Quanstrom was impressed with how studying historical theology at a Catholic Jesuit school had elevated his understanding of holiness. He says, “I began to fully appreciate my holiness heritage because Catholics are in agreement with us concerning the call and expectation of holiness. Reading Catholic writers and theologians helped me to understand that holiness wasn’t sectarian or novel, it was embedded.”

from-grace-to-grace-bookAfter serving Belleville (IL) First Church of the Nazarene for 23 years, Quanstrom was invited to teach at Olivet Nazarene University in 2005. In late 2003, he wrote his first book, A Century of Holiness Theology: The Doctrine of Entire Sanctification in the Church of the Nazarene: 1905 to 2004. He just recently completed, From Grace to Grace: The Transforming Power of Holiness, which seeks to make holiness relevant to this generation in a way faithful to the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition. Both books are published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Grace and Peace Magazine met recently with Mark to talk about holiness and his latest book.


Grace & Peace Magazine: How did doctoral work at a Catholic university influence you and your understanding of holiness?


Mark Quanstrom: Study is a form of worship. My first class at St. Louis University was “Sacraments in the Early Church,” led by patristic scholar Dolores L. Greeley. It was like church: we sat around a table reading early church documents on the sacraments. I took courses covering the Patristics, the Medieval age, the Reformation, and the modern period. It formed my understanding of church, and I began to fully appreciate my holiness heritage. Even though the Bible calls us to holiness over and over again, the tradition of the church also focuses on this call. My immersion in Catholic theology formed me into a more confident proclaimer. My understanding of salvation was impacted by the recognition that holiness was a universal call.

I was influenced most by the medieval monastics: Thomas à Kempis, Francis Fénelon, Francis de Sales, and Jeanne de Chantal. I had courses led by professors from different Catholic orders: Augustinians, Jesuits, Dominicans, and Franciscans—and each of those orders have a particular emphasis. Augustinians are the academics. Jesuits are the apologists for the church. Franciscans have an incarnational spirituality and appreciate the goodness of the created order. Catholic theology focuses on the incarnation— it is this-worldly, not escapist. If Christ the Messiah could spend 30 years working as a carpenter, then people can experience the holiness of God while working as laborers on an assembly line or some other vocation. The call to holiness among medieval writers focuses on the importance of place, staying where you are, being holy as God has called you to be holy where you reside. You don’t have to go on a quest, but you can’t get there overnight. There is a sweetness to this call to holiness.


G&P: You are a scholar, but also serve as a pastor at College Church, near the Olivet University campus. Do the people you minister to find holiness attractive?


MQ: As people get more anxious about culture and its depravity and degradation, they are drawn to it. Holiness is not a means to guarantee our survival in the afterlife, but it is a promise of liberation from sin. I just read John Wesley’s comment on Jesus’ perfection in Kenneth J. Collins’ The Scripture Way to Salvation. Wesley says this is not law, this is promise. This is what is possible. If you preach holiness as promise, people are receptive. If you preach holiness as threat, they close themselves off. Holiness is promise because of what God is able to do in our lives, not what we’re able to do. It is about the power of God, the resurrecting power of God. When holiness is anchored in grace, people are hungry for it.


G&P: How do you see the relationship between vital piety and mission in the life of the Church?


MQ: The most pious are the most missional. Superficial piety and religiosity can ignore mission, but if you spend time in the Word and in prayer, you will be transformed. You will be impacted by the heart of God. It is not either/ or. Piety drives mission, and mission drives piety. Deep piety is about purity for love’s sake. I abstain from sin because of its destructive power, not only to me, but to those around me.

Purity for our sake alone is narcissistic. Taking my spiritual temperature to make sure I’m okay is a kind of “holiness neuroticism.” My motivation to be holy is for the sake of Christ and for the sake of others—it’s for the mission. If we call people to practice real piety, it drives them to mission. If we provide opportunities for mission, it drives them to prayer. We have to see the linkage between piety and mission (or acts of mercy). It’s not an either/or. John Wesley understood that works of piety and works of mercy are essential for the sake of holiness. He said if you have to choose between a work of piety and a work of mercy, do the work of mercy. He knew how formative those missional activities were. Love drives our separation from sin. It is for the sake of the other that I am holy. If we understood how destructive sin was we would abhor it as the apostle Paul called us to. We would not flirt with it.

If you look at a model for Christ, you may think of a social worker. But if you study the gospels, you will discover that Jesus was as much a monastic as he was a social worker. Jesus spent time in prayer. He sent people away so he could pray, absenting himself in solitude. It was that intimate relationship with God the Father that drove his mission. The monastics did not create this idea. They were following Christ’s example. They saw in the biblical text a monastic in the person of Christ.


G&P: How do you relate the call to holiness with the work of the church?


MQ: At Olivet, one of the things we work at is to think critically about methodologies as they relate to theological presuppositions: is this methodology consistent with our theology? Holiness soteriology doesn’t stop with confession. There is a final justification that is contingent on sanctification, which means the entire life of the Christian is one of discipleship. We have tended to embrace a business model for measuring church success: capital, building, finances, numbers, etc. As Nazarenes, we must call the church and God’s people to holiness. Ecumenically- speaking, this is a voice that needs to be heard in the universal church.

