find I’ll be fairly kind to evangelicals on this characteristic.

      • Jon,
        I have spent my entire life immersed in Evangelicalism. My church, mission field and college were all at the very core of American non-denominational Evangelicalism. I still attend an Evangelical church with a good-hearted pastor and many dear friends.

        But I so appreciate this website, beginning with Michael Spencer and continuing with Chaplain Mike and the variety of commentators, for helping me separate the wheat from the chaff of my Evangelical experience.

        Thanks for this piece, CM.

      • Jon, I hear you.

        I first began perusing this site a couple of years ago because I needed a different and more balanced perspective on Evangelicalism–my particular tradition–and other traditions as well, especially Eastern Orthodoxy but the list has grown. I have learned many good things from frequently visiting this site and posting a comment or two now & then.

        At first I was somewhat shocked at the diatribe of some against traditions which are dear to me; these include Calvinism and Evangelicalism, and although not a gospel issue, social conservatism as well. A few of the comments posted are often ignorant, unfair, and downright nasty. These people I just blow off as, well, better to just leave it at that.

        But by far most others who post here are actually temperate and constructive, and it is these who keep me coming back. And although I have not changed my mind about anything I have learned much about my own Christian faith and tradition which I would not have learned if I only listen to those with whom I agree. I have also learned much about how Christians from other traditions and perspectives process information and come to conclusions which, although diametrically opposed with my own, stay true to the gospel nonetheless.

        So, ignore the fools, listen to the wise, and be a better Christian for it.

      • I’ve been out all day so I haven’t had a chance to comment again since this morning. I will say that I do appreciate a lot that I have read on this website, and again, a lot of what is said is true. But I also think when people become disgruntled or unsatisfied and leave something they have a tendency to focus on what is wrong without giving much attention or credit to what is good. That can be true of any number of things whether it be religious, political, a job, a relationship, or so on. If we only talk to those who were not satisfied we may not get the whole picture.

    • Though many evangelicals today have grown in their commitment to serving the poor, it was not a part of my mostly suburban evangelical experience. And you’re right, prayer probably deserves a separate point; it is subsumed under “devotions” in this list.

      • Robert F says

        Growing up in the C&MA, my wife tells me that there were many offerings taken for missionaries and mission work, but none to help the disadvantaged nearby.

        • Rick Ro. says

          Our church has actually begun “bucket-izing” some of its missions funds into “far”, “middle” and “near” categories, to make sure we’re helping our community as well as Kenya.

  3. Be holy for He is holy. Set apart but not just set apart. Set apart in a divine love. Someone up above said we were made to be in relationships and already we do what the article has talked about. We are made to be in relationship. With Jesus. In Jesus I am a part of everyone else even though I prefer to be alone most of the time. It isn’t about putting our beliefs on someone else. It is about putting the shared love we have been given on someone else

    How many follow the quiet voice. The one that says turn around and put a 50 in those young people’s hands stuck alongside the road. Going miles out of your way to find away back and as soon as you lay it in their hands you hear you just answered our prayer. Many times, many, many times. Most would never know that about me. How I never pass by. How many times I got a room for someone and prayed with them.

    Our church and many do all kinds of work feeding the hungry. Ours alone over a half million a year. This doesn’t even go into missions and special projects. Or all the little ministries throughout our region. Yes we are evangelical and at times I see all the things that are talked about here in some. I’ve been pushed around by some. Not an easy one for me because I could walk through most like a hot knife through butter. The first time I submitted being prayed over in a healing prayer was really hard. I heard all these bible verses out of context being used like some hocus pocus stuff but God was whispering in my ear submit. My plantar fasciitis was so bad I could hardly walk. My mountain walks were going by the wayside. I got better one foot then the other. Can I absolutely point to this. No but inside God honors prayer. My prayers and my heart wanted to spend time with Him on the mountain. This was so important to me. Kinda like my morning time I never miss.

    I set apart a time for Him every morning. I wish I could keep it in mind when the finger of the rude drivers pops up after leaving. How many times has that happened. I’m getting better at it. I’m being holier than I was. It isn’t something I’m doing yet it is with HIm. I will never be any holier than being covered by His blood but in practice of such a special love I am becoming holy here as it is in Heaven. The radical submission while not compromising a love that would have us be like Him. This I have access to. This is who I am in Him.

    The hardest thing is letting others walk their way with Him without me butting my nose in it. Yet to pray for what it is he might be showing me in myself through others and more of Him into their lives

    For somewhere in forgiveness and mercy are the joys and the prayers for those that hurt us even without meaning to on a walk that isn’t ours. This radical need to be right was turned upside down when He became wrong so I could be right. Now I shouldn’t use my newfound right to put on others what I think is wrong or right. Not my Job (a book of the bible for a reason)it is His Job. He told me to be holy.

    Said before I am not Catholic, methodist, Lutheran, EO,Quaker, Anglican or any others that pop to mind but yet I am all of these. Be Holy will be a process in me till I leave and am truly made Holy forever. Peace I love you guys.

    • Hey, w….you’ve prayed for me before, prior to a men’s retreat I helped plan last year. I could use little doses of prayer over the next month and a half for a similar thing, if you’re up for tossing a prayer up now and then. Blessings to you. I’m taking an extremely low-key, hands-off approach…to such an extent that it’s scary.

