DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> An Uneasy Synthesis of Heritage Streams

An Uneasy Synthesis of Heritage Streams

I stumbled - literally - upon an article by Luke Keefer, Professor of Church History and Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary. Luke Keefer is also an incredible Brethren in Christ pastor, missionary, and scholar. I met Luke Keefer back in 1996 and 1997, I believe. The first meeting took place at Ashland theological Seminary, during a conference by I. Howard Marshall; the second meeting occurred at the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ, at Messiah College. I was a very young convert to Christianity in those days. He was/is a brilliant mind. I remember listening to theological conversations that were way, way over my head. Most of this conversation occurred between my father, a BIC pastor, my then mentor, another BIC pastor, and Keefer. It all went over my head back in those days. I won’t even mention I. Howard Marshall’s conference discussions. He may as well have been on another planet (he was talking Pauline Epistles during his conference). That was then; this is now. I can more than keep pace with theological conversations today, after ten years of catch up.

At any rate, I was surfing the web, doing research on a topic that now escapes me, when I found an article by Luke Keefer titled Brethren in Christ: An Uneasy Synthesis of Heritage Streams. This is a very, very important article, for the Brethren in Christ. Each and every member of the Brethren in Christ Church should spend more than a little time reading and wrestling with the content of this very informed article. It is important! Why? Simply: It is a clear call to take seriously the three streams that converge and form the Brethren in Christ (Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism). Why is this important? Timing! I believe we are presently living in a time wherein the three stream convergence that is the Brethren in Christ is more relevant then ever. The theological potential of the denomination is huge, right now! It has orthopraxy and orthodoxy written all over it, but does anyone even notice? Have we become to North American Evangelical to even recognize our own counter-cultural potential? I’m not sure.

Keefer, in his discussion re: North American Evangelicalism, and its relationship to the Brethren in Christ, focuses upon clear distinctives:

At this point I am making no value judgments. I am simply stating evidence for the fact that Evangelicalism in the mid-twentieth century was significantly shaped by a Calvinist mindset. The important question here is whether this shaping force has affected the BIC vision of itself as a denomination. Has it affected the traditional synthesis of the three streams of the BIC heritage? At the doctrinal level, mild Calvinism would differ most from the pre-1950 synthesis at two points: sanctification and the security of the believer. It would argue for progressive sanctification in this life, applying the concept of entire sanctification to glorification. If one looks at the BIC statements of 1961 and 1994, they are tending increasingly in this direction. If the denomination were suddenly deprived of the members above age 60, there would scarcely be a Wesleyan note in the BIC understanding of sanctification. Many pastors in recent years would find the Evangelical stance more palatable than Wesley’s doctrine of entire sanctification.

The above quote is one small example of the question of synthesis and distinctives lifted from a very profound article. I would suggest reading the entire article, a few times. Then ask yourself, what is still unique about the Brethren in Christ? Is the historic uniqueness still there (i.e., Converging Anabaptism, Pietism, and Wesleyanism)? I’m in no way suggesting that historic styles indicative of each stream be embraced (e.g., who today would adopt the separated dress codes of early Anabaptists?). Specific styles and expressions of style change, as well as they should. The deeper aspects of our theological heritage and three stream convergence should remain, in spite of shifting and changing style(s). I wonder if this is happening? I hope so. It’s rich.

2 Responses to “An Uneasy Synthesis of Heritage Streams”

  1. I think there is quite a struggle within the BIC over “entire sanctification.” So, I’m pretty sure you are not even close to being alone, Pat! :)

    I share this with you: I too am a long, long way from accepting Calvinism. I’m no Calvinist, to be sure. I’m not even sure where I’d begin, as far as a “Why I’ll not consider Calvinism” list goes. I suppose I could just start at atonement (I’ll not endorse penal/substitutionary theory, any time soon). I wonder how many people in the church actually do embrace a Calvinistic view of atonement?

    Mouw’s suggestion re: Anabaptism & Calvinism is more than interesting. I’m curious as to how he actually bridges that gap. Hmmm … Interesting.

    As regards “entire sanctification,” I approach it completely in terms of the Holy Spirit (i.e., our reception of the Spirit @ conversion and our filling by the Spirit for life, discipleship, and ministry).

  2. To be perfectly honest, “entire sanctification” is one of the tenets of Wesleyanism that I do struggle with. I just don’t feel it rings true. So on that point, Keefer seems to have my number. On the other hand, that may be the only point that I have problems with in our synthesis. I am a long way off from accepting Calvinism.

    Richard Mouw suggests that Anabaptism is closest to Calvin out of the other reformers and that their heated words to one another came out of a kind of “intrafamily debate.” He recommends the book Calvin and the Anabaptists. It’s on my long list of reading material. I think it’s an interesting possibility. But I’m still not going to become a Calvinist :)

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