Recovering Surrender in a Meta-Modern World
I am currently enrolled in a graduate course at Northwest Nazarene University and I would like to share the essays that I write. The language will be slightly more formal that other essays, but I hope can still resonate.
Holiness folk use various terms which can seem dated or incongruent with our meta-modern times. But those words still matter and are a part of transformations into holiness if we define them well. This essay will look at one word that can be misunderstood but is key to a holiness understanding of entire sanctification; the word is surrender. Surrendering can bring up negative images, but these can be overcome. Dr. Craig Keen indicates in a footnote in his book After the Crucifixion, that the word surrender has nothing to do with "Appomattox courthouse." (Keen 123) Dr. Diane Leclerc highlights the importance of surrender to holiness; "Our focus on surrender, consecration, entire devotion, and sacrificial living are key activities, aided by the Spirit... But even more specifically, we have traditionally associated these synonyms for surrender with the experience of entire sanctification." (Leclerc, locs.4821–4822)
Christianity in the twenty-first century faces a decline in adherents. Holiness denominations and peoples are not immune from this phenomenon. Particularly in the United States, Ryan Burge has recognized a steady decline in attendance and rise in those labeled nones. (Burge) The U.S. has lagged other Western nations in declining religious attendance such that Charles Taylor considered it an outlier in his work The Secular Age. (Taylor 424) Burge has recognized the trends in the U.S. have looked like other wealthy Western nations more recently. These numbers are a concern for pastors and other church leaders, but the numbers may also help to inform how churches weave the story of God into a post-Christian culture. For holiness traditions, the words, definitions, and contextual use of those words become increasingly important if a collapse is to be avoided. Definitions become increasingly important considering the trends that are being recognized by statisticians such as Ryan Burge. Church attendance in the U.S. is linked to education levels, which influences communication approaches. There needs to be a balance in definition and use that will be received by those most likely to be attending and those who need to be reached. Burge states his conclusion; "[the] trend is just as unmistakable: those who are the most likely to attend services weekly are those with a graduate degree.The least likely to attend are those with a high school diploma or less. And these aren't small differences, either. The last few years have seen nearly a ten-point gap in attendance from the bottom to the top of the education scale." (Burge Religion) Holiness people can hold a unique tension between peoples of various educational levels as we work to define our words.
Bono, the lead singer of the group U2, mentions the power of surrender in his recent memoire; "‘Surrender might be the most powerful word in the lexicon,'' suggests Brian Eno as we discuss heady stuff like the photography of Sugimoto and how tricky it is to cook risotto. I am persuaded by the thought that the only true way to be victorious is to surrender. To each other. To love. To the higher power." (Bono 536) The faith of Bono is generally known, but Brian Eno is not known for faith. Yet he recognizes the power of the word surrender. Bono's picture of surrendering to one another, to love, and ultimately to God is one that resonates with holiness thought and can draw the skeptic into a relational conversation. We see this same picture in Dr. Leclerc's words about surrender; "We are empowered to be holy, but not for the sake of our own holiness. Holiness, most vividly expressed as kenotic love, is always costly and always for the other." (Leclerc, loc.4892) The connection of the other and kenosis is important as we consider that self is not lost in surrender. In fact, guarding against the idea that self is eradicated should be at the forefront of conversations leading to surrender. "Grace gives us a self so that we might give that self away. And yet, although countered by the early Holiness Movement’s emphasis on empowering the powerless, today we often call people to self-denial before they have experienced a self to deny." (Leclerc, loc.4827)
The tension between calls to eradicate self and the idolatry of self is where surrender exists for holiness. The balance is found in "having the same mind as Christ" as Paul writes in Philippians 2
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:1-11 - NRSVCE)
Becoming more like Christ ("having the same mind") entails surrender and the example of Christ illuminates how that is experienced. Dr. Leclerc illustrates this idea, "we are called to the same self-emptying love that Jesus Christ has shown toward us. Self-emptying (kenosis) for the sake of the other is the ultimate expression and appropriate extension of selfhood and denying ourselves. Claiming power to empty ourselves seems paradoxical. But Christ himself shows us how this paradox works." (Leclerc, loc.4858) Dr. James Cone describes how solidarity in love makes ugly things beautiful so that he can declare we see '"terrible beauty in the cross" and "tragic beauty in the lynching tree." (Cone 221) Surrender is an act of solidarity with the powerless in which humanity leaves the privilege and idolatry of self while embracing a transformed self-centered in the incarnate Christ's own solidarity with both the sinner and the sinned against.
Surrender is not a one-time act which accomplishes a task. Rather it is an ongoing move of solidarity and a reminder that surrender is necessary for ongoing sanctification. As we experience the means of grace, we are reminded of who we are to be. Dr. Brent Peterson highlights that in his discussion of the remembrance of baptism; "The reaffirmation of baptism is a testimony celebrating both the power of God’s healing work from the past to the present along with a person’s commitment and openness to offer himself or herself to God through confession, surrender, and repentance." (emphasis added) (Peterson 166) Ongoing surrender allows us to continue becoming in the mind of Christ. Surrender is empowering and not a fatalistic quitting because we cannot do for that is "surrendering to despair, frustration, or resignation." and not surrender to God. (Root and Bertrand 46)
While surrender does not mean the eradication of the identity of self, it does require a robust examination of those things that self may be drawn toward. The call to surrender as a move toward holiness is where Wesleyan-Holiness theology has an advantage in a post-Christian and meta-modern culture. Contained in the call to surrender is the implicit call to surrender politics, economics, selfishness, other systems which harm, and the elevation of self over the other. Holiness encompasses the personal sins for which humans are culpable and the social sins for which individuals are not culpable; although a human being within an unjust system shares the implication of that injustice and holiness calls us to work for transformation. (Leclerc, loc.3133) Realizing the holistic nature of holiness guards against insisting that people deny self prior to experiencing a self as they are empowered. (Leclerc, loc.4827)
Because of the freedom present in entire sanctification, the import of surrender is key to communicating the actions in response to the work of the Holy Spirit. While the term surrender can conjure a multitude of images, the Wesleyan-Holiness definition of surrender as a kenotic move in solidarity with other human beings and with creation. The ultimate example of kenotic love is the Christ whom we move toward in a becoming. Communicating the truth of surrender as kenotic love, allows beautiful stories of holiness to draw those who most need to experience holiness into the community of faith. Within the present post-Christian and meta-modern context, holiness has the hope of transforming love through surrender. That is a hope available, and which can be understood regardless of educational levels, socio-economic levels, or local contexts.
Bono. Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022.
Burge, Ryan. “Religion Has Become a Luxury Good: The Formula: College Degree + Middle Class Income + Married + Children.” Graphs About Religion, 26 June 2023,
Burge, Ryan P. The Nones: Where They Came from, Who They Are, and Where They Are Going. Fortress Press, 2021.
Cone, James H. The Cross and the Lynching Tree. Reprint edition, ORBIS, 2011.
Josephson-Storm, Jason Ānanda. Metamodernism: The Future of Theory. The University of Chicago Press, 2021.
Keen, Craig. After Crucifixion: The Promise of Theology. Cascade Books, 2013.
Leclerc, Diane. Discovering Christian Holiness: The Heart of Wesleyan-Holiness Theology. Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2010.
Peterson, Brent. Created to Worship: God’s Invitation to Become Fully Human. Beacon Hill Press, 2012.
Root, Andrew, and Blair D. Bertrand. When Church Stops Working: A Future for Your Congregation beyond More Money, Programs, and Innovation. Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2023.
Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007.