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    Entries in John Wesley (10)

    Friday
    Aug122016

    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.

    Monday
    Dec282015

    2015 End of Year Book Notes

    In past years, I have shared my list of books read, highlighting titles I really enjoyed. I’ve also taken the time to link those titles to Amazon.com. If you click a title from my website and purchase that book as a result, and if this happens enough, I receive a credit to Amazon.com that allows me to buy more books, which I, of course, delight in doing. As Erasmus remarked, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

    This year, I won’t list all of the titles. Instead, I want to highlight a few themes. I’ve read some challenging academic theology this year, but much more fiction. I have spent time with a number of authors focused on the pastoral task. Among my favorite authors this year were C. J. Sansom and Rowan Williams.

    The first book I finished reading this year was Thomas C. Oden’s A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. This book was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, given last year. Soon thereafter, I finished reading John Wesley’s Works, Vol. 5. That was the culmination of work spanning several years. This volume features Wesley’s sermons. In contrast, one of the last books I finished was John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1. I’ll move on to the second volume of the Institutes in the year to come. I also plan to read Barth’s Dogmatics.

    The above is preface, here are the themes. And I’ll include a short bonus on how I keep track of titles.

    Academic Theology

    C. S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” I have not spent time with a pipe this year. But I have held a pencil, and a few works of challenging theology.

    Stanley Hauerwas’s The Work of Theology was my most anticipated read. I have attempted to read everything he has written. I also read The Holy Spirit, which Hauerwas co-authored with William Willimon. Both books released this year.

    I mentioned Wesley and Calvin above, and I will continue to read them both. Other notables this year were Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God, and George Eldon Ladd’s Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. I read Ladd, in part, because of my reading of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church early in 2015.

    Fiction

    Reviewing my reading list, this is where I am most surprised. I read a lot of fiction this year. The authors: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, John Irving, C. J. Sansom, Willa Cather, Alan Patton, Andrew Klavan, and Sue Monk Kidd.

    Since I read a number of titles by Michael Connelly, both from the Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer series, crime fiction dominated my imagination. Connelly’s pacing, dialogue, and realism make for enjoyable reading.

    Reading novels has been shown to increase empathy (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/novel-finding-reading-literary-fiction-improves-empathy/), a needed skill in pastoral ministry. Empathy is also a really good skill to have in life.

    Pastoral Theology

    Thomas C. Oden’s Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry is the headliner. I consider this book indispensable for those in ministry. I bought a used copy a few years ago, and I’m glad I finally committed myself to reading it, for the rewards were many. If you are serving in ministry, or discerning a call, this book provides an excellent overview and theological foundation for the pastoral task.

    My favorite books this year that encouraged my heart: Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Loving God, and Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. I enjoyed reading Rowan Williams’s books Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent and Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. And from a practical ministry angle, I was challenged by Andrew Root’s little books, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry and Taking Theology to Youth Ministry.

    The best book I read on youth ministry this year was by Mark DeVries, called Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn't Last and What Your Church Can Do About It. I got to hear from him at the National Youth Workers Convention in Louisville, which was an added blessing. DeVries has written a youth ministry model book I actually enjoyed reading, which is rare.

    One Other Book

    Early in 2015, the world lost David Carr, a writer best known for his work with The New York Times. Carr’s death was unexpected. Many offered their remembrances of Carr on Twitter. Which led me to watch the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times (http://www.magpictures.com/pageone/). I was then led to read Carr’s book The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.

    While I can’t say everyone should read David Carr, I’m glad that I did.

    How I Keep Track of Titles

    According to my record, this year I read 78 books, along with countless articles, blog posts, and what I’ll call online fodder. I would do well to spend less time flitting between Twitter and Facebook, and more time with classic literature and works of theology, with a pencil in hand.

    I’m not the best at annotation, and while I own a book journal, I do not use it regularly. I have one notebook that I have numbered and sectioned, according to my needs. I have tabs for notes, quotes, ideas, lists, goals, and books. My book tab is last, and I work from the last page of my journal, backwards and toward the front. I number my list by fives, and record the author and the title. If I think a book is exceptionally well written and impactful, I place a star by the title.

