Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Few Quotes from Tom Noble

I just finished reading Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting by T. A. Noble, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon.  -  Thomas Noble is Professor of Theology at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO (where I did my M.Div., though he was not teaching there when I attended).  He is also Senior Research Fellow in Theology at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester, UK, and recently served as the president of the Wesleyan Theological Society.

The book is a part of the Didsbury Lecture Series.  These lectures are given annually at the Nazarene Theological College in Manchester.  Dr. Noble notes, at the beginning, that "since the Church of the Nazarene stands in the Wesleyan tradition, and is . . . a member of the World Methodist Council, we decided to call the series the 'Didsbury Lectures' to commemorate the former Methodist Didsbury College.  -  Five of the first ten Didsbury lecturers were Methodists" (xi).  (Incidentally, as I look back through the list of lecturers, I note that two of my former seminary professors were included in the list, as were some other well known names like I. Howard Marshall, C.K. Barrett, J.D.G. Dunn, and then there was the Rt. Rev'd N.T. Wright in 2005.)

In the book, Noble grounds the doctrine of Christian Perfection in the Holy Trinity, and he clearly shows how Wesley inherited the doctrine from the Church Fathers.

But, for the purpose of the is post, I simply wanted to highlight a few quotes found in the last few pages of the book; quotes that focus us on worship, liturgy and the sacraments.

In talking about the essential nature of corporate holiness Noble says:
     Even Wesley's preaching on Christian holiness concentrates on the individual, but it was the warm fellowship of what were significantly called Methodist "Societies" that were the matrix of holy love which produced genuine Methodist saints.  And his revival of the ancient "love feast" (the agape), along with his strong emphasis on the importance of the Lord's Supper, which is after all not just a "Eucharist" (Thanksgiving), but "Holy Communion" (hagia koinonia), was at the heart of his creative organization of the Methodist Societies.  Too many of Wesley's heirs have lost that focus, being influenced by a "low church" suspicion of liturgy, but a recovery of the church as the matrix for Christian holiness will necessarily include a rediscovery of the centrality of the sacraments (221).

(To which I give a hearty, "Amen!")

Speaking of the mission of God and the Church, Noble says:

     The missio Dei is not the End.  Or to put that another way, the End will end the mission.  Continuing the missio Dei is not the ultimate purpose of God and so mission is not the ultimate purpose of the church.  At the End, the eschaton, the end of "the present evil age" (Galatians 1:4), the mission Dei will end.  It will be completed.  That is vitally important because it means that while mission is an integral and essential part of the nature of the church in this age, it is not what ultimately makes the church to be the church.  The church will still be the church, the body of Christ, in the age to come.  The salvation of the world through the missio Dei is therefore the penultimate purpose of the church, but the ultimate purpose of the church is the glory of God (222).

He goes on to say, "That implies then that the ultimate purpose of the church - the one, holy, catholic, apostolic church - is the worship of the Triune God.  That will be the life of the church in the age to come, and that is the heart of the raison d'eter of the church today" (222).

A little later, Noble, thinking of Marva Dawns work in A Royal "Waste" of Time, says that worship "is done not to gain anything, or achieve anything, or win anything, or produce anything.  It is simply the sheer joy of participating in the loving relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, knowing that in doing so, we are united with all the human persons redeemed to be part of that eternal joyous fellowship" (223).

It is exciting to see how Noble demonstrates the essential nature of our sacramental worship for the doctrine of Christian Perfection.  This is yet another positive sign of liturgical/sacramental awakening and renewal for those who stand in the Wesleyan-holiness tradition!

Noble concludes his book by quoting Charles Wesley's hymn of "ecstatic Trinitarian worship":

Father of everlasting grace,
Thy goodness and Thy truth we praise;
Thy goodness and Thy truth we prove;
Thou has, in honour of Thy Son,
The gift unspeakable sent down,
The Spirit of life, and power, and love.
Send us the Spirit of Thy Son,
To make the depths of Godhead known,
To make us share the life divine;
Send Him the sprinkled blood to apply,
Send him our souls to sanctify,
And show and seal us ever Thine.
So shall we pray, and never cease,
So shall we thankfully confess,
Thy wisdom, truth, and power, and love;
With joy unspeakable adore,
And bless and praise Thee evermore,
And serve Thee with Thy hosts above.
Till, added to that heavenly choir,
We raise our songs of triumph higher,
And praise Thee in a bolder strain,
Out-soar the first-born seraph's flight,
And sing, with all our friends in light,
Thy everlasting love to man.

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