  4. turnsalso says

    The pietistic mindset has, at least within me, been so deeply ingrained that I have had an extremely hard time seeing it in myself. I have kept that list mentality in my head through all my years (and I’d be fooling myself to believe that I don’t still have it); I’ve only changed the script I’ve written it in. For me, holding the Right™ opinions has been the chief and certifying article on it, and for the most part, I’ve only changed what constitutes Right. YEC was once on that list, but once I changed positions, I revised my list to say “not YEC,” and now think less of groups and people who endorse it. I used to be pro-capital punishment (“and what do ya mean, cruel and unusual?”), but now I’m quietly opposed to it, and am nervous around its proponents. Same with gun control, same with gay rights. I once loved evangelical worship, not knowing anything else, but then shifted the opposite way and discounted the faith of those who did not see the value of the liturgy. I have, thankfully, mellowed out a lot on that one.

    I once discounted Luther’s understanding of sola fide (reiterated in short by CM in this post) as “a license to sin.” Now I recognize it as a great comfort, and the way out of my past obsession with Perfectly Parsed Theology. One day, by the grace of God, I hope to step out of Plato’s Cave entirely. Until then, let me but learn grace and patience with those who are still in the stages I have passed through.

  5. It seems to me that the kind of pietism described here leads to the potential for both pride and looking down on others who aren’t deemed pious, or as pious as those who feel pious. Such people can come across as very judgmental, unforgiving, rigid, etc. By separating from those deemed “unworthy,” the pious also lose opportunities to show the love of Jesus and to invite such folks to follow Jesus.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Pietism becomes Counting Coup on those Lukewarms like a Church Lady.

      And when you factor in “Can You Top This”, where does it end?
      Gargling lye alongside St Rose of Lima when “Mortification of the Flesh” was the Mark of the Really Spiritual?

  6. Christiane says

    there is a connection between “faith working through love” ( from Gal. 5:6)
    and the Chesed of God (Loving-Kindness), so much so that no act of kindness is too small to make a difference, and no person among us to too broken not to become an instrument of God’s goodness . . .

    Wade Burleson wrote an interesting post about the kindness of a man who stopped to help him and his wife when their car was disabled . . . their ‘angel’ was a Samaritan named ‘Thor’ who was ‘potbellied’, ‘missing teeth’, and admitted to a problem with seizure disorder . . . it was one of those posts that makes your day, and I wrote in response, this: “a classic example of how God give grace to the humble . . . of all the people on the road, this simple broken person displayed the most grace to you in your need . . .
    I suppose Samaritans come in all sizes and shapes, with all manner of flaws and strange ways, but let them come, Lord, let them come and serve when no one else has the time or heart or grace to help someone in need”

    I wrote a comment over on Denny Burk’s blog about evangelicals being seen more as judges than as care-givers to those they share kindness with in so many ways, and that it was a shame that ‘the world’ did not understand how evangelical people helped those in need, because of all the adverse publicity. The comment was deleted. I guess I didn’t explain what I meant well enough, because if I had, I think the comment would have been valued as given with good will, which it was.

    One thing you can’t fake is ‘love’ . . . you can call something ‘loving’ all you want, and people know it is not. Wade Burleson’s good Samaritan showed loving-kindness, in a pick-up truck filled with empty beer bottles . . . and Wade saw the man’s real grace through his rough and humbled disguise.

    We Christians need to have the kind of love for others that can not be mistaken by ‘the world’. 🙂

    • My son’s car broke down in NC and we are in Pa. A man and his wife named after myself and my wife stopped to help him. The man stopped to get a turtle of the road and had a cat with two legs. She said to my son he is always doing stuff like this. It cost me 2 k to save a cat who lost his leg from a trap. Trapper is his name and what a blessing he is.

      I thought as my son told me the man said we were lucky because that section of NC wasn’t as nice anymore and people get hurt. He told me of a man and his wife who love. I thought to myself God you sure are awesome. You sent someone like me a couple of states away to help my son and his wife. There was really nothing special about it except they were special right then and there and will be remembered by my son forever.

      Do you think this could be part of be Holy?

      • Rick Ro. says

        Sure could be. Being holy may be nothing more than giving a cup of water to a person who’s thirsty.

  7. Vega Magnus says

    Ah, pietism. I think one aspect you neglected to mention is the treatment of non-Christians that results. They become worth nothing beyond giving the pious someone to look down on for their faults.

    • Christiane says

      or worse, ‘some’ reckon their pious status by those they look down on . . . AND, they qualify people as ‘christian’ who look down on the same folks
      . . . but it’s no good . . . it may be of importance within their tight exclusive social group, but we know from the Holy Gospels that the Pharisee found no favor with God . . . this lesson from Scripture does not seem to have meaning for our modern Pharisees, does it?

  8. Pietism has become a dirty word within Christian circles and without, but it rose to counter the very real problem of a church mired in “dead orthodoxy”, a move of the Holy Spirit in my view. If you follow along, you can watch it slowly solidify into dead orthodoxy itself. You can observe this in many denominations, tho it is unhelpful to use the broad brush here. What really counts is what is happening in one particular local church on one particular day. Even more so, what is happening within one particular heart on one particular day. There is a fluctuation at work, both here and now, and over the centuries.

    In my view this is all under the influence of God’s Holy Spirit. There is a balance needed to avoid falling into the chasm of dead orthodoxy on the left and on the right, and I believe only the Holy Spirit of God can give that balance. It hasn’t been all that long since if you felt the need to have a new orifice ripped, you could come here and mention the Holy Spirit outside some Trinitarian formula or slogan. I thank W and OP along with others for helping change that.

    I see us all growing in understanding here like a field of non-GMO corn. The ongoing spiritual evolution of continuing Creation, if you will, weeds and all.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Pietism has become a dirty word within Christian circles and without, but it rose to counter the very real problem of a church mired in “dead orthodoxy”…

      “The Devil sends sins in matched opposing pairs, so that in fleeing one we embrace the other.”
      — C.S.Lewis (?)