This was a directional change I made while pastoring at Belleville. We were poised between going the seeker-friendly, non-denominational direction, or moving forward with an emphasis on discipleship and holiness. Ultimately, we called people to greater levels of discipleship. I found myself more enlivened in my ministry, and more comfortable, because I was working out of a theology that was true to my and my church’s heritage.

Today, Nazarenes aren’t the only ones who stress discipleship, nor are Nazarenes the only ones to recognize the damage of nominal Christianity. Every tradition is dealing with this. The future lies in a serious call to holiness; people are hungry for it. The point isn’t to fill our churches. The point is to be faithful to the mission God has called us to.


G&P: It sounds like we need to ensure we have the right DNA, a holiness DNA, when we start a new ministry or a new church, and that we need to keep our focus or we’ll lose our ministry bearings.


MQ: We must be driven by the mission to call people to holiness for their sake and for the world’s sake. The point of starting a holiness church is to save people from sin. Starting a church so we’ll have more Nazarenes doesn’t make sense to me. Starting a church that calls people to liberation from the sin that enslaves them, that incapacitates them, that destroys them–that is a worthy mission. Preaching a sermon about holiness doesn’t make a holiness church. You call people to separate from sin, you call them to participate in mission, and you call them to be different. Being a holiness church means being a countercultural community. We are not called to embrace the values of our culture, but help transform culture.

If church is simply an event once a week, forget it. But if church is your people, your community, then the holiness DNA will be more evident. That’s why the sectarianism of the early Nazarenes was not hurtful, it was helpful. We were alternative communities. We used to sing a hymn, “This is like heaven to me.” We were bringing the future into the present. People were coming to our churches because we were different and there was authentic joy, fellowship, and sacrificial service to one another. That’s how you make church holy.

When I was a pastor in Belleville, I could not find a model for this. I finally decided that God was calling Belleville First to be a monastic community. In the middle ages, monastics were the ones who started hospitals and educated the masses. They buried those who died from the plague. My model for the church became a kind of Protestant Monasticism, which put the church at the center of community life. These are your people; this is our tribe. I realized I needed to be a spiritual mentor to the people who gathered together in that community. What we were to be was a counterculture community.


G&P: How do you see the relationship between holiness and preaching?


MQ: I preach from the lectionary, so my sermons are exegetically-based, but holiness shapes my outlook and is always a part of my thinking. Weeks ago, I preached a sermon titled, “I love the church.” I talked about College Church, and how I love this church. I don’t love the church generally, I love the church particularly. If you don’t love the church particularly, you don’t love the church. These are my people, whom God is using to form me. Part of my sanctification is wrapped up in my commitment to these people. It is not unlike a marriage. It is in the rub of those relationships that God sanctifies us.


G&P: What was your motivation for writing From Grace to Grace and what were the issues you were trying to address?


MQ: “From Grace to Grace” comes from a Wesley sermon. Wesley’s scriptural way of salvation is from “faith to faith” and “grace to grace.” I want readers to understand this is God’s work in our lives, not our work. We are participants. We are not initiators but responders. God is the one who initiates it all. God is the one who accomplishes it all. It is God’s Spirit living within us that does the work. Holiness is gift. Justification is gift. Sanctification is gift. This is something God does for us, not something we do. This recognition was my first motivation for writing.

In addition, I wanted to more closely link how salvation is contingent on ecclesiology. We cannot be holy apart from the church. In one chapter, I cite the Latin phrase, “apart from the church there is no salvation.” Most Protestants don’t believe that, but it is true, despite exceptions. I also wanted to create a stronger linkage between our soteriology and our eschatology. Early Nazarenes were eschatologically-minded. They thought they were bringing in the millennia of the kingdom. By the 1930s and 40s, we moved away from a realized eschatology and emphasized pre-millennialism, which caused us to withdraw from a sinful world, rather than engage it. In the book, I quote from biblical theologian N.T. Wright: “It is not we who go to heaven, it is heaven that comes to earth.”

I also wanted to call people to the recognition that God is holy, and God will call us to an accounting of ourselves, not because God is a control freak, but for the sake of salvation. I wanted to remind people that this holy God is one to be feared. Reverential fear is appropriate for the believer; it is an appropriate incentive. God hates sin because of its destructive effects.

It was also important to me to look at what anchors our assurance of holiness. Often, we’ve relied on our ability to “legalistically” live out the holy life. This truncates our ability to see the need for repentance in the sanctified life—that is a strong current in our literature. We need to ground our assurance in God and the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. The evidence of holiness is not found in our behavior, which inclines us to be legalistic and neurotic, but in our faith and trust in God to make us holy. God justifies us, we don’t justify ourselves. God is doing this work, which then opens up the possibility for continued confession and repentance.

When holiness is viewed this way, humility is the result. The holiest are those who think themselves the least holy. Those who think themselves holy are the farthest from it. Wesley admonished people to testify to God entirely sanctifying them, but he cautioned not to let this lead to pride. He said, "If you are going to testify to this work being completed in your life, be sure to attribute the source correctly. This is God’s work in you." My desire was to liberate people from looking for proof of holiness in their own behavior. True holiness is found in confession and repentance. The one who leaves the temple justified is not the one who thinks himself holy. The one who leaves the temple justified is the one who lives confessionally.


Mark R. Quanstrom serves as professor of theology and philosophy at Olivet Nazarene University.