Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Holiness Tradition and Covenant Path Marking

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.

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John Frye

posted June 12, 2005 at 9:27 am

Hi, Scot.As I mentioned on your blogspot, I think your book A NEW VISION FOR ISRAEL: THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS IN NATIONAL CONTEXT should be read by the emerging leaders and by pastors in general. Pastors are so confused about “the church” these days and the confusion is based not on conflicting “models” of church, but on a pietistic vision of Jesus who lived and died and rose to perpetuate a “Good Friday Only” gospel (aka according to D. Willard “the bar code gospel” or “gospel of sin management”). Scot, pastors must listen to the historians who anchor Jesus in his first century context. Your book NEW VISION picks up from where Ben Meyer leaves off—discerning Jesus’ purpose via his actions/behaviors—by unpacking Jesus’ teachings with their fiercely political/national overtones. Unless evangelical pastors embrace this Jesus, we’ll still keep spinning out a piety that gets trumped by the culture every time. As Jacques Ellul says, Christianity, as a religion, soaks up culture like a sponge soaks up water. I read NEW VISION as best I could as a pastoral theologian. My mind and heart have raced ahead of me with this thought: the pastoral ramifications of your book are fantastic and invigorating. You write regarding Jesus’ table fellowship, “It might be said that these other holiness movements had a different ordo salutis, in which repentance leads to holiness, which permits fellowship. Jesus affirmed, rather, that fellowship leads to both repentance and holiness….Jesus emphasized fellowship with God and fellow humans in which codes of holiness were not to be obstacles to that fellowship (48-49).” In current lingo, do we believe and behave in order to belong or are we invited to belong on our way to believing and behaving? Jesus seems to reverse our order as well—we should invite people to the table, let them know they belong and trust the gospel and the Spirit to do their work of converting. Is this an accurate “application” of Jesus’ table fellowship practice?Your presentation of Jesus as a prophet in the line of Jewish prophets with “limited” knowledge of his predictions of doom for Jerusalem and the Temple is a gutsy one. At a theological level I agree with you (based on the self-imposed limitations in the kenosis) and on a historical level, your presentation makes good sense. I was greatly helped here by G. Hawthorne’s The Power and the Presence: The Role of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus. Your views about Jesus’ predictions about the Son of Man coming in power, i.e., his vindication displayed in the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman army seems the most plausible. Conditioned as I’ve been (as a DTS grad) to the dispensational “charts,” to be able to read you and NT Wright on this matter is a breath of fresh air. And this leads me to this…The church, then, is Israel reconstituted and sent as light and salt to the world (as national Israel was supposed to be and failed)? I know that Abraham is our father, we’ve been circumcised in the heart, we are “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16).All this is to say, your book NEW VISION is in my view necessary reading by every pastor—whether traditional evangelical or emergent. I shutter to think that we’ve got our biggest hitter, Jesus, wrong. We’ve tamed him to give us a pietistic life, that makes him our “bat boy” as we play the game of life. Because we’ve got Jesus wrong, we’ve reduced the gospel and that leads us to create an artificial fellowship we call “church.” I agree with those who write that the more particular the person, the more universal his impact. Western evangelicalism has ripped Jesus from his first century culture and mission and has tried to make Jesus universal–“a man for all peoples.” My mantra is “If we make Jesus timeless, we make Jesus useless.” Your book helped me take Jesus out of the eternal theological skies and anchor him in the dusty roads of Galilee and Jerusalem in the days of second temple Judaism.As a pastor, I’m grateful.Peace—John

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posted June 16, 2005 at 3:07 pm

This would be the most familiar type of cov’t path marking to me due to my association with and among independent fundamental Baptist churches since the time of my salvation.I never quite equated the holiness tradition with neo-fundamentalism, but the categories you listed as pertaining to the holiness tradition are easily seen in the circles I find myself in. Further, I would suppose that these holiness categories also fit the approach and emphases of many evangelical churches, as well.Does Foster (or, do you) make a direct correlation with the holiness tradition and fundamentalism/evangelicalism?How does one navigate around the practice cov’t pathmarking in this tradition while maintaining a high view of these various disciplines and activities as those things that will help/enable/facilitate greater love for God and others and life in the Spirit?

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