    Here’s a picture:

    I love to read. I have a few titles, primed and ready, on my nightstand, at my desk, and in my office.

    I can’t wait to see what next year shall bring.

    Wednesday
    Sep102014

    Four Components of Growth

    John Wesley is a guy who lived in the 18th century. He also happens to be one of my pastoral and theological heroes.

    Wesley was a British pastor in the Anglican tradition. But he was much more than this. He was at the center of a time of Christian renewal. John's brother, Charles Wesley, wrote many hymns that are still familiar today. And George Whitefield--a famous evangelist who traveled to America and whose voice was so powerful he could preach to thousands of people at once--are two other prominent figures associated with what we now call the Methodist movement.

    In 1739, Benjamin Franklin heard Whitefield preach in the city of Philadelphia, and estimated that his voice could be heard by an audience of 30,000 people in the city--without a microphone. Franklin further added that Whitefield had the power to preach to 25,000 in the open country. That's power. You can read Franklin's account here.

    John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield made an impact on their world through a strong commitment to Christ. The Methodist movement began at Oxford, on a college campus. A few young people came to John Wesley, who was a scholar, and together they sought to grow as disciples of Jesus, serve others, and proclaim the gospel.

    In John Wesley's 9th Discourse on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), he identifies four keys to Christian growth:

    1. Believing in God, "'as reconciling the world to himself through Christ Jesus,' [and] the believing in him, as a loving, pardoning God;"
    2. Loving God, "to rest in him, as our God and our all;"
    3. Imitating God, being "merciful even as he is merciful;" and lastly
    4. Obeying God, "the glorifying of him with our bodies, as well as with our spirits; the keeping of his outward commandments; the zealously doing whatever he hath enjoined; the carefully avoiding whatever he hath forbidden; the performing all the ordinary actions of life with a single eye and a pure heart, offering them all in holy, fervent love, as sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ."

    That's what we're seeking. Believing, loving, imitating, and obeying God.

    Take a step.

    Thursday
    Jun072012

    Reflections on Wesley :: Sermon 1, "Salvation by Faith"

    John-Wesley

    This essay is the first in a series on the sermons of John Wesley, inspired by Andrew Conard and Matt Lipan, who are guiding others in an eight week conversation concerning the continued importance of Wesley's Sermons for today. You can follow that conversation on Twitter each Monday night by searching the hashtag, #jwchat. These essays will be long-form, and are my attempt to draw out Wesley's primary themes, offer critiques of Wesley's theology in classical expression and modern adaptations, and to explain the implications these writings may have for the practice of Christianity going forward. This essay is written in response to John Wesley's Sermon 1, Salvation by Faith. In this sermon, Wesley makes the case that grace is in fact freely given in Jesus Christ, and the implications for its acceptance include freedom from the guilt of sin, the power of sin, and a motivation to preach this same gospel to all peoples, both in word and deed.

    A sermon beginning, "All the blessings which God hath bestowed upon man are of his mere grace, bounty, or favour; his free, undeserved favour; favour altogether undeserved; man having no claim to the least of his mercies", should be as water to the thirsty soul. But for most Christians, and most people whom I know, Wesley could have placed a period in place of his first semicolon, and omitted the rest of his statement altogether. 

    The grace of God has become an expectation, but the thirst which that grace does quench, is too often overlooked. Both the grace of salvation and the sin of humankind are indispensable to the announcement of the Christian gospel, and for this reason, John Wesley’s “Salvation by Faith” holds relevance, not only due to his depiction of the grace of God, but the boldness with which he names the depravity of the human condition.

    The ongoing Pelagian/Augustinian controversy, and the accusations that are wrongly levied against the Wesleyan tradition, are baseless when one returns to Wesley’s Sermons themselves. Wesley is so bold as to say, "whatever righteousness may be found in man, this is also the gift of God", and he is right.  Wesley further observes that the heart of each person, "is altogether corrupt and abominable; being ‘come short of the glory of God,’ the glorious righteousness at first impressed on his soul, after the image of his great Creator."  

