Holiness and Engagement

As we went to press, there were still a handful of days before the Presidential election. Throughout the entire campaign, we found ourselves dipping into the pages of Power, Politics, and the Fragmentation of Evangelicalism (IVP). Within this very fine book by Dr. Kenneth J. Collins, professor of historical theology and Wesley studies at Asbury Theological Seminary, we were particularly drawn to two passages that we offer at the conclusion of a vigorous political campaign. 

Passage One

The church as the body of Christ is not only a community called out of the world, but it is also called back into that same world, in all its messiness, for the sake of witness and, at its highest level, for communion. In other words, the church holds together (and in tension!) strong themes of separation (for the sake of purity and beauty) and engagement (for the sake of love and communion) as expressed in holy love, a love that is distinct, transformative and ennobling.

To focus on purity and retreat to the exclusion of all else would result in new forms of separation; to focus on engagement as the only viable end in a modern, liberal democratic state would result in a very accommodated religion. The church has its life then, in tension, ever avoiding one-sided responses. The church lives in the midst of not only numerous fleeting cultural expressions but also what endures, what will last millennia and beyond. The way forward, then, is in terms of both engaging resistance (holiness) and resisting engagement (love).

Passage Two

To be born again of the Holy Spirit, to be called to transcendence and freedom, to love not only God as the highest end of our being but also our neighbors as ourselves is not an invitation to the individualisms so rampant in modern cultures. On the contrary, such transformation is best understood as taking place in the communal life of the church in general and in the setting of both Word and sacrament in particular.

In knowing oneself in this transforming way as part of a vital community, one realizes that such knowledge is meant for all people, all those who in some sense bear the face of God. As the community is transformed and liberated by the Spirit, free to love the neighbor and even the enemy, the hard, divisive walls of groups, and the vulgar ethnocentrism that goes along with it, begin to melt away in the vision of something far greater.

That is, when the miracle of this transforming power of the Spirit takes place, the elements of race, ethnicity, gender, social class, economic status and political persuasion that earlier boasted of being of ultimate importance in the skewed philosophies and theologies of our time begin to slip away and find their proper penultimate place in the glorification of a God of holy love who transcends us all. The walls of Babylon are beginning to crumble.

There is, after all, no greater power than holy love, a holiness that speaks of the enchanting beauty of the Most High, and a love that is emblematic of communities drawn together and marked by this numinous, radiating divine presence.