Originally published in Winter 2017
Theology has never been purely speculative for Dr. Chris Bounds ’88, professor of Theology at Asbury University. In large part, Bounds’ work as a scholar has been an attempt to better understand his personal experience of sanctification — a journey that began, like so many others, in Asbury’s Hughes Auditorium.
From an early age, Bounds had seen holiness modeled in the lives of others. He wanted the same gift for himself, but even after his conversion, he lived a “frustrating existence of desiring to follow God, desiring to walk in obedience, but not having the wherewithal to do it.”
Bounds was a student at Asbury when his life changed. After a conversation about holiness, he went to pray in Hughes Auditorium with Dr. Clarence Hunter, an Asbury Philosophy professor. Hunter laid hands on Bounds and prayed over him for nearly two hours.
“It’s in the evening, I’m drifting in and out of sleep, hovering over the kneeling rail, and he’s praying,” Bounds said. “When I left there, I didn’t feel any different. But the next day when I got up, I started walking in a new way of life, and I knew that the Lord had done something in my life. I was walking in a fullness and victory I had not experienced before.”
He had experienced what Wesleyan theology calls “entire sanctification” — a work of God’s spirit in which believers are released from the power of sin and set free to fully love God and neighbor. As a pastor-theologian, Bounds’ research, teaching and preaching are driven by a desire to understand and communicate the work of holiness in life.
Bounds has published widely on the doctrine of Christian perfection in the early church fathers, in the Reformation, in the 18th-century Methodist revival and in the 19th-century American Holiness movement. Most recently, he published on article in the Wesleyan Theological Journal titled “Tertullian’s Doctrine of Christian Perfection in Its Theological Context.”
“Research like this has helped me to see that Christianity, when it is lived in the power and purity of the Holy Spirit, is the normative Christian life,” Bounds said. “It is what all believers should experience early in their discipleship. It is what I believe can happen in the lives of my students at Asbury University.”
A love for the doctrine of holiness compels Bounds to share its beauty and its hope, both as an educator and as a pastor.
“From my perspective, there is nothing more beautiful than our Wesleyan teaching on holiness,” Bounds said. “Sometimes people get fixated on teaching about sin. But the ultimate end of the Christian life is not to be free from sin, but to be free to be able to love God and love neighbor and walk in obedience to God. That is an incredibly beautiful vision of the Christian life.”
As a theologian, Bounds is also committed to helping people avoid cheap imitations of sanctifying grace. It’s not just a public act or decision. It’s not just a desire to “do better.” Most importantly, it’s not simply victory over sin.
“The end of entire sanctification is loving God with an undivided heart,” Bounds said. “Ultimately, I agree with John Wesley that entire sanctification is nothing more and nothing less than loving God with your whole heart and loving your neighbor as yourself.”
Holiness is central to Asbury’s spiritual identity. It’s not just “Holiness Unto the Lord” emblazoned over the organ in Chapel, it’s written into the fabric of the institution and is a witness to every professor, staff member and student.
“These words, ‘Holiness Unto the Lord,’ point to a beautiful possibility and hope in the present life,” Bounds said. “By God’s sanctifying grace in the power of the Spirit, we can be made holy. We can be delivered from the power of sin and set free to walk fully in the love of God and neighbor.”