Friday, February 18, 2011

Theology of Holiness and Love by Kenneth E. Jones

I was honored to know the late Reverend Doctor Kenneth Effner Jones (March 17, 1920—August 15, 1999) a bit during his latter years after his retirement from Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University, my alma mater). Once when I was a teenager Dr. Jones stayed in my parsonage home for a night. He sat at the dinner table from supper until 10 PM or so and recounted stories from the early days of the Church of God. My family would get up periodically for a bathroom break or to take a phone call but the retired professor never moved from his chair! He clearly enjoyed sharing and my family enjoyed listening. It's a cherished memory. My senior year I took his Daniel/Revelation video class that was taped from Gulf-Coast Bible College years before. During my first pastorate we once were at a minister's meeting. I chatted with him about overstating the case for instantaneous entire sanctification by leaning on the Greek aorist tense. Not long after that he sent me a helpful article that addressed the subject. I didn't know he was going to send it and it pleased me that he cared enough about this young preacher to remember our conversation.

He penned such works as The Commitment to Holiness, Divorce and Remarriage, The Word of God and his extremely helpful article in a Gedenkschrift (tribute) to Dr. Boyce Watson Blackwelder entitled, "Babylon and the New Jerusalem: Interpreting the Book of Revelation." Dr. Jones provided the interpretative notes to Ephesians and Colossians in the now discontinued The Wesley Bible, a study Bible from the Wesleyan theological viewpoint. (We expressed our displeasure to each other that the translation used was the New King James Version. Both of us were Alexandrian Text people, not Textus Receptus folks.) I own a few books written by him in which he autographed and wrote some nice remarks. Theology of Holiness and Love, his systematic theology, is the culmination of many years thinking about the Savior and is his magnum opus.

Most people in the Church of God may be familiar with him (though perhaps without realizing it) by his editorial work; Jones condensed Frederick George Smith's What the Bible Teaches to a more readable level. The old paperbacks are probably still sitting in the basements of a gajillion church Sunday School rooms across the nation.

Jones never tried to "sound" like a scholar in his writings. He wrote for the average person on the street and could bridge the gap between lofty theologians on the one hand and the homespun folksy prose of holiness preacher, Uncle Bud Robinson, on the other. In this regard he is similar to the late Scottish scholar, William Barclay, though far more conservative. He had the knack of being an academic without sounding like an academic. Let me stress: you don't have to be highly educated and brilliant to understand his books. Don't let a fear that you aren't professionally trained in theology deter you from this book!

Admittedly Theology of Holiness and Love never will rank as one of the most important Wesleyan theologies. Even at 359 pages it is too brief and cannot be compared to a William Burt Pope, a John Miley or an Henry Orton Wiley. However, it is intensely readable and reliably helpful. (And sadly most will never dare to pick up Pope, Miley or Wiley.)  I compare it favorably against three other Church of God volumes: It is far easier to understand and more up to date than Russell Raymond Byrum's Christian Theology. It is more in-depth than Albert Frederick Gray's Christian Theology. I, personally, prefer it over the more recent Theology For Disciples by Gilbert Wayne Stafford. (I mean no slight on the late Dr. Stafford's scholarship; I believe Stafford's book, by design, was penned to accomplish other goals.)

Along with past Gospel Trumpet editor, Charles Ewing Brown, Dr. Jones' genius is in his stress that humans—because of Adam's fall in the garden—are born deprived and not depraved. That is, because of Adam every human enters the world deprived of a relationship with God, without the Spirit of God and, because of that, quickly becomes depraved as a result. Jones helps us by making theological terms personal: holiness is being turned to God in love and wickedness is being turned away. Sin isn't a thing, not an "it", not a thing to be removed. It's a relational term, not an abstract concept. For these clarifications I owe a great debt to him.

I purchased my copy of Theology of Holiness and Love directly from him years ago. I called him at his home in Louisville and then sent him the money. In the mail arrived his book with his autograph and short note just inside the work. Today you can buy the book through in either softcover or hardcover. The prices are $20 for the softcover and $25 for the hardcover so you can avail yourself of Dr. Jones' lifetime of theological development and scholarship for not too much of a financial investment.  (I purchased a hardback of the book from Reformation Publishers and I am very impressed with the quality of their work on that project.)

Just mentally digesting this single book probably would give the "regular guy in the pew" a comprehension of theology he never knew he could have. Don't cheat yourself.  Study this book in Sunday School classes or small groups, at least in part. It could raise the theological IQ of a congregation. No, I don't think I'm over-selling it.

I thank God for Kenneth E. Jones and his commitment to holiness.