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    Entries in evangelicalism (6)


    Review: Wesley and the Anglicans

    The Methodist movement is commonly described as an initiative of the Holy Spirit, driven by the zeal of a persistent leader, grounded by the practical innovation of bands and societies, and as yielding a theological distinctive or two. I have heard Methodism described as an ongoing work of gospel renewal begun to instill life in denominations and churches, as well as in individuals. There is some truth in that account, however simplified it might be. The events which gave birth to Methodism are much more complicated.

    Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division in Early Evangelicalism (IVP Academic, 2016) unearths the strata of early Methodism, revealing the complexities surrounding the movement as it arose. The book is written by Ryan Nicholas Danker, who serves as assistant professor of the history of Christianity and Methodist studies at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Danker carefully chronicles the Anglican and English contexts that shaped and influenced John Wesley in an effort to help the reader understand both his life and theology.

    Early in his account Danker states that “social, political and ecclesiastical issues have not been given proper weight” which led to  a divide between Wesley, Wesleyan Methodism, and some of the evangelical clergy who were Wesley’s contemporaries. The divisions which occurred during the early Methodist movement are more often described as theological in nature, such as in the case of George Whitefield’s Calvinism and Wesley’s Arminianism. Danker effectively shows that the historical evidence yields a more complex reality.

    Danker first outlines early English evangelicalism and Wesley’s place within it. Danker notes, “Although the term Methodist is now thought to be synonymous with Wesleyanism, at the beginning of the Evangelical Revival in England it was an elusive term.” Evangelicalism was first broadly defined and loosely organized, though it was understood to be evangelistic in nature and stressing conversion. 

    Evangelicalism was also opposed and viewed as dangerous. Even though evangelicals understood their work as yielding revival, established clergy viewed their results as potentially schismatic, particularly when converts were organized into their own small societies quite apart from the Church of England.

    Danker also tells of ways in which revivalists were attacked and criticized, as well as why Methodist structure would draw out opposition. Danker’s description of the Act of Toleration, the Conventicle Act, and the implications of both, as well as the general posture toward non-established religious groups in post-Cromwellian English society is very helpful and revelatory. Danker also describes the tension between Methodist societies and Anglican clergy, who expected all Christians to participate exclusively within the parish structure of the Church of England.

    Danker further analyzes the history of the Evangelical and Methodist movements geographically, showing why certain disputes arose and why they were perpetuated. Some itinerant lay preachers were frustrated by the parish system. Local clergy took umbrage with field preachers and with the organization of Methodist societies. Wesley was urged to channel his efforts into the existing forms of the Church, but for Wesley, the proclamation of the gospel was of greatest importance. This got Wesley into trouble.

    Methodist identity, distinct from Evangelicalism, was solidified through the development of a “distinctive ethos,” and also thanks to decisions concerning the administration of communion. Danker writes, “Attempts by Wesley’s lay preachers to administer communion or gain the right to administer it, either as laymen or after ordination at Wesley’s hands, were seen by many within the Evangelical ‘party’ as the end of their association.” 

    Danker devotes a chapter to the fallout from the controversies between evangelicals and Methodists, highlighting the case of six Oxford students who were expelled for “methodistical behaviour.” He also shows the reasons why Wesley and the Evangelicals came to be distinct. Danker writes, “The Evangelicals, as a group, represented a Reformed vision of Christianity stemming back to the Puritans and the English Reformers, while Wesley represented a restorationist vision based on the church fathers as read through high church Anglicanism and the Caroline divines.”

    Throughout his account, Danker removes some of the polish from Wesley. Many accounts of John Wesley and the early Methodists are hagiographical, rather than historiographical. Hagiography minimizes negatives and hardships, and elevates the person to the status of saint.

    Wesley was far from perfect. He did not always do the right thing. He was human, with his own particular flaws and vices. The Methodist movement was not always received positively, and while it did bring some theological and practical distinctives that are gifts to the church, it created certain political problems within the Church of England as well as within British society.

    The same flaws, however, gave rise to a boldness that should not be forgotten. I think Danker strikes the right balance here. Boldness in many instances should be emulated. Wesley was focused strongly on evangelism. He possessed a love for the church. Perhaps naively, he assumed that his work and legacy could reinvigorate and renew the Anglicanism that had so strongly shaped his life and ministry. Methodism, instead, budded as a new branch.

    We do not always fully anticipate the outcome of our choices. We do not know what disputes may result, what ideas might take root, which friends we might make, and which ones we might lose. We may not fully grasp the weight our social setting or our political milieu places upon us even now, and how that may shape our positions and our actions.

    But good historians can help us to perceive the present more clearly by initiating us into the complexities of the past. One result may be a greater understanding of ourselves, and what our moment requires. In this way, Danker’s history of early evangelicalism and John Wesley is a helpful and worthwhile offering.


    Remembering Clive Staples Lewis

    Photo by Shelly Lynn Williams

    While today the nation memorializes President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination, many evangelicals remember the death of another notable figure: C. S. Lewis. The writings of C. S. Lewis have been helpful for my journey as a Christian, not because of the overall power of Lewis's arguments in his apologetical works, but because of the extension of friendship to intellectuals through the gift of his imaginative prose.

    In his books, essays, and sermons, Lewis made himself available as a willing conversation partner to those thinking critically about matters of faith and ultimate meaning. I first read Lewis's Mere Christianity as a high school student in East Texas. The underpinnings of some of his arguments were lost on me as I read them, considering the original lectures that served as source material for the book were delivered as radio addresses during World War II. But his tone differed from my peers and classmates who identified as Christians, and Lewis occasionally offered a smooth and penetrating turn of phrase on the nature of morality or the substance of the Christian life that was stirring and inspiring. Lewis helped point me toward a more robust and compelling articulation of the Christian faith that was logically cogent and emotionally compelling. He spoke of God's love for us in way that I not only found reasonable, but that I wanted to be true.