      • Luther made a very similar point, but he used the analogy of a drunken peasant falling off one side or the other of his donkey after an all-night bender.

        Ah, Luther… 😉

      • I totally disagree with that HUG, The CS Lewis quote. It has no faith in it at all. The world was designed that what is wrong cannot fill us. The only thing the one or the other can do is have us profit from it and learn. Being holy has nothing to do with looking down on someone quite the opposite.

  9. IMO pietism creates that dead religion and “a moral and spiritual barrenness” that people were concerned about. Because, after all, when you can will and force yourself into holiness and activity, then there is no excuse.

    Pietism is one of many four letter words within Christianity.

    Holiness is not the goal of Christianity. It was the goal of the Law. Law is gone, fulfilled, over, dead, and was never useful to begin with.

    Grace is the goal. Love is the higher law.

  10. To be sure, “holiness” involves a call to be distinctive, set apart. It was the Law of Moses that defined “holiness” for the Israelites.

    I want to talk about this, and I may use bad words and phrases that set people off, and for that, I apologize. But to start off:

    The christian faith as instituted by Jesus is profoundly anti-Jewish. It’s a complete tossing aside of ancient Jewish customs and laws and replacing with inclusivity and grace for all. Where once the boundary lines for the camp had to be firmly established, and you had to know if you were in or out, now there are no boundary lines, or much fewer ones.

    Holiness, for the ancient israelites, is a far cry different than holiness for Christians. And what we have now as Christians is the new normal. That is why any “torah abiding new testament gentile believers”, as I’ve known some, miss the mark completely, fundamentally. The land is gone, the temple is gone, the curtain is gone, the sacrifice was made, everyone is welcome, there is a new, singular law that completely covers over any old law.

    And that’s good news. That’s gospel. Jewish things are done away with, behold, all things are new. And the gentiles are included too.

    Now, side thought, since after reading Peter Enns and our discussions here, my mind goes to these places…

    How much of what we know about the “law” and “holiness” is actually historically accurate, and not half remembered idealized versions of popular telephone stories that some post-exhilic, second temple priests and scribes wrote down? Sure seems an easy way to weave a narrative. Those guys knew they weren’t in their homeland and having great riches, so we must have done something wrong…let’s recreate the laws and customs and commands that we had originally broken, and then retroactively moving forward judge those against our remembered rulers and forefathers…and of course, blame most of the problems on our cousins the Nation of Israel (because we’re good Judahites), and those specific people those Israelites claimed as ancestors. Yeah, it’s their fault.

    But oh, maybe one day we’ll be restored to what we some what imagine was our former glory, to return to that idealized 1950s…BC era that we long for, when our warrior king lord will come and destroy our enemies and subjucate them, every knee shall bow…but let’s do this quietly since in the meantime i have a bath at the River Babylon in an hour.

    My son, forget not these words…the southern tribe shall rise again.

    • Suppose I could just copy and paste this, say amen, and be glad:

      To be sure, “holiness” involves a call to be distinctive, set apart. It was the Law of Moses that defined “holiness” for the Israelites. This included codes of personal conduct, civic duties, and religious obligations. By keeping these statutes, ordinances, and commands, one would be marked out as one of God’s people, distinct from others in the world. The Law drew the boundaries, and those who wanted to stay within those boundaries dressed, and ate, and acted according to the rules.
      The great argument in New Testament days took place when Gentiles began to respond in faith to Jesus the Messiah and join the communities of Jewish believers. Was faith in Jesus enough? Or must they, in essence, become Jewish too in order to become acceptable members of the Church? Were the practices required in the Law of Moses, such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and kosher food laws also incumbent upon Gentiles? Could one be “holy” without these?
      The Apostle Paul’s great contribution to the faith was to answer this question. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).
      There is one thing, one thing alone that marks a person out as a Christian (i.e. makes a person “holy”): he or she trusts Jesus Christ, and that produces love.

    • I’m a long-time reader (since Michael Spencer’s days), but only occasional commentor.

      Stuart, I’m sorry, but I have to take exception with this comment. To say that “the christian faith as instituted by Jesus is profoundly anti-Jewish” is, I’m afraid, to miss the mark. Early Christianity was the very fulfillment of Jewish messianic hope–at least as Jesus and the Apostles understood it. This screams through the pages of the New Testament in the Old Testament quotes the Apostles deploy, in the sermons of Acts, and the letters of Paul.

      If you read the Old Testament carefully, you’ll see that there is a point-counterpoint thorughout it between Law and Gospel. God Himself repeatedly promises salvation through a gospel of grace–for Jews and Gentiles alike–that completely supercedes the Law He granted Israel through Moses. You can find promises of this Gospel in Genesis, Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel–and pretty much every other book of the Old Testament.

      The Kingdom of God that Jesus inaugurated–good news to the poor; sight to the blind; healing of lepers; freeing of prisoners–comes straight from Isaiah. And the New Covenant of grace that Jesus inaugurated and that we are saved through–both Jews and Gentiles–was of course prophesied by Jeremiah, during the darkest days before the Babylonian exile.

      I grew up to an atheist Jewish mother and an agnostic Christian father. I didn’t believe in God at all as a kid, and as even as an adult, when I began taking an interest in reading the Bible, I didn’t believe that Christian faith was compatible with my Jewish identity. It wasn’t until God led me to a Gentile Protestant church whose pastor was gifted in teaching the Jewish heritage at the heart of New Testament Christianity that I could properly hear the Gospel for the first time and give my life to Jesus Christ.

