The Renovating Holiness Book is now available for discounted pre-orders at www.renovatingholiness.com.
Here is my introduction to this massive work of more than 100 essays from young Nazarene leaders around the world who are rethinking sanctification.
Imagine that you have just inherited your grandparents’ house.
The only condition for inheritance is that you have to actually live in the house. Your grandparents, whom you loved dearly, had lived in the same house for sixty years. This simple abode holds an infinite amount of family memories ... and dust.
You are thrilled to be entrusted with the task of tending the family’s treasure of history and memory. Yet if you are going to live there, you’ll have to make it your own. The vinyl armchair still permanently imprinted with the shape of your Grandpa’s posterior is not something to keep for posterity’s sake. Although the massive old TV - the kind that came in its own cabinet - faithfully cranked out Wheel of Fortune at 6:30 for decades, it too will have to go.
But the furniture is just the beginning, the whole interior desperately needs updating. The foot-wide pink flowers on the bathroom wallpaper may have been “snazzy” in the 70’s, but now they just feel like Pepto Bismol had a fight with the Easter Bunny. New paint is a must in every room, but under the stained and faded carpets you discover a hidden treasure of long buried yet indestructible oak flooring. With a little elbow grease, those will shine in all their ancient glory.
However, we haven’t even started talking about the real improvements. The windows leak like a sieve. Maybe that’s why Grandma always had that nappy afghan and two cats on her lap! The wood furnace is literally a firetrap. And there’s a spongy spot on the floor near the back porch where water has been seeping in every good rain.
The kitchen and dining room were designed for a time when meals were formal affairs with fine china. Your family prefers an open kitchen/dining/living room so that the hosting area can be expanded easily. Some walls will have to go.
Grandpa saved a lot of money by doing the work himself when he added the extra bedroom in ‘69, and he saved money again when he built “Grandpa’s Workshop” in ‘83. But the additions are showing their age, especially around the seams where the ceiling is turning brown because of leaks.
Don’t get me wrong. You’re grateful for the house and all of the family heritage that goes with it. It’s just that Grandma and Grandpa didn’t notice their house deteriorating at roughly the same rate as their bodies. They didn’t really mind that wonky faucet in the bathroom because they had lived with it for 30 years. But if you are going to live there, you’ll have to bring the house into the 21st century. Your challenge is to reshape the family history to be a working home for your family.
This is essentially the challenge facing us younger members of the Church of the Nazarene. We have inherited a doctrine of sanctification that our grandparents built. Our spiritual grandfathers and grandmothers were certainly faithful in their time, and we owe them a debt of gratitude. That they have willed their theological home to us is surely more than we deserve.
But they didn’t seem to notice the radical changes happening in the world while they carried on with church as usual. Their language doesn’t work in today’s world. Their thought structures feel cramped in some places and leaky in others.
If we are actually going to live in this theological house with our family and our children, renovation is a must. And I don’t just mean some new furniture and a little paint. We need some sledgehammers and some heavy machinery. We’ll need to dig up parts of the yard and rent a dumpster.
However, all of this change is not a sign of disloyalty or disrespect. We are not being unfaithful to the legacy of those who came before, nor are we rejecting their hard work. We are faced with three choices:
Live with an obsolete and uncomfortable theological house and manage the resentment and hang-ups that engenders.
Move out and leave all our traditions behind.
Renovate the whole structure to can keep what is best and to carry it forward into a new era for our friends and children.
In the Church of the Nazarene, it seems as though the majority of Gen-X have chosen Option 1: Uncomfortable Resentment. That hasn’t gone well. Many of our pastors have stopped talking about or even caring about holiness. “Doctrine of Holiness” is one of the most dreaded classes in the curriculum at many of our schools. One of my peers relayed stories of how his friends baldly lied about their experiences with entire sanctification in their ordination interviews simply to tell the interviewers “what they wanted to hear.”
