Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holy Means Whole: According to the Same Reference

The greatest genius I ever met educationally was a gentle giant intellectually. He once told me that Kenneth Pike would have been better known than Noam Chomsky in the linguistic field, if it were not for Pike's humility. I could say the same for him.

I sat under some educational giants or people who are better known by others than he was. The list includes people like Dr. John Piper, Pastor Tom Stellar and Dr. Dan Fuller. Then there is Dr. Paul Hiebert, Dr. Betty Sue Brewster and Dr. Eddie Gibbs. I also was at Bethel when they had Dr. Wayne Grudem, Dr. Scott Hafeman and Dr. Bob Stein in addition to Piper and Stellar. These are some educational giants, who I benefitted from in many ways.

Yet none of them taught me how to read the Biblical text in the way my least known mentor did. Piper got me motivated in reading classic theologians and in his method of arcing the relations in the text. Yet this man gave me the bigger picture on communication. His name is Dr. William Smalley. He outlined how communication worked in way that stirred my larger imagination and sent me in the direction of learning a great deal from Wycliffe Bible Translators and later, Dr. Dan Shaw.

What I learned that most benefitted me is a basic understanding of words and their meaning. Yet I also learned more built upon that same foundation. I learned the larger picture of what creates meaning.

He structured his class outlines somewhat around what I am about to offer. I have added to his material, yet without his work, I could not have created the outline below for how communication and meaning work.

His outline (with my additions or changes from his material) for what words signify is:

Sense and Non-sense
Continuity and Change
Bond and Barrier
Rule and Freedom
Reference and Non-reference

For Dr. Smalley, though I have changed his outline slightly, words were seen to signify these kinds of meanings to people. I think his outline offers a broad insight into the way language works and the kinds of meanings it communicates to us.

What I am concerned with today is the last in this series or outline. This is because I think it is being overlooked that the so-called conservatives are claiming to preserve the same reference for the meaning of holy as that of the Protestant reformers of the past and this is simply not accurate.

For a reference to be the same, it must be a reference to the same thing. And for the reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Wesley and Spurgeon; the reference is to some version of the whole as the primary meaning of holy. It is not primarily a reference to some version of separation.

Luther refers to the "entire work of the Holy Spirit" as the "broad" and for him, primary meaning of holy. Calvin uses it in the context of addressing "whole man." Cranmer uses it in the sense of "wholesome" or "comprehensive." I read at one time that Richard Hooker's focus on being comprehensive was derived from his understanding of holy. Wesley used the phrase "entire sanctification" in reference to Thessalonians. Yet this does not tell us how he defined the word holy itself. I think everyone acquainted with Wesley knows how much he relied on Johann Bengel and Bengel summarizes the meaning of holy as the "summary of all God's attributes." Spurgeon in one of his sermons says that he told his congregation "many times that holiness is wholeness."

So how does the current reference to separation fit with the past reference of wholeness? I don't think it does, except in the sense of the secondary reference for holy in the Protestant Reformer's thinking. They did see separation as a secondary meaning at the most and it was entirely dependent upon the context. As Luther described it, the context determined when we are looking at the "narrow" meaning of holy.

Yet now reference to the whole or summary of God's attributes is gone, not only from the liberal side of the fence, but also from the conservative side of the fence. To change the wholeness reference into only an adjective for separation is not to have the same reference as the Reformers.

When I say I have put together the whole bike, that is a far cry from saying that my bike is separate from your bike. Those are two different references or things. I am sure Dr. Smalley would agree with me on this!

In Christ,

Pastor Jon