Thursday, October 14, 2021

What is Holiness Theology?

In a nutshell, what is holiness theology? Very simply holiness theology involves two distinctives: One, falling away/losing one’s salvation is possible through apostasy (departing the faith) or through willful sin (refusing to repent of active sin the Holy Spirit convicts a believer to turn from). Arminians would tend to affirm this concept, Calvinists would tend to deny this perspective. Two, holiness theology affirms the concept of “entire sanctification.” This is broadly, the idea that believers can be mature, pure, and victorious over sin in Christ. They can be preserved blameless until the coming of Jesus Christ. This tends to be the view of some Arminians, and tends to be a view disputed by Calvinists. ‘

Holiness or sin? That is the question for Christian experience post-conversion. The classic fundamental divide, between the views of George Whitefield and John Wesley, two champions of these divergent views was that Whitefield and the reformed crowd believed that Christians could never stop sinning in this life, and John Wesley and the Methodists believed that Christians could overcome all sin and live pure in Christ in this life.

Of course there are a broad range of views within these theological traditions, with much complexity and debate. But the crux of the issue is sanctification. Both sides would generally agree on what constitutes justification. Justification is the work of Christ in the believer that removes the stain of sin, regenerates the believer, and makes them new. But sanctification, the process by which a new believer is slowly over their lives transformed into the likeness of Christ, is the issue of debate. A Calvinist would be more likely to say that sanctification is a process that continues throughout the whole life of a believer and is never finished in this life, while a Wesleyan would likely say sanctification is a lifelong process, but a point comes in the future where sin has been overcome by the believer and they are living in a state of mature faith. 

Holiness theology would be placed as part of the Arminian theological tradition, a subset of which is called Wesleyanism. However, various groups of churches and independent churches consider themselves “holiness movement churches” not necessarily within the realm of Wesleyanism. Common church denominations identifying with these beliefs include Methodists, Wesleyans, Salvation Army, Pentecostals, some Baptists, and others.

Holiness movement churches, like the one I pastor, affirm all major theological perspectives of evangelicalism, including inerrancy/infallibility, the Trinity, the dual nature of Christ, total depravity, penal substitutionary atonement, and heaven and hell. The two distinctives of holiness theology are of course again, conditional security in Christ (falling away is possible) and entire sanctification (Christians can live holy in Christ).