A frighteningly large majority of Millennials have opted for Option 2: Moving Out. This has meant leaving nearly everything Nazarene behind, sometimes even leaving Christianity behind. As Grant Miller points out in his essay, holiness churches have fared the worst among all Christian groups. We are losing our youth and young adults - and fast. Our theological house doesn’t fit our family, and our family is leaving.
This book is a call to embrace and to empower Option 3: Renovation. Our house has good bones. The fundamental structures of our tradition are strong and well built. The Church of the Nazarene has reached into centuries and millennia past for bricks and beams of substance and depth. This house is worth saving. This house is worth living in. This house can help us raise our families well.
Therefore, this house is worth renovating. Even more, renovation is a moral obligation and a dynamic privilege. If we want our family to stay here and to thrive here, the house must change. That is not negotiable. The only other option is a dying house inhabited by increasingly aged and lonely people, where young people only come for visits on holidays.
In truth, we - not only the contributors in this book, but also all leaders in the Church of the Nazarene - agree that renovation is an absolute necessity for the Church of the Nazarene. We love our denomination, and we want our denomination to thrive in our rapidly changing world. In our moments of greatest honesty, we know that refusing to change is choosing to die.
But, oh, what to change? And how? And when? And at what pace? And what must never change? Our answers to these questions differ. Here we debate. These are the great questions of our era. We must ask these questions openly and honestly. We need all our voices - young, middle aged, and old – for these questions.
In the Church of the Nazarene, however, this conversation has been dominated by the older voices that hold the seats and pulpits of power. The difficult truth is that our official conversations about the future of our church have been too old, too white, too male, and too American. The younger and varied voices have been welcomed only when they were harmonious with the perspectives of those in power. When our younger leaders have suggested more radical changes or raised difficult questions or aired discontent, those voices were ignored or discouraged, silenced or removed.
Yet these young voices come from leaders around the globe who are inheriting the house. They must decide how to raise their families in this place. They are the ones who still have more than half their lives in the future. Their voices will naturally be the voices of challenge and change, and we need to hear these voices more now than ever before.
Naturally, the Church is delightfully a multigenerational house, and we need all the voices. We need to hear from our leaders with the wisdom of vast experience. Those voices have much to teach us all, but we must be careful that their voices do not drown out the questions and hopes of the young.
Renovating Holiness is a joint project by more than 100 Nazarene leaders from around the globe. We have intentionally sought as much diversity as possible in terms of ethnicity, gender, and location. We have also limited our contributors to members of Generation X (born from 1960 to 1979) and the Millennial generation (born from 1980 to 1999) in order to amplify the much neglected voices of our younger leaders. These writers are Nazarenes and joyfully so, and yet they call for change. They call for change in doctrine, in teaching, in practice, and in perspective. Mostly, they call for a renovation that enables them to raise their children and their children’s children in this church they love.
This book is a call for change, but even more it is a call for open conversation about change. For too long, we have considered the doctrine of holiness off limits, our own sacred cow, impervious to all forces of cultural change.
Several of our contributors remind us that our holiness has also been unhealthily uninfluenced by the various local cultures in which it has been planted. In this globalized postmodern world, we need a vast recontextualization of holiness into a million different micro-cultures around the world. Our leaders need the freedom to embrace that messy process of incarnation without fear of retribution from above. We need to rip up the standardized carpets to discover the rich and varied hues of hardwood flooring sustaining our house around the world.
As a global denomination, we need to talk openly about what needs to change in our doctrine, practice, and structure to allow us to embody more faithfully the parts of our tradition that must never change. We need safe space - officially safe space - to dialog together about our deepest hopes, fears, and longings for our church. Our hope is that this book will serve as a catalyst for many, many safe spaces for conversation about holiness in small groups, classrooms, district assemblies, and workshops around the world. (Check out our free discussion guide available online.)
We have a beautiful church, a beautiful and strong theological house. We are now in the process of reclaiming our best strengths, repairing our weaknesses, and expanding for greater hospitality. May God give us the strength of vision to renovate well and to build boldly into the future.