      • I’ll add that the book of Hebrews also suggests that Jesus was not “anti-Jewish,” but actually all the Jewish aspects, including the Law, were a foreshadowing of who Jesus was, what He was, etc.

      • As a rider to my last comment, it is the common perception (but misperception) among both many Jews and Gentiles that Judaism and Christianity are completely different religions–and among Gentiles, that Christianity is superior to Judaism. These misperceptions have underlain centuries of sometimes horrific persecution.

        But if you read the New Testament writers (all of whom were Jews, except for Luke), they believed that Christianity was the *essence* and *fulfilment* of Judaism. According to Paul writing to the Romans, Jewish heritage–the promises, the covenants, the prophets–is the very foundation of the Christian faith.

        And in Jesus Christ, we have something new–not Old Testament Judaism, nor Gentile Christianity, but a common faith based on a covenant of Grace, with organic Jewish roots, but grown out into a community of people from every nation.

        • they believed that Christianity was the *essence* and *fulfilment* of Judaism.

          Absolutely, and that’s what I’m getting at. What I’m opposing is the idea that there will be a second coming of Judaism after the church is done away with, as if it’s not the fulfillment or essence.

          The church IS now. Judaism, isn’t.

      • Sewing, my words were poor and I didn’t know how else to convey what I was saying or thinking, hence my disclaimer at the beginning.

        When I mean anti-Jewish, I’m mostly referring to the inclusive, all within the borders type of ancient Israelite Jewishness. NOT that Christianity is anti-Jewish in the sense of opposed to Jewish religion, stuff. I’m referring more to nationality of things. I have things like so-called “replacement theology” in mind, as well as the hyper dispensationalism of my past, where there absolutely has to be this divide between the Jews and the Church, how God stopped his prophetic clock for the “church age”, but will one day go back to the Jews and resume operations as if Jesus had never occurred.

        That’s the stuff in my head that I’m thinking around, and my words are poor and frustrating. So forgive me where I stumble, and thank you for commenting.

        • Rick Ro. says

          If I may, I think you’re referring to all the aspects of Jewish-ness that Jesus slams in Matthew 23. He’s THAT anit-Jewishness.

          • Yes, and of course, those are dire warnings for us religious folks of every stripe today, just as the pitfalls of the wilderness journey are!

          • Rick Ro. says

            Yep. They aren’t just anti-Jewishness, they’re anti-religiosity and anti-churchianity. Any and all churches should examine Matthew 23 periodically, maybe even annually!

        • Stuart:

          I hear you. Those mindsets rooted in replacement theology or hyper-dispensationalism put me off, too, as a non-believer on the outside looking in. (And they still put me off today, as an insider looking out :), although I’ve learned to respect that some dispensationalists are more progressive than others.)

          I totally agree that we are ALL together in the Church Age now (if we can call it that)…or as one teacher at my church has put it, the Last Days, which we’ve been in for the last 2000 years now. I believe in the Second Coming of Christ, but I believe that it will be a single consummation and a single plan of redemption for ALL the people of God, both Jews and Gentiles.

          (Still don’t know what to do with Ezekiel’s Temple, though. I can’t discard it, but like the author of Hebrews, I do believe that the sacrificial system ended with the once-for-all atonement of Jesus Christ.)

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Could Ezekiel have been describing spiritual things using the imagery Jews of the time were most familiar with, i.e. the Temple?

            Or was this another facet of Ezekiel as “One Weird Dude”.

          • Robert F says

            Isn’t it wonderful how readily Christians talk about Christianity as the fulfillment of Judaism, less than a century after a nation full of Christians managed to exterminate half the Jews in the world, and after more than 1500 hundred years of Christian antisemitism, which included innumerable pogroms and religiously motivated slaughters of Jews, much of it justified with the theological claim that Jews were guilty of Deicide?

          • Make that 1500 years…

          • Robert F:

            I can only speak as one person, but I hear what you’re saying, and I would agree that it is good that we have progressed to this point, although such an unspeakably terrible price had to be paid to get here.

            It’s a sad commentary on our fallen state as human beings that it takes such terrible atrocities before we change the way we treat each other.

            God have mercy on us all!

    • Henry Darger says

      “The christian faith as instituted by Jesus is profoundly anti-Jewish.”

      Jesus was Jewish, as were most of the people around him–friends and enemies. While he disagreed with some of the other Jews, and vice versa, this kind of disagreement is very Jewish.

      The destruction of the Second Temple eliminated what had been the living center of Judaism. Again, not everybody agreed on what Jews should do now. The early Christians (or some of them) developed an identity independent of Judaism, while what we know as rabbinic Judaism also emerged. (There were other groups as well that haven’t survived.) Rabbinic Jews substituted Torah study (which was already a thing) for Temple activity, Christians gave a similar role to Christ and his sacrificial death. Eventually they came to define themselves against one another. The gospels are products of this era.

      It’s easy to refer to “the Christian faith as instituted by Jesus,” but difficult to reconstruct what that actually was. The idea that Jesus intended to found a new religion (or could even imagine such a thing) is very fanciful. Assuming that he did claim to be the messiah (which is controversial), there is no guarantee that his concept of the messiah would resemble later Christian beliefs, but every likelihood that later Christian groups would have projected their own interpretations back onto their putative founder.

      • “The idea that Jesus intended to found a new religion (or could even imagine such a thing) is very fanciful.”

