Within the Church of the Nazarene over the last fifty years, there have been several books that would qualify as must-read, not just for clergy but for laity as well. I went to my bookshelf and pulled off a few of them. You may have your own list, but I would certainly expect it to include: H. Ray Dunning’s Grace, Faith, and Holiness; Timothy Smith’s Called Unto Holiness, vol. 1; Carl Bangs’s Phineas F. Bresee; Rob Staples’s Outward Sign and Inward Grace; Cunningham, Ingersol, Raser, and Whitelaw’s Our Watchword and Song: The Centennial History of the Church of the Nazarene; Richard Howard’s Newness of Life; and Dan Boone’s A Charitable Discourse. But none of these very important works (and others I have undoubtedly overlooked) demand and merit reading and rereading like Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s A Theology of Love. By publishing this book again (forty-three years later!), the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition and family of churches is acknowledging this reality. Changing the typeface, updating the cover, including a lost chapter, inserting essays from contemporary experts—these are all wonderful aspects of this second edition, but it is the original substance and articulation of Wynkoop’s thought that remains the reason to hear her again.
Part of the subtitle is the word dynamic. Of course, the root of this word is the Greek word dunamis, often translated as “power.” Words like dynamic and dynamism come into the English language along this route. The particular word, however, that comes immediately to mind is dynamite. Wynkoop (or her publishers) chose dynamic, and appropriately so, but the book itself functioned as dynamite in the Wesleyan theological world. It exploded onto the scene with such force that the reverberations are still being felt more than four decades later. A Theology of Love redefined the vocabulary for speaking about holiness for an entire generation and those that followed. It didn’t completely replace a particular and longstanding vocabulary regarding holiness. It simply recaptured something that had been lost and offered an alternative world of words, concepts, and metaphors.
The other word in the subtitle is also crucial: Wesleyanism. Wynkoop was at the forefront of the Church of the Nazarene’s rediscovery of John Wesley and his writings. She and a cadre of other scholars, leaders, and preachers were determined to dig their way through the layers of sediment that had accumulated over the decades and get back to Wesley. Wynkoop summarizes their conclusion in the preface when she writes: “Wesley equated holiness with love” (16). Of course, Wynkoop and the others knew that Wesley grounded, checked, and verified his thinking and writing with one book, the Bible.
Ultimately, love—properly and biblically understood—was the key, the hermeneutic, for integrating theological thinking with God-centered living. Cleansing or purification, as a way of understanding sanctification, stopped short of the goal. Loving God with heart, soul, mind, and strength joined in tandem with loving our neighbor is both the beginning and the end. This understanding of holiness is the process and the prize. As Wynkoop writes in conclusion: “Purity is not an end in itself. Purity permits the personality to live in full expression of love to God and man. It is the power of a single-hearted devotion and must be kept intact by a daily fellowship with God” (385, emphasis hers).
This second edition of A Theology of Love, as relevant as, or even more so than, it was in 1972, should move to the top of the list of necessary reading . . . or the list of necessary rereading. Don’t miss this opportunity! It only comes around once every forty years!
BRAD ESTEP is senior pastor of Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene.