Narratives of Holiness Identity: The "Sanctified Person" in the Church of the Nazarene
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This dissertation is an exercise in practical theology, which investigates and responds to the problem of changing holiness identity in the Church of the Nazarene. The first part of the study is an empirical investigation into the social context of contemporary Nazarene holiness identity and practices among Nazarenes in three congregations located in the Northeast United States. Previous research relied too heavily on secularization and sect-church theory to understand the dynamics of religious identity change among Nazarenes. The theological result was a pessimistic appraisal of the future possibilities of holiness identity and practice in the Church of the Nazarene. This study employs an alternative theory—Nancy T. Ammerman's theory of narrative religious identity—to understand the dynamics of lived religious life within these congregations and to identify the various holiness narratives at play. Ammerman's theory facilitates an empirical description of the multiple holiness identities emerging out of the social contexts of these Nazarene congregations and offers a way to account for identity change. At the heart of this research is the theoretical notion that a particular religious identity, in the case of the Church of the Nazarene, the "sanctified person," emerges out of a particular ecclesial context characterized by religious narratives and practices that shape this identity. Chapter one reviews the problem of holiness identity in the Church of the Nazarene and offers an analysis of recent sociological attempts to understand the changing identity among Nazarenes. Chapter two draws on sociological research to describe and depict the range of views of holiness held by some contemporary Nazarenes. Chapter three identifies the varieties of holiness identity within the three Nazarene congregations that are part of the study. Chapter four investigates the social sources that shape the various holiness identities discovered in these congregations. Chapter five is a description of the many ways religious narratives are enacted and engaged within these congregations. The second part of the study is a theological critique of contemporary Nazarene holiness identity. Chapter six draws on the theory of narrative identity proposed by Nancy Ammerman and outlines a theoretical model which describes the social conditions necessary to shape holiness identity, "the sanctified person," within the context of the local congregation. Finally, chapter seven draws on the theological resources of Mennonite scholar and historian John Howard Yoder to propose a way of construing and facilitating holiness identity formation that takes the ecclesiality of hoilness more seriously, emphasizes a clearer relationship between Jesus and the "Christlikeness" that is central to holiness, and highlights the importance of religious practices in the formation of a holiness identity.
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