    Evangelicalism would do well to cultivate more apologists who speak and write in like manner to Lewis.  But the combination of historical factors as well as Lewis's personal biography are unrepeatable (as with all our stories), and made for an uncommon forging of character. As I think is always true, evangelicalism is not searching for another Lewis, but a unique voice that rings out with clarity for our own time. There might be echoes of other great apologists and theologians from ages past, but the distinctives arising from context are what fosters connection and results in persuasion. We want voices that speak to us now, even as they transmit eternal truth.

    Lewis fought in and survived the World War I, read widely from the classics, and lectured for the bulk of his career as a university professor in a rapidly changing world. Lewis was a literary scholar, who spoke publicly on matters of theology as an admitted layman. And this, I believe, is what made Lewis accessible and appealing to a broad audience. Lewis possessed depth and sophistication but strove for clarity and simplicity in presentation, and understood that for truth to be grasped it must not only be seen as sound, but helpful. Christianity was presented by Lewis as not only intelligible, but attractive.

    Here are few other other perspectives on Lewis:

    All worthwhile reading.

    As a bonus, a few weeks ago I completed Alister McGrath's biographical work, C. S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, and found it readable and enjoyable. Check it out.

    Feel free to leave your thoughts on the life and legacy of Lewis, the impact he may have had on your own journey, or his works that have made a mark on you personally. I'd love to read your reflections.


    ETS, Bible Gateway, and the Doctrine of Inerrancy

    Photo by Charles Coswyn

    The Evangelical Theological Society will feature a panel discussion of biblical inerancy this morning, beginning at 8:30 a.m. EST, and lasting until 11:40 a.m. EST.  The panelists are Albert Mohler, Kevin Vanhoozer, Michael Bird, Peter Enns, and John R. Franke. Might be worth tuning in if you're interested in evangelicalism and the articulation of Christian doctrine regarding the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. I've read selections by each of these Christian leaders, and their perspectives can be found in this forthcoming book: Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology).

    Bible Gateway will be live-blogging and live-tweeting the event. Feel free to follow along.


    Short Book Review :: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism

    Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) is an important book for evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike. Zondervan should be applauded for this project.

    I found this book informative and instructive. As the reader might expect, four contributors were asked to write essays representative of four diverse strands within evangelicalism, with each essay being followed by a response from the other three contributors. This review will not focus on the specific arguments of Kevin Bauder (Fundamentalism), Albert Mohler (Confessional), John Stackhouse (Generic), and Roger Olson (Postconservative). Instead, I will keep my comments more general, and more brief.

    The contributors were instructed to focus their essays on three concerns within evangelicalism: Christian cooperation (i.e., Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the Manhattan Declaration), views on doctrinal boundaries (i.e., open theism and the Evangelical Theological Society), and the gospel, with a focus on penal substitutionary atonement.

    Each author focuses on these issues to varying degrees, so do not expect a fully developed treatment of each issue within each essay, but instead expect each argument to focus on the issue deemed central and vital by that particular author. Mohler and Bauder focus more energy on the gospel itself, and the accompanying doctrinal boundaries that should come to define true evangelicalism. Stackhouse and Olson focus on cooperation within the movement itself, and the doctrinal basis for evangelicalism's diversity.

    The essays shed light, and generate heat. Each author illuminates the views associated with their perspective, and often generate critique or highlight friction points between their own approach and that of their fellow evangelicals. Thus, I found each essay instructive and challenging in its own right, and the ensuing response essays helped to underscore differences as well as points of agreement. This book represents dialogue and conversation well done among those with a common commitment to Christ, and an honesty concerning the differences that exist among evangelical Christians. In that respect, it is an edifying work, clarifying and building up, convincing and persuasive. My own views on evangelicalism align most closely with that of John Stackhouse, though I found myself appreciating Bauder, Mohler, and Olson as well.

    If you wish to learn more about evangelicalism, this book will help.


    Tebowing, Tebowing, Tebowing!

    Tebowing is defined thus:

    (vb) to get down on a knee and start praying, even if everyone else around you is doing something completely different.

    The images speak for themselves.

    I think I like this meme because it is so utterly ridiculous.  I am mostly indifferent concerning Tim Tebow.  I am a Dallas Cowboys fan, a resident of Kansas City (should I then hate Tebow as a member of the Broncos, de facto?), and care little for SEC football and his affiliation with The University of Florida.  I applaud Tebow for his convictions.  I am bewildered by the treatment he receives from the media (a mixture of disbelief that evangelical Christians such as Tebow exist apart from stereotypes, combined with amazement such a figure might start in an NFL game despite possessing an elongated throwing motion).  I am sometimes surprised by the cult nature of his fandom, as well as that of his opposition.

    That being said, I wish Tebow every success.

    One of the most interesting pieces I have seen concerning Tebow was written by Brian Phillips of Grantland.  For enemies of Tebow and his religiousity, this quote is priceless: "But if you're against Tebow, you can't read too much into Tebow's failures, or else Tebow has already won."  You'll have to read the piece to ascertain the importance of this assertion.  And it really is too good to pass up, not only as an entertaining sports column, but as a provocative piece of a/theological reflection.

    Read the Grantland piece.  Find a nice spot to do some Tebowing.  And take some pictures.