Sanctification in a post-Modern, post-Doctrine, post-Everything Church

It started in college with a random story the professor of Pastoral Theology told to get us to think about the “benefits” of moving the church to a seeker-sensitive model. One of the elders in his church got up to read a psalm as part of the call to worship. He read the psalm clearly and with energy so as to invite the congregation to enter into worship. After the service the pastor, medicine the one who was now teaching our class, generic took the elder aside and gently chastised him for his choice of reading. Perhaps next time he could choose a more appropriate psalm, viagra the pastor counseled. The elder looked at him and finally asked why that psalm was inappropriate.

“The psalm talks about the blowing of the shofar,” the pastor explained, “and no one in the congregation knows what a shofar is. It would be better to choose a reading that the congregation would understand; one that was relevant to the current age and culture.”

The entire class stared at the professor in disbelief. Finally one student, a dear friend of mine who, in a later class would be criticized because his sermons relied to heavily on the Bible and did not have enough personal stories in them, spoke up. “You mean to say that it is better to not read a portion of Scripture because the congregation would not understand one small word in it?”

The professor nodded. “We have to make the service relevant, especially to those who are new to the church,” he explained.

“So, why not just explain what a shofar is right after the reading, or during the sermon, or why not put it in the bulletin? Would that not be better than excluding a portion of Scripture?” A chorus of “amens” arose from the class in support, and the professor was left speechless. It was obvious that that had never crossed his mind.

That incident, and the fact that the professor’s idea of a textbook was copying articles out of leadership magazines, cemented Pastoral Theology as my least favourite class. But, there was a positive outcome. It was because of that shofar story that I began my quest to solidify my personal philosophy of ministry.

Several years later, I was working in a church from the Wesleyan tradition and I began to notice that there was no preaching, teaching or discipling on the doctrine and practice of sanctification, which was extremely odd given that one of the doctrinal distinctives of the denomination was an affirmation of the doctrine of entire sanctification. Finally I asked the pastor. And his answer was eerily similar to the professor’s reaction years earlier. We have to make our services and our theology culturally relevant.

What is it about sanctification that has fallen out of favour? Not only is there the “culturally relevant” excuse, there seems to be two major trends: On the one hand you have neo-Reformed types who seem to have conflated salvation and sanctification and thus advocate for a monergistic doctrine of sanctification: it is something that God alone does. On the other hand you have Wesleyan (and Pentecostal) types who are carrying war wounds from the misuse of the doctrine of entire sanctification (and the baptism of the Holy Spirit) over the last 60 years as it was used as a weapon of “superiority”.

And yet I find myself drawn to the doctrine of sanctification. What does a sanctified life look like? How do we live in the tension of the “now and not yet” of sanctification? What is God’s role in sanctification? What role do we play in sanctification? And what does that role look like? What terms are associated with sanctification: Perfection? Virtue? Theosis? Is the doctrine of entire sanctification biblical? And most importantly what does the doctrine of sanctification look like in a Post-Modern, Post-Doctrine, Post-Everything Church?

This is my passion, and my the area of research that I hope to continue to pursue throughout my educational career. I’m currently writing a paper on Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of Perfection, and I am loving what he has to say. I’m hoping to do my thesis on sanctification in the theology of Karl Barth. One day I want to look at how Wesleyan and Reformed traditions approach the doctrine of sanctification and suggest that there is actually quite a bit of agreement between the two. And I want to write about how to redeem the doctrine of sanctification after years of abuse and misuse (and here I think Gregory of Nyssa is a great way to begin that process of redemption). My prayer is that the doctrine of sanctification doesn’t get thrown out on the trash heap of “uncool” and “irrelevant” Church traditions in this age of trying to chase what is hip and cool and faddish.

  • In a very weird coincidence, I just wrote a post that references how much I hate the word “relevant.” And I’ve had pastors say similar things to me about not talking about things they think their people won’t understand. Agree! Agree! Agree!

    • Yup relevant is one of those words that’s like nails on the chalkboard!

  • Ally

    Amanda – is there a good way to contact you off blog? I have a bit of a story that I don’t mind sharing with you but I don’t really feel like is my place to share to the world – it doesn’t have to do with sanctification per say – but it does have to do with Wesleyan tradition churches not looking very Wesleyan perhaps due to very similar reasons! (well amongst other things, but anyway – I just think you’ll appreciate it)

    • Ally, I’d love to hear your story! You can email me at cdntheologianscholar [[[[[at]]]]] mac [[[[dot]]] com.

      • Ally

        I’ll try to get to it tonight (may not – depends on how long church council runs – I don’t think it should be a long run) I attempted to dash off a quick one but I ended up rambling and making very little sense, lol

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  • Did you really just say “sanctification in Barth”? Did you really just say that?

    Along with denouncing the “hip and cool and faddish”? Really?

    And hoping that sanctification doesn’t get thrown out? Really?

    Here’s a tip Amanda. The true and living body and bride of Christ. All of those eternally elect of the Father. In other words, His actual church consisting of the actually regenerate, IS sanctified, having been clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Always has been, always will be. As such her members WILL relentlessly pursue a life of personal holiness in love for and gratitude to her beautiful bridegroom.

    With salt and light like this it is absolutely no wonder the western world is swirling down a toilet of deception and debauchery. The visible church is leading the way. You really don’t see the powerless anti Christian perversity that Barth is afflicting you with do you?

  • Greg Smith

    I doubt you’ll do it Amanda, but I sure would appreciate it if you could help dear Father Robert out by answering my questions here.

    Then we can talk about Barth and sanctification.

    BTW, the argument started in comment #143 here:

    Please lemme know how seriously you’d take YOUR husband’s “sanctification” if you came home one day and found a 20 something young girl had moved into your house on his invitation. He’ll be spending most of his time alone in private with her and traveling the world with her while you stay home with the kids. It’ll be a scandalous dishonoring reproach to the name of Jesus to everybody except them But that’s ok because then you’ll have plenty of time to write about”sanctification in Barth”

    What’s ironic is that not even Barth would have advocated homosexuality LOL! Ya gotta laugh to keep from cryin.
    Dear Lord Jesus help us. And we wonder why this continent is swirling down a toilet of death and debauchery. The “church” is competing with the world to see who can be more perverse.

    What’s heartbreaking is that you already knew about this, but didn’t care because it ‘s the great and powerful Barth. Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain. Like I say, I don’t expect you’ll have any answers either . Nobody ever does.

    I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Barth. From the depths of my heart Amanda I hope you see this before you die and face a God who
    will be entirely unimpressed with your education.