Though I am a Wesleyan pastor, my introduction to Holiness theology was less than typical. I began my journey as a United Methodist but chose to attend an Evangelical Free Church seminary recommended by Paul Little at a weekend IVCF retreat. My appreciation of holiness theology came from three sources:
- John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
- William Burt Pope’s Compendium of Christian Theology
- Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes
I occasionally struggled with some of the more modern interpretations of Wesleyan holiness theology, but I found these texts to be satisfying and understandable. The current book brought my education into the 21st century.
Besides the topic, one other aspect of this book attracted me to it: the author has his roots in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church. I, too, had spent six years attending a CMA church - even considered entering ministry via this denomination. God had other plans and brought me to the Wesleyan Church. And four years later I was ordained as a Wesleyan Pastor.
For these two reasons, I jumped at the chance to read and review Rethinking Holiness.
Though the book occasionally has a practical bent, it is primarily a theology text. As such it is grounded in scripture. The book begins with a grand look at the holiness of God. To Van de Walle, God’s holiness is not an attribute, but the defining characteristic of God. It is what sets Him aside from every other thing that claims or we are tempted to replace God with falls short on this characteristic. Other things and people may be called holy, but only by the fact that they have been made so by their connection to God.
The seven chapters each address a different aspect of holiness’ importance to the rest of scripture and our world:
- The Desire and Need for Holiness
- A Biblical Definition of Holiness
- A Theological Investigation of Holiness
- Holiness and the Nature and Purpose of Humanity
- Holiness and the Nature and Problem of Sin
- Holiness and the Nature and Goal of Salvation
- Holiness and the Nature and Goal of the Church
Each chapter concludes with an .”Excursus” covering a related, though distinct, topic. For example, the Excursus found at the end of Chapter 3 discusses “Human Language and the Nature of God”. The book is well-researched with references and includes a complete index in the last few pages. My only disappointment with the book is that the author does not address the topic of entire sanctification - though that is not a specific point in the doctrinal statement of the CMA Church.
The writing is concise, well-organized, and interesting. I felt invited to move into each chapter and to be engaged with the content. The writing is easily understood, whether the reader is a theolog or a layperson. The book belongs in the seminary library. Some church libraries will find it useful. It would certainly fit well as an ancillary text for a course on God’s character or attributes or one focusing on the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Finally, the book is recommended reading for anyone (scholar, pastor, or lay) looking for a source of personal renewal in their walk with Jesus.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are my own.