    If one learns anything from reading Wesley himself, it is that those who have come after him and sought to further his theology have been guilty of neglecting this crucial aspect, either through ignorance or denial. Serious thinking and preaching about sin, as well as serious thinking and preaching about grace, are vital for the church. Grace abounding apart from bravely facing our depravity leads to sentimentality, while naming every sin and ignoring the boundlessness of grace leads to legalism and a culture of spiritual death.

    Returning to the wellspring of belief and the necessity of grace as agent, Wesley writes, "Grace is the source, faith the condition, of salvation." Even the impetus of our believing in Jesus Christ is the work of divine grace. But this does not render Wesley a determinist, for elsewhere in his writings he emphasizes the freedom of the will to exercise faith, in so far as the will has been set free by virtue of Christ’s work on the cross, and the grace which leads to repentance “goes before” to lead the sinful man or woman to a place of confession and full reliance on God’s grace for salvation.

    Concerning this faith that brings salvation, Wesley argues in I.4-5:

    What faith is it then through which we are saved? It may be answered, first, in general, it is a faith in Christ: Christ, and God through Christ, are the proper objects of it. Herein, therefore, it is sufficiently, absolutely distinguished from the faith either of ancient or modern heathens. And from the faith of a devil it is fully distinguished by this: it is not barely a speculative, rational thing, a cold, lifeless assent, a train of ideas in the head; but also a disposition of the heart. For thus saith the Scripture, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness;" and, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."

    [ . . . ]

    Christian faith is then, not only an assent to the whole gospel of Christ, but also a full reliance on the blood of Christ; a trust in the merits of his life, death, and resurrection; a recumbency upon him as our atonement and our life, as given for us, and living in us; and, in consequence hereof, a closing with him, and cleaving to him, as our "wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," or, in one word, our salvation.

    Wesley is clear: the faith that is spoken of here is a trust or reliance on Christ--God is the proper object of our faith. This faith is not simply a cognitive assent, a confession of right doctrine or a declaration of right belief, but is “a disposition of the heart.” It appears that true faith, as described in the Bible, presupposes a relationship of affection and love toward the object of trust and reliance. Wesley makes this plain by saying the “assent” is only one aspect of faith; “full reliance” is the true mark, which brings us in to communion with Christ himself, “closing with him, and cleaving to him” as the source of our salvation. Christ, if we are in close fellowship with him, not only justifies us and allows us to stand righteous before God, but also instructs us in wisdom, makes us holy, and rescues us from eternal as well as temporal pitfalls.

    Salvation, then, is both more simple and more complex than it appears. Yes, salvation is rescue from the coming wrath of God and from the prospect of hell. But Wesley has a more robust understanding of salvation, and for the Christian to discover and revel in the fullness of life, he must explain how the salvation Christ brings is both freedom from the guilt of sin and a freedom from the power of sin. There is both eternal peace and temporal victory, a progression toward the city of God that has a determinative starting point, accomplished on Calvary, enacted in the present, and carrying us forward on our way to the Celestial City, where if we receive what Christ offers, we will see our vices burn away, and our virtues increase, day by day as we advance in holiness.

    Freedom from the Guilt of Sin

    It is my impression that Wesley's examination of present freedom, particularly pertaining to guilt, may seem quaint to the modern reader. David F. Wells, among other critics of contemporary Christianity, has noted that the guilt and shame that has traditionally been associated with the afflictions of conscience has eroded and fallen out vogue. In its place, a moral neutrality has taken hold in our collective imagination, and the Christian gospel, then, has been reduced to the therapeutic. Jesus can help us “Become a Better You,” can instruct us concerning how we lead a business, can offer a veneer of peace, cohesion, and serenity in your marriage, and, in general, affirm you as you are. But a return to the Bible itself, and to the greater overall testimony of the history of Christian theology, should enable us to see this is a modern error, or, in what should convict us more deeply, a return to Pelagianism.

    The language Wesley employs, then, may be archaic or even passé. That does not make it less valuable, nor less true. The God of the Bible is a God to be feared, not in the sense that this God is malicious and vengeful, fickle and indiscriminate in judgment, but instead in the sense that this God is perfectly righteousness and holy, aware of our shortcomings and our wrongdoings, fully cognizant of our sins of omission and commission. Who can stand before such a God? The question, “What must I do to be saved?” remains a relevant question, and in one manner or another, human beings have sought to answer it ever since its first utterance.

    Wesley sees that if we do feel guilty before God, we are also right to feel fear, but being released from guilt, we are then released from fear. Wesley writes, "being saved from guilt, they are saved from fear. Not indeed from a filial fear of offending; but from all servile fear; from that fear which hath torment; from fear of punishment; from fear of the wrath of God, whom they now no longer regard as a severe Master, but as an indulgent Father."

    The last sentence is powerful, yet dangerous, if not read with caution. There is a subtle declaration made concerning our perception of God and the reality of God as God truly may be experienced in light of the work of Christ. The sermon is entitled “Salvation by Faith”, and in it Wesley intends to invite people to believe through an embrace of the love of God. Outside the bounds of faith, we are right to fear God if we believe that God is in fact angered by sin, both our own sins and the sins we see committed in our world, such as the genocide in Rwanda, or the alleged abuse of children at Penn State University. 

    If God is not angry at such things, possessing a character that perfectly and justly punishes sin, would that be a God worthy of worship? Thus, sinners who have not been set right with the True Judge are right to feel anxiety, fear of punishment and wrath, concerned with living up to a standard in service of a “severe Master.” 

    But the gospel, as Wesley has explained it in this sermon, is an announcement that this felt experience, this anxiety, has been alleviated by the blood of Christ. We need no longer fear God, for the punishment we rightly deserved, Christ took upon himself on the cross of Calvary. And it is by that work we have been redeemed, given a status by which we can stand confident before God, receiving his love not because of our own work, as Wesley declares in his first sentence, but because in Christ, when God looks upon us, he sees those to whom, by virtue of Christ, the status as sons and daughters has been conferred.

    Freedom from the Power of Sin

    It is within this status then, and this release from guilt and fear, that Wesley then moves to the implications for this release. The grace of God unveiled and unleashed in Jesus Christ has not only given us the assurance of salvation from an unfavorable eternal judgment, but has set us free in this life from the reign and power of sin in our lives. Wesley writes:

    He that is, by faith, born of God sinneth not (1.) by any habitual sin; for all habitual sin is sin reigning: But sin cannot reign in any that believeth. Nor (2.) by any wilful sin: for his will, while he abideth in the faith, is utterly set against all sin, and abhorreth it as deadly poison. Nor (3.) By any sinful desire; for he continually desireth the holy and perfect will of God. and any tendency to an unholy desire, he by the grace of God, stifleth in the birth. Nor (4.) Doth he sin by infirmities, whether in act, word, or thought; for his infirmities have no concurrence of his will; and without this they are not properly sins. Thus, "he that is born of God doth not commit sin": and though he cannot say he hath not sinned, yet now "he sinneth not."

    This paragraph will not sit well with many of my Reformed friends. Could it be that the salvation Christ brings, once entered in to by faith, truly leads the one who believes to “sinneth not?” The distinction, again, is fine. Wesley here addresses habitual sin, willful sin, sinful desire, and finally, failings of character, which he calls infirmities, that do not have “the concurrence of the will.”

    I, too, struggle with these assertions, and with the accompanying logic Wesley employs. I have faith that Christ has indeed set me free from the power of sin, yet sin I do. Does this mean that I do not believe? Has the desire for “the holy and perfect will of God” come to hold a firm place in my heart, and if not, do I remain “in sin”, rather than entering in to God’s fellowship “by faith”? Are not “infirmities” a cop-out, a catch all category within which my failings could be classified “not properly sins”, thus allowing for my status as a true believer to be maintained? Do these categories result in a different kind of anxiety? Has Wesley offered with one hand what he has taken away with the other, freedom from the fear arising from guilt, and replacing it with the fear arising from a burden of perfect obedience?

    I hope Wesleyan theologians more skilled than I will