        I’ve come across this kind of idea many times, and it always gives me pause: that Jesus would have been so limited by his cultural context as a first century Palestinian Jew that he couldn’t possibly imagine the kinds of new religious developments that later clustered around his own life. I don’t know that anybody involved had any thought of founding “a new religion”, (what would that mean in this context?), but Paul was also a Palestinian Jew, of the same generation as Jesus (more-or-less), and he seemed to have no difficulty expanding the concept and definition of Messiah, and then applying it to Jesus, in new and creative ways that were not found in Judaism before him. If Paul as a Palestinian Jew could think outside the box, why couldn’t Jesus? And if the Jewish writers and redactors of the New Testament could think outside the box, why couldn’t Jesus? There is no reason to believe that he couldn’t, even as a merely human being; add to this the traditional Christian affirmation that Jesus was also God incarnate, and all bets are off, because there is no way for us to know the limits of his imagination with our own puny imaginations.

  11. “Holiness is not the goal of Christianity. . . . Grace is the goal.”

    Stuart, I would suggest that the goal of Christianity is Oneness with God. Holiness and grace are means to that goal. Holiness simply means being set apart, which strikes me as pretty much a necessary part of changing my main allegiance from citizen of the world to that of the Kingdom. If the word has acquired excess baggage we could come up with a new word, but the pitfalls would remain lying in wait.

    If the Law of God is summed up in loving God and neighbor, as specified by Jesus himself, not to forget Paul and others, how can we say that Law is gone, dead, and never useful to begin with. Perhaps rather it was and is a means, and hopefully alive and most useful in our improved understanding.

    • My one counter to your statement, Charles, is that one can’t become Holy just by doing things. Holiness can only come via God’s work through Jesus Christ. I’m being MADE Holy, not “I’m making myself Holy.”

      • Can any of us grow even one degree more or less holy over the span of our entire lives?

        • I can’t answer that definitively, but I’ll say that if I AM a degree holier, it is only by God’s doing.

        • That Other Jean says

          In that we can become more kind, loving, and caring, more helpful to others, better stewards of the planet, and better recognize the love of God in our own lives, I hope so.

          • I agree, except that even secular people can be more kind, loving and caring, and helpful, and better stewards of the planet. Are they becoming holy? (And I don’t mean that to sound argumentative.)

            Heck, maybe God gives non-believers some credit for that!

          • That Other Jean says

            Indeed, Rick, I hope He does. I know some excellent non-believers who would seem to me to embody holiness. I’m not about to tell God how to do His/Her/Its/Their job, but I hope they get credit–not that they do what they do {unlike some Christians I also know) for brownie points with God.

          • Rick Ro. says

            2 Cor. 5:10…

            “For we must all stand before Christ to be judged. We will each receive whatever we deserve for the good or evil we have done in this earthly body.”

            God is a fair judge. He cannot help but take good deeds into account. Now one might argue they won’t amount to much when compared to all the bad we’ve done, but even the good done by non-believers will be taken into account by Jesus.

    • changing my main allegiance from citizen of the world to that of the Kingdom

      That seems like a false choice based on Jesus’ teaching. You never stop being in the world, even if you fundamentally are “other” to this world. We should identify very, very strongly with this world, focus on it, love it, help it grow, fix it, improve it…and never shrug off and embrace the idea that we aren’t “of this world”.

      Your seed is planted in this earth. It is watered by heaven, but still firmly grounded in where it’s planted.

      And I firmly agree in loving God and neighbor, I was not literally saying all law is gone in that context.

  12. This is a good, vital post, Chaplain Mike. I used to be a Christian whose walk consisted of checking all the right boxes, or at least as many of them as I could. Your list comprises of many, many of those things I would do. And the reason I did them, in hindsight, was to:

    1) Look holy.
    2) Look Christian.
    3) Look like I had it together.

    Then it dawned on me (after many years in my Christian walk, as I read and taught out of Mark and Matthew) that this was exactly the Pharisees’ problem and why Jesus had such great tension with them. It’s NOT about checking the boxes, it’s about the fact we’ll never be able to do enough to get right with God, yet God wanting us to be in a relationship with Him.

    Keepers of that list will ultimately become Pharisaical. They will think they are holy; they will think they know who isn’t and who needs to “do better.” And Jesus-shaped spirituality turns into religiosity and churchianity.

    • On the flipside, “let go and let God” is just as insidious and evil…

      Good post, Rick.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Again, “The Devil sends sins in matched opposing pairs, so that in fleeing one we embrace the other.”

      • hat Other Jean says

        Indeed. Getting your boarding pass and sitting on a bench until the train to Heaven comes makes for a pretty useless Christian.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          But a pretty common one during the heyday of Hal Lindsay.
          (Who my writing partner credits with destroying Protestant Christianity in America.)

          Problem is, if The World Ends Tomorrow (at the latest) and It’s All Gonna Burn, WHY BOTHER?
          Que Sera, Sera, In’shal’lah, it’s all over but the screaming.

          When you have NO future and It’s All Gonna Burn(TM), you’re not going to dare great things or make long-range plans. Yet the future has a way of happening anyway with or without you and you will find yourself Left Behind (just not in the way you thought).

  13. Chaplain Mike, I know others have stated it in previous posts in this series, but I want to commend you on this “Just in case you’re wondering” series. They seem, to me, to be very “Michael Spencer” in nature, a sharing of your heart and soul that seems more in line with “Jesus-shaped spirituality” than say, some of the “cultural war” types of posts. Those are okay every now and then, especially if you want to get 250+ comments, but these types of posts are, to me, the bread-and-butter of this site.

    I look forward to more in the series!

  14. This article really has my thoughts going!

    I kinda feel for pastors in the evangelical world. What are they supposed to do when they sense their congregation is becoming “lukewarm”? Do they try to convict their people that they should be “doing more”? Do they let their flock drift and hope they come back?

    And ultimately, isn’t this where God found Himself…with a people who’d become lukewarm and no longer “holy”? So what did He do? First, He said, “Here are my Laws and the things you need to do to ever DREAM of communing with me.” And basically the chasm between Him and us is so wide and deep that holiness is impossible to do and keep without becoming tarnished, so then He said, “Well, now that you know how difficult holiness is, let me take care of it for you,” and He gave us Jesus as High Priest AND sacrifice.

    So back to pastors in the evangelical world…what are they to do when their flock becomes lukewarm? Rather than keep pointing at the list of things and say, “You need to do more and do these better,” they need to point to Jesus and say, “Let’s relax. It’s being done FOR us. That’s the reason you needn’t be lukewarm!”

    • Randy Thompson says

      “Warmth,” it seems to me, is indeed a matter of being relaxed, but, more, it’s trusting that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, to borrow from Romans 8. It’s rather like sitting in the sunshine on a cool day to warm up. Too often, we think of “warmth” in terms of a wood stove that always needs to be fed wood in order for it to keep us “warm”!

      • Rick Ro. says

        Indeed, often “lukewarm” occurs because of “burn-out.” It’s because the focus turns toward “doing” and not toward Jesus work on the cross. I like what you say, Randy: warmth comes with relaxing in his love and grace.

    • I don’t want to be trite, but the answer is for those pastors to learn how to love them. That is, to be with them, to listen to them, to remain available to them. Pastoring is like parenting. One’s children go through difficult phases and we are tempted to find a “fix” — but rarely is there one. Faithful, consistent love over the long haul usually wins out. No one can demand that someone else change nor can anyone force the issue for another. And whether they change or not, we are still called to love.

      Sorry if this goes against the grain of “growing a church” or being “successful” in ministry. “Faith working through love” is the only way for bith pastor and people.

      • Rick Ro. says

        That didn’t sound trite at all!

        I’ve actually bounced that question off a couple of retired pastor friends (“how did you handle a lukewarm congregation?”) and one of the responses was very similar to yours: “I just tried to love them.”

        Plus…isn’t that basically what God does with us? (Jesus being the “shepherd” example.)

    • Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is where the “Church Discipline/9 Marks Movement” goes off the rails. Their stated goal – waking up moribund congregations and instilling a sense of the high calling of being a Christian – is laudable. But their methodology – binding legal covenants, lists of expected behaviors, public shaming and disfellowshipping – ends up being legalism dialed up to 11, married to THE BEATINGS WILL CONTINUE UNTIL MORALE IMPROVES.

  15. The Apostle Paul’s great contribution to the faith was to answer this question. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love” (Gal. 5:6).

    There is one thing, one thing alone that marks a person out as a Christian (i.e. makes a person “holy”): he or she trusts Jesus Christ, and that produces love.

    So what does this holiness look like? I would suggest the following the first also from Galations 5.

    Galatians 5:22-23 New International Version (NIV)

    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

    And also…

    Ephesians 4:1-3

    4 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

  16. Wesleyan scholar Ken Schenck:
    “the idea of holiness is only secondarily about certain behavior. The primary connotation is that of belonging to God, being set apart to God with the appropriate implications of that divine association. So to equate sanctification with a certain kind of living puts the cart before the horse. The living follows from that which pleases the specific God we have in mind–when you belong to the HOLY GOD, you want to be careful to behave in a way appropriate to Him….Wesley’s emphasis on intention is key I think. It allows us to have a very healthy relational understanding of sin, God, and us. I may wrong my wife in various ways, but usually the ones that are most significant are those with the greatest mal-intent. ..perfection for Wesley had to do with quality not quantity. It is not Adamic perfection, angelic perfection, and certainly not absolute perfection. We would best not even use the word perfection in our day and age. It is about “loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength…Human intention is far too complex a thing to shove into these moulds of my past. I am happy with three things: 1) God can empower you to win over temptation, 2) God can make you like it! and 3) Some people come to a crisis moment, a show down where it’s God or them. God helps some of these people move to a whole new level in their relationship with God.”


    • RDavid, thank you for pointing out what being holy is and is not. It is indeed being set apart, and not fulfilling some kind of behavior as most people are speaking of here. This is the same mistake the Pietists made along with a lot of others along the way. It isn’t just a misuse of a word out of ignorance. It is totally missing the point altogether.

      Set aside for what? You can be set aside for a spouse in marriage, for the defense of a nation in the military or police, for a devotional life in a monastery, for service to community in government. All of these things require intent, commitment, the taking of an oath, and only secondarily certain behavior. Bad behavior doesn’t negate the fact that you are under oath. You can be a good spouse or a bad one, but you are either married or you are not, you either said “I do” or you didn’t. Whether you are a good monk/nun or a bad one is beside the point. You are either a monk/nun or you are not, you are either set aside by oath or you are not. This discussion set out to speak of being set aside for God. It deteriorated into arguments over behavior, which as CM points out is a hallmark of Evangelicalism, tho they are far from alone, see above and below.

      It seems to me that becoming a Christian necessarily means becoming holy in the sense of being set aside, committed, devoted. The oath may come from us or it may have come from our parents. Yes. I do. Whether we fulfill the oath is an entirely different matter, and that is mostly what is being discussed here today. That it is being called holiness or lack thereof only confuses the issue. It’s behavior, good or bad behavior, Behavior is not holiness, being set aside for God is holiness. You can act honorably without being set aside for God. You can be set aside for God and still act like a total jerk.

      Anyway, I appreciated seeing your note of clarity. Obviously most everyone is going to ignore you and continue talking about behavior and calling it holiness or not, but it was a good try and needed saying. It really does make a difference whether or not one sees this as a matter of fulfilling a commitment as best possible, and here I believe is where grace comes in. We can’t do this on our own, and the Pietists along with Evangelicals and many others have demonstrated the futility of that attempt. Thanks again for shining some light on this discussion.

      • I disagree a bit with your take on the comments, Charles. I think the reason this holiness discussion, along with MOST holiness discussions, drifted toward behavior is because that’s how many “bad religion” holiness people view it. How do you know you’re holy and “set apart”? Why…because you SHOW you are by doing x, y and z (see Chaplain Mike’s list). Since this is a blog about Jesus-shaped spirituality, bad religion and how to avoid it, and for people damaged by bad religion, it’s only natural that discussions about holiness are going to drift toward how holiness is NOT about behavior.

        I think your comment would’ve been a nice stand-alone without taking jabs at the thrust of most of the comments. Yes, it would be nice if “being set apart” as a Christian was as simple as “now you’re a Christian, whether you’re good at it or bad at it,” but too often OTHER Christians want to make it about stuff other than that. THAT has been the thrust of the comments. Your comment actually complements the arguments others are making here.

  17. Dana Ames says

    As a recovering perfectionist, pietism worked in tandem with some views of God with which I was raised to make a Christian life very difficult for me, both as a Catholic and a Protestant. Even before I encountered Orthodox theology, I came to the conclusion that God created us to be human and being human is a good thing, that all of the horrible things people do are evidence of INhumanity, and that becoming like Christ means aspiring to be the most Fully Human we can be. The fullness of his humanity is the other basis of his self-giving love, along with his divinity.

    Over and over again in my Church we are admonished not to judge others, and also not to judge ourselves. Met. Kallistos Ware wrote that “to keep us in humility, God may hide our spiritual progress from us, and it is not for us to measure ourselves.” When I encountered this, it was as if my own “Marleys’ chains” had all been unlocked and lay crumbling at my feet.

    I would wonder, what is the difference between “lukewarm Christianity” and the idea that we just need to sit back and let God do everything for us? I would posit that, despite many people of the latter persuasion being concerned about consciously showing love to people (which is a very good thing!), there isn’t much difference – IF you believe that the deepest problem we have with God is sin/morality. However, if our problem with God is that without union with him we are walking the road to non-existence, and that death and fear of death is what makes us enslaved to sin (Heb 2.13-14), then one of the huge things that the defeat of death through the Cross and Resurrection means is that God has made everything possible for us to live as human beings and turn away from our inhuman-ness.

    That’s going to take some time, because we have some bad habits. We have to begin to acquire better ones, on the basis of the -yes, transforming! – love of God the Holy Spirit. Dallas Willard knew this, and never for a moment did he deny the completeness of Christ’s work on our behalf. Yes, God has done it all. And yes, we have things to do *because of that.*. St Paul wrote that we are to work out our deliverance/healing**; and that God works and wills; and at the same time God helps us will and do things that are consistent with being alive in Christ and fully human. If we have already died in Christ – that is what Baptism does, immerses us in Christ’s death and life at the same time – how shall we live, now that death holds no more sting?

    It is in living that way that we find holiness, and this is not without struggle. One desert monk was asked what all those monks the did all day long; he replied that we fall and get up, fall and get up. Our “humanity muscles” need to be challenged with the exercise that comes simply with living with people…. In the Orthodox Church, we don’t find holiness at the end of the struggle, for we will struggle until the end of this portion of life. We struggle with many things; this is simply reality, and the denial of this reality by many Christians – the idea that once we “acceptJesusChristasourpersonalLordandSavior” everything is automatically rosy and we should never have any more problems – is one of the things that drove me away from Evangelicalism.

    This quote has meant a lot to me and has a permanent place in my prayer book:

    “Let us never think that holiness means infallibility; the perfect man is nonexistent. Holiness is in the area of struggle, not perfection. No one is perfect. Perfection does not exist for us in this life. What exists is the struggling man, the one who keeps striving. We must understand this. I say this because at times we may think that holiness, which is our calling by the way, is so far out of our grasp that it is unattainable. This is not so. It is a delusion and the work of the devil, to tell us that holiness is unrealistic and we cannot reach it. The devil wants to destroy us. No, my friends do not listen to this. Holiness is in the struggle!”~Archimandrite (abbot) Athanasios Mitilinaios

    We do not strive to “get brownie points from God.” We strive because we need to grow into our full humanity. Willard: grace is opposed to earning, *not* to effort.

    **I hesitate to use the word “salvation” because, like “gospel” it is becoming more difficult to pin down what is meant when we use the word. I prefer the main definitions of the Greek.

    Please forgive the length. I was afk for a week, unable to endow anyone with my opinions 😉


    • Thanks for the post. I made a quick comment below before I read yours. What I love about Orthodox teaching is that the restoration of our humanity in Christ and being partakers of the Devine nature has nothing to do with works in the classic evangelical sense. It’s not a legalistic effort but a draw to “good works” because of the beauty of the “spirit of sonship”.

    • Rick Ro. says

      Length forgiven, at least by me! Good stuff! I like “holiness is in the struggle.” I think we see that even as Jesus walked three years in his ministry.

    • This is good stuff Dana. Really good stuff. We are not holy because of what we do we are because it is a by product of a relationship and being in love. This type of holiness doesn’t look down it looks up. Also within the great design everything is working for our good. When I say looking up everyone else seems to be there before me.

      Lately I have begun to see it and it is powerful to put everyone ahead of me. Now doing that consistently is going to be the struggle. I do believe with His help I can do it. Maybe not totally but I can do it.

    • Robert F says

      Thank you, Dana.

      • “That’s going to take some time, because we have some bad habits.”

        It will definitely take more than the allotted time I have left in this life. Right now I’m only taking baby-steps, and often as not, in the words of the Bruce Springsteen song, it’s “..one step up, and two steps back…”

  18. If a persons motivation is faith in love than a lot of things mentioned will cause one to be closer to Christ and a deeper restoration of their true humanity.

  19. John Wesley is often lumped in with the revivalism of Charles Finney and Phoebe Palmer; they are not the same. I do not find in the writings of Wesley any promotion of a super Christian; however, there is definitely in the writings of Charles Finney the teaching of a class of Christians above others, even that one is not a Christian whatsoever without certain external signs of piety.

    Before Aldersgate, John Wesley was brought to the point of despair by method-based piety. What inspired John at Aldersgate was not German piety but the Luther’s introduction to Romans. He solidly believed in justification by grace through faith. He viewed sanctification also as a work of God’s grace.

    John Wesley was a complex individual. He was a man of one book, as he proclaimed, but he was well read and borrowed from many sources, including Roman Catholic, Easter Orthodox, Lutheran, Calvinist, etc. He remained a minister of the Anglican church and preached on the importance of communion.

    I’m a little rusty on my Wesley history, so pardon the lack of references. Needless to say, neither pietism nor revivalism are labels well suited for him. Michael Spencer had much to say about John Wesley – both critical and affirming.

    • Robert F says

      What also helped Wesley break through his despair was his exposure to the warm personal faith of the Moravian Brethren. This is how he made his contact with Zinzendorf. The thing about Zinzendorf’s approach is that he managed to combine a pretty strict Lutheran theology with an emphasis on heartfelt trust in what Christ has done for the believer; he wanted to free Christians from all the burdens of self- and other-imposed perfectionism so that they could experience the totally gracious and free love of Christ that he exists in every Christian with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. You can call this pietism, but it is dissimilar to many other forms of pietism.

      • Robert F says

        I think that if you called Zinzendorf’s an antinomian pietism you’d be close to the heart of the matter.

      • Robert F says

        In the Moravians Wesley observed courage (in the face of death), humility, long-suffering, equanimity, things that he strove so mightily to produce by discipline, but among the Moravians these things grew in the midst of a theology of Christian liberty and love that eschewed all religious rigor and asceticism and “methodism”. They had spontaneously what he had sought by hard effort. Is it any wonder that his ears were made ready to hear what Paul had to say in Romans?

        • Robert F says

          Of course, it wasn’t this simple. The Moravian Brethren had certain definite, distinguishing ways of living and worshiping together. These communal ways, which were really a kind of discipline, no doubt formed and cultivated them into people with certain qualities, and people who knew there were expectations within the community that they themselves were required to meet, and which they in turn required others to meet. There is always some kind of discipline, whether well constructed or not, whether well thought out or not, whether implicit or explicit, in every Christian community. Antinomian communities cannot exist.

        • Wesley and Zinzendorf debated via written letters concerning finer points of German pietism. Wesley being English and Zinzendorf German, the letters they exchanged were written in Latin. How cool is that?

    • The similarities between Charles Finney and Francis Chan are disturbing to say the least.

    • Albert C. Outler published an excellent collection of John Wesley’s writings (ISBN 019502810-4).

  20. Eastern, not Easter.

  21. Really thought provoking post. My thoughts were mostly on the definitions of “pietism” contrasted with “love producing faith” and the connection between the two. Defining these often becomes unhelpfully circular for me as I virtually always see “faith” defined in a way that becomes pietistic in some form. The only question is, what does the piety look like? Sometimes those pieties are treated as as a way to be “holier”, but at other times they’re litmus tests for whether there is actually any “faith” to begin with. It’s not only holiness tiers – it’s in/out and profound disagreements over the form that “true faith” takes.

    On another note, and not to drag us back into the gutter, but isn’t the “moral continental divide” over homosexuality very closely related to this topic – how we define “faith” and what we’re prepared to include with or exclude from that definition?

  22. There is a difference between being moralistic and taking the command seriously to be salt of the earth and light of the world. I don’t know if this article fairly distinguishes between the two.

    • It might not have been the point of the article, but since you mentioned it, might you be able to give your take on it?

  23. Hi MikeH,

    I think Dana hit on it here:
    “We do not strive to “get brownie points from God.” We strive because we need to grow into our full humanity. Willard: grace is opposed to earning, *not* to effort”

    If what salvation “is”, follows the trajectory from the NT, through patristics and monastics and is followed through post 1500 theology, one finds a lifestyle not a momentary decision. Salvation is discipleship. The end game isn’t just being saved from hell, but it is fulfilling God’s purpose to make us fully human in this life & the next.

    Any theology that doesn’t complement this idea is outside the scope.

  24. Chaplain Mike I have no time to dialog at all on this, but I do think you have missed the mark on this. I am in the process of looking into Pietism more closely and I think you have mis-characterized it. Here is someone else’s take:


    • Thanks Ken. It might have been better to use another term but I think pietism is still best. In this piece I’m not being so much critical of historic pietism — I only reviewed that to put the term in context. It is the way “holiness” matters have come to be handled within evangelicalism that is my primary concern.

      • I am not sure I would use it. I happen to be taking a seminary course now on the very subject, just scratching it now and it does not fit the classical movement.

        What we are seeing is an American perversion of it. Roger Olson wrote a book on it called ‘Reclaiming Pietism’ that is worth the read. And you certainly can see some of the roots of evangelicalism in it.

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