Just in case you didn’t read this brief introduction yesterday, here it is again:
No one has summarized the “theories” of the Christian life any more succinctly than Richard Foster, in his textbook quality Streams of Living Water. He charts out six traditions, and I will look at each and how covenant path marking (aka, legalism) finds its way into each.
My prefatory remark for all of this: each of these traditions is valuable (I believe in each one) and each of them is good for us, and in saying that each can develop covenant path markers does not mean that they are to be de-valued. Nothing is further from the truth. What needs to be said, though, is this: the purpose of each is to lead us into union with God, communion with others, for the good of the world, and when that is not happening, the traditions are being misused or abused. Ultimately, this is an issue of “where our heart is” and our heart cannot be easily discerned or easily assigned. We need Spirit-led discernment to know.
The holiness tradition focuses on the less-than-well known but deserving-to-be-better-known Phoebe Palmer (her biography is nearly impossible to find and prohibitively expensive), James brother of Jesus, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whom I’m not sure I’d place in this category). Foster sees the following characteristics of the holiness tradition: not rules and regs but sustained attention to the heart, not otherworldliness but world-affirming, not consuming asceticism but bodily spirituality, not works oriented but a striving, not perfectionism but progress in purity and sanctity, not absorption into God but loving unity with God. This is worth the price of the book.
Strengths: deeper formation of the inner personality, intentional focus on the heart, hope for genuine progress, tough-minded down-to-earth practice. Potential perils: legalism, Pelagianism (mixing grace and works), perfectionism. We can train, we can invite others into the journey, and we can stumble and get up again.
The holiness tradition leads to covenant path marking whenever we use the practices of holiness — Bible reading, church attendance, separation from specific sins, rigorous attention to specific acts and attitudes, intentional emphasis upon personal sanctity or growth in holiness, questioning social justice commitments or any other side of “worldly calling” — to judge ourselves or others as “fit” or “spiritually mature.” These things, regardless of how important you wish to make them, are not the real thing — which is union with God and communion with others for the good of the world, and dare not be confused with the real thing.