Friday, August 29, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to Sound Scholarship

C. H. Spurgeon once said that “holiness is wholeness” and so did a host of other great theologians, yet that is not enough to convince many people in our day, because of the weight of scholarship saying otherwise. There is no way I can ignore scholarship, when it comes to saying that holy means whole. I must have scholarship on my side. I do, though I cannot demonstrate much of it in this one piece, but I can draw a clear distinction between unsound scholarship and sound scholarship.

I see the difference between unsound and sound in the analogy between a bike that lacks some of its basic parts and a bike that has all of its basic parts. The bike without some of the basic parts is not entirely useless, if we use it for parts, but it also is not entirely adequate by itself.

The word sound is also translated healthy in our Bible. I have said elsewhere I think that whole means healthy in the sense of its most important implications, and I also said elsewhere that wholeness is the key to being healthy above all else. So let’s examine scholarship in terms of whether it is whole or not to determine whether it is then healthy and sound or not.

But before we examine scholarship, we must also understand another major factor in why some define holy as separation. The argument that holy means separate is based on two major factors. The first is scholarship that began largely in the early 1800s to challenge the idea that holy had any dual meaning with whole being primary and separate being secondary. The second is that when Charles Spurgeon separated from the Baptist Union in the late 1800s, separateness became a major focus. If we zoom forward to our time, scholarship is why liberalism maintains the idea of holy meaning separation and the idea that there are secular and religious realms that are distinctly separate from each other. Actual separation historically is why conservatism maintains the idea of holy meaning separation, because of its importance in justifying the actions of Spurgeon and other separatists after him. While Spurgeon clearly taught that holiness is wholeness, he also clearly taught by his actions that its secondary meaning of separation was perhaps even more important. I hope you can see the irony in this, because it has aligned liberals and conservatives together on this one issue of scholarship.

The greatest irony in all of this has been the attempt by Christians to create a distinction in scholarship. It is odd to see the descendants of fundamentalists aligned with names like Gesenius, Brown, Driver, Briggs, James Strong, J. Henry Thayer, Vine, Liddell, Scott, Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich, Kittel and many others. You can read of Christians who to this day refuse to use these authors in their study of Scripture, because they are seen as corrupt. Yet on the word holy, they see no problem.

I think that the idea that holy means separation is what creates the entire uneasiness with using scholarship that does not originate from the Christian community. In addition, when anyone crosses that line in studying Scripture, they work hard to prove how they can avoid corruption or they try to prove that corruption is not there in some places. If separation is the most critical character trait we must possess, then corruption or impurity is a real problem when you use scholarship outside the Christian community. Mixing with others becomes a real possibility for losing one’s purity. Yet there is another option that upholds separation, yet not separation as what is most important about Christianity or religion or even the secular realm.

If being whole or wholeness is primary, there might be room for benefitting from scholarship that is not of the faith, while still maintaining the distinction of Christian and non-Christian in its proper sphere. What could benefit the Christian community and the non-Christian community is an exchange in areas they agree, without saying that they agree on the whole.

Samuel Lee, D.D. authored a Hebrew Lexicon in the late 1800s. He recognized some of the problems faced by Christians in using lexicons developed by those outside the faith. Yet he cautioned against accommodation in the face of realities, just to advance what Christians consider orthodox. He points out that: “This would be dishonest on the one hand, as the practice proscribed above is faulty, partial and unjust, on the other.” I could not agree more as Dr. Lee is beginning to define what it is to be sound or healthy or whole. He recognized an entire set of principles that must be upheld. He also concludes that valid interpretations in his view are “the most easy, natural, judicious and acceptable. “ Again, he is laying out principles in his preface of his scholarly lexicon that make up a set of things and are not singular. I think this provides our way out of the problem of struggling to discern what is sound scholarship.

If being sound is being healthy and if being healthy is primarily being whole, then Dr. Samuel Lee has provided an avenue to both benefit from other scholarship, whether it is Christian or not, and he has also provided us with a different place for separation to avoid corruption or impurity. Let me take his principles one step further.

As a Christian, my primary principle is my first moral trait to be whole. What primarily makes up that whole are the moral traits of justice, truth, love and good. These are then the foundation for how I discern sound scholarship from unsound scholarship. By analogy, it is how I separate the whole bike from the partial bike.

Notice I said separate, yet without that being the primary principle. If I function as a stereotypical fundamentalist or conservative, then I have a real problem when I use lexicons not written by Christians or better yet anything not written by God. There is that possibility of corruption and impurity lurking everywhere, but in God's inspired Bible. I live in constant fear.

On the other hand, if I need to separate things that are sound from things that are unsound and if I come out from among fellowships that are unsound, then I have less fear and more hope in this world that I might benefit from even others who are unsound. This is because part of what they do, may make up part of what is sound. That is, they may love justice and define that well, even while they are not sound or healthy and they are even opposed to what is true. I can benefit from what agrees in principle as a part, even though I cannot benefit as a whole. So I have to separate myself at that point, rather than from all the parts that come from an unsound or unhealthy source.

Remember my analogy earlier. The bike without some of the basic parts is not entirely useless, if we use it for parts, but it also is not entirely adequate by itself. I clearly can separate a complete bike from an incomplete bike, but that does not make the parts useless. Likewise, I can use parts of scholarship to make whole or sound scholarship.

I am also able to use the scholarship of the past, based on whether I think it is sound or not, not based alone on whether it is from a Christian or not. Stereotypical forms of conservatism make this mistake. I am also able to use past Christian scholarship, because I do not think soundness is defined correctly, when it requires me to give up parts of what makes me sound to be sound. I also am not biased against the past, because I think this violates the healthy principle of truth. Stereotypical forms of liberalism make this mistake when it favors the latest in scholarship.

The truth is that scholarship without wholeness will continue to struggle. I think what scholarship has amounted to is as important, as what scholarship has to say about holy’s definition. It needs to both have something worthwhile to say and it accurately must say what holy is. These are both parts of being whole.

Every day I see the productiveness of the idea of wholeness and the ineffectiveness of separation. I also see that sound scholarship, which is more than just having a degree or being part of the right contingent, favors wholeness over separation. That is because so much of scholarship today is simply repeating the unsound scholarship of stereotypical liberalism or the lack of scholarship of stereotypical fundamentalism, rather than reading the word holy in context.

Let me touch the tip of the iceberg of practicing actual sound scholarship. Holy is right there in the context of things like justice, truth, love and good. The commandment is holy, just and good according to Paul in Romans 12. Does it seem so impossible that the commandment is whole and that part of that is not just being good, but also being just? Doesn’t that also fit the context well?

Let’s examine every use of holy in terms of being healthy and sound in our scholarship. I think the definition of separation is given an unfair advantage. I think it is not truthful to not mention that separation as the meaning of holy is controversial, based on arguing from etymology. I think it is not appropriate to do no further research in this particular area of scholarship, when love requires action. And I think it is inexcusable to not test past conclusions for accuracy to determine whether they are good. Right now separation is the presumptive good guy. This is a unsound approach.

So big name scholars do not scare me, unless I can draw out some parts from their work to make scholarship that is sound. I am convinced we can do this and maintain healthy separation from unsound scholarship. And big name members of the separatists do not scare me, unless they can take seriously the need for sound scholarship in order to be biblically accurate. I am convinced that scholarship can be taken seriously and produce fantastically accurate results from the Bible. The last I heard, it is my job to be healthy in my scholarship and not just separate from the scholarship of others, in order to demonstrate my worth in challenging scholarship. I want to please God above all else. I hope you desire the same.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon

Monday, August 11, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to C. H. Spurgeon

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the greatest Baptist who ever lived, was one of my college favorites. He had this and other things to say about the meaning of holy:

"In a word, we must labor for holiness of character. What is holiness? Is it not wholeness of character? A balanced condition in which there is neither lack nor redundance. It is not morality, that is a cold, lifeless statue; holiness is life. You must have holiness; ...." He said this in a sermon titled "Forward!" You can access this at: You can also access other things he has said through the links I provide on the right margin of my blog.

He also had other things to say about holiness. He connects holiness with a sense of separation or being separate in other sermons. I would never deny this. This should not surprise us, since he felt such an affinity with the Puritans and their sometimes separatist cause. I don't want to misrepresent Spurgeon.

It is likely that Spurgeon followed the Protestant scholarship that preceded him that saw holiness as first wholeness and as second separation. Yet it also remains to be studied as to whether he may have forged a path connecting holiness and wholeness more strongly and more clearly than Protestants before him. He was as a Baptist very committed to knowledge and to discernment, after all is said and done. That is a core value of being a Baptist.

The thing that is very relevant for our time is how much minds forged in the twentieth century missed out on hearing Spurgeon's connection between holiness and wholeness. For all the talk of fundamentalists saying that they preserved faithfully the faith of our fathers, they clearly failed on the subject of holiness. Instead, they either in their eagerness to separate from critical scholarship fled to the meaning of separation exclusive of wholeness on their own or they bought into liberal scholarship's conclusion that holy means to be separate. I imagine more the former than the latter, though the latter later backed them up ironically.

Yet in the minds of many people, wholeness makes no sense as being connected with holiness. It instead carries with it an uneasy sense of resistance. I think it is important to understand how the brain works to understand this mental resistance.

According to some experts, the mind works in in four realms. It consists of the memory of things, the language of action, the thought of ideas and the emotions of clarity. All of this together weighs against the introduction of even reality.

First, many have no memory of hearing that holiness is wholenes, if they grew up in the twentieth century. Second, a person may never have used holiness that way in their use of language. Third, ideas of holiness would all connect with separation, but not with being whole. Finally, a person's emotions are tied up in all of this, because it seemed so clear that holy means to be separate.

Yet, if you go back to the memory in the minds of the Protestant tradition and likely other traditions too, then you must also consider that you are not dealing with just with your memory, but also with the other aspects of your mind. You don't just need to reconsider what you were taught and what you remember. You need to deal with more than that to change your mind about something.

To persuade your mind that it is right to say that holiness is wholeness, you will also have to deal with your emotions which thought previously of only the one definition of separation. Now, by nature of having two possibilities for the definition of holy rather than just one, things will not be so clear and your emotions not quite so settled.

I am warning you that if or when you consider that holiness is wholeness, then you may experience a roller coaster ride of sorts for some time period. Clarity is built on one option versus many options and emotions are built on top of those in our nervous system. The sequence proceeds from one (versus many) then to clarity and then to emotions. So be prepared for an emotional reaction or resistance.

Yet in the end, I have felt a peace of mind and emotions that I have never felt before. It is not a starting point for proving my point. But I am saying that there is peace on the other side of a sometimes fearful questioning of what your mind once considered settled. I began writing this blog to jog people's memories. Now I realize I have more to do, because I also have to deal with the emotions of the mind and nervous system as well. May God richly bless your day.

In Christ,

Pastor Jon