October 5, 2011

A Contemporary Account of Christian Perfection

John Wesley's doctrine of Christian perfection is not only his most significant contribution to Christian theology but, perhaps, his most misunderstood as well. Wesley had a very specific understanding of Christian perfection (or entire sanctification) that is oft maligned and is, unfortunately, seldom given serious interaction. As a result, the doctrine has been forgotten by many, not least the people called Methodists. This somber state of affairs is even more grave since the mission of the Methodists, when first we came to the Americas, was to spread scriptural holiness across the land.

The doctrine of Christian perfection needs to be recaptured and restated today. And a recent, if unexpected restatement of some core elements of Wesley's thought can be found in Francis Chan's Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. The suggestion that Chan has given us a contemporary account of Christian perfection may come as a surprise to many, not least Chan himself. Nevertheless, Chan's book reflects a number of elements central to Wesley's own thought. A few quotes will illustrate:
"Are you willing to say to God that He can have whatever He wants? Do you believe that wholehearted commitment to Him is more important than any other thing or person in your life? Do you know that nothing you do in this life will ever matter, unless it is about loving God and loving the people He has made?" (97, italics original).
"When we love, we're free! We don't have to worry about a burdensome load of commands, because when we are loving, we can't sin" (102, italics added).
"In the same way, you have to stop loving and pursuing Christ in order to sin. When you are pursuing love, running toward Christ, you do not have opportunity to wonder, Am I doing this right? or Did I serve enough this week? When you are running toward Christ, you are freed up to serve, love, and give thanks without guilt, worry, or fear. As long as you are running, you are safe" (104, italics original).
Compare Wesley's own comments from A Plain Account of Christian Perfection in answer to the question: what is Christian Perfection?
"The loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies, that no wrong temper, none contrary to love, remains in the soul; and that all the thoughts, words and actions, are governed by pure love" (19).
He later says:
"Scripture perfection is, pure love filling the heart, and governing all the words and actions...Pure love reigning alone in the heart and life, - this is the whole of Scriptural perfection" (19).
For both Chan and Wesley the result of a heart full of love for God and others means freedom from sin. I'm sure these two men would nuance the doctrine in different and various ways, but the essence of Wesley's understanding of entire sanctification is present in Chan's work. Francis Chan has blessed the Church with a contemporary account of Christian perfection, and if Wesley were alive to restate his views on Christian perfection to today's world, it would look a lot like Crazy Love. Christian perfection is crazy love.

1 comment:

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Good post. I was recently thinking about Wesley's understanding of "perfection" or holiness as well, here:

http://gloria-deo.blogspot.com/2011/09/on-holiness-of-christian-leaders.html