Arthur and I find ourselves in the Aussie reformed evangelical camp, but both of us have significant streams of influence from Holiness / Wesleyan / Methodist traditions from earlier in our lives. We’ve re-discovered these most recently by following Seedbed, which is how I picked up a copy of ‘Holiness For Ordinary People’, by Keith Drury, now in its third edition. It’s about the doctrine of entire sanctification and how it can be realised in your life.
The fantastic thing about this book is that you don’t have to sign up to the doctrine in order to benefit from it. Very early on, Drury outlines seven approaches to sanctification:
- holiness of Christ, not me – we are sinful to the core and can’t really be devoted to Christ in this life but fortunately Jesus’ sin covers us
- worthy goal but impossible dream – we should expect to be increasingly delivered from sin and empowered in love but we will never become fully devoted followers of Jesus (Calvin)
- a momentary experience, but unsustainable – you can become a fully devoted follower of Christ in this life, but not for long (modern Lutheran)
- sustainable experience, with momentary lapses – holiness can be normal for Christians but sin will never be totally defeated. (Keswick)
- possible, after a long growth process – living as a fully devoted follower of Jesus is a real possibility in this life but can only be achieved after many years (United Methodist Church / Thomas C. Oden)
- keep seeking until you receive – a middle way, which suggests even a young person can become a fully devoted follower of Jesus, but not just by asking (“slot-machine holiness”) but in God’s own timing as we keep seeking him. (some think this was John Wesley’s view)
- believe and receive by faith, now – any Christian of any age and level of Christian maturity can be a fully devoted follower of Christ, receiving the good gift of complete freedom from sin. ‘The shorter way’. (Phoebe Palmer)
Though Drury and those in the Holiness movement favour the latter two views, he speaks warmly and generously of the other views and as someone who is probably more inclined to those other views, I still found much in this book that was tremendously enriching.
Sanctification and Sin
The thing I found least convincing about Drury’s argument was the epochal nature of ‘entire sanctification’ which he expects in a discernible moment. It just seemed too structured and tidy for me and I’m not convinced the stages he identifies are as clear cut in the Bible.
However, one thing I really appreciated was the distinction between two types of sin: rebellious disobedience and failure in Christlikeness. The first is what ‘entire sanctification’ sets us free from. In other words, entire sanctification is about a changing of the affections, so that we desire nothing but complete obedience to God. However, this does not mean we have nowhere to grow. We continue in growth in maturity, seeing parts of our character and life that we can bring into line.
Drury uses the example of a 2 year old accidentally spilling milk: they have made a mistake, but it’s from lack of coordination or immaturity rather than from willful disobedience. They have plenty of room to grow and mature, but there is no malice or rebellion in their action, unlike how you might read an eight year old performing the same action.
What I like about this is that it leaves room for sin to be more than intentional. It recognises that we will always need to grow and align ourselves to God, but mortification and repentance may not be the only dimensions we need to consider. I find this in my own life; rarely do I find myself intentionally or maliciously sinful, but I am often grieved by my weaknesses or failures which are not ‘committed sins’ so much the brokenness of being a sinful person. The ‘two types of sin’ paradigm allows room for this.
Holiness and Gender (Sharon Drury)
I would recommend this book simply for the chapter on gender and sanctification, written by Drury’s wife, Sharon. She argues that sin is often spoken about in masculine terms, as being about selfishness, pride and desire for power. While some women will struggle with these,
for a variety of reasons, cultural and biological, many women tend to already live a life oriented to others… A call to surrender self and serve others, for many women, is to call them to do the very thing they are already doing and perhaps have done too much. Some women have so negated themselves they hardly have a self. Many women have such low esteem that their self is nowhere available to surrender.
Drury is concerned that this lets women off the hook, or sends them deeper into the sin of finding their identity in others such that they have nothing to offer God. Making your life about caring for you family and keeping an immaculate home might seem like serving others, but in reality they can be a guise for idolatry. Our language of service to others does little to uncover these kinds of sin. Neither does it help women who avoid responsibility or have poor boundaries. She says that for women, total devotion to Jesus ‘may not mean giving up self — it often means becoming a self.’ She gives a stack of scenarios in which women might find themselves lacking a sense of self. She then paints a picture of what the sanctified woman looks like:
the sanctified woman will enlist in God’s life-changing work and she will be focused, undistracted, bold and risk-taking for God. She will resist letting her ego be merged and blurred until it’s swallowed up in the lives of others. Instead, she will come to stand as a whole, responsible person under God.
If this sounds ‘unnatural for women’, she says you’re right, just like it’s unnatural for men to become ‘tender-hearted, meek, humble and easily entreated — all the things we expect from a sanctified man.’
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.