Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene The Two Kingdoms

Holiness and the “Wrong Kind of Visibility”

I recently completed a series on the motif of “exile” in 1 Peter (Part 1; Part 2; Part 3) in which I argued that the accent is placed on the alienation of holiness from sin, and not essentially or in the first instance on anything having to do with politics, culture, church-and-statery, etc. I was gratified to find some confirmation of this reading the other day in John Webster’s book Holiness (though he says it better [and more concisely!] than I did):1

Crucially, the dynamic of holiness includes not only gathering and withdrawal but also sending. The holiness of the saints is not a mere turning inwards; if it were, then it would all to quickly become mere sectarian hostility towards a profane world. If this kind of dynamic of withdrawal is questionable, it is not only because it tends to assume that the line between sin and achieved holiness coincides with the line between the Church and the world. It is also because strategies of withdrawal almost inevitably transpose the divine movement of election and consecration into social exclusivity, and so make the Church’s holiness into a clean sphere over against a polluted world. It is precisely this transposition of holiness into the wrong kind of visibility that is one of the objects of Jesus’ unsparing judgment. The real dynamic of visible holiness has a quite different character. There is, unquestionably, a radical separation, a ‘calling out’ which effects the Church’s separation and which makes its members into a company of ‘aliens and exiles’. And that separation is visible as ‘abstinence’, the Church’s refusal to give itself to ‘the passions of the flesh’. But the end of all this is ‘that you may declare’: holiness is to be maintained ‘among the Gentiles’ not simply to prevent the pollution of the Church, but with the end that ‘they may see your good works and glorify God’ (1 Pet. 2.12; cf. Mt. 5.16; Phil. 2.15). Holiness is visible as testimony, as good works which are transparent to and declare the wonderful deeds of God. (74-5)

  1. Interestingly, the second item that a search for this book on Amazon turns up is The Shack Revisited: There Is More Going On Here than You Ever Dared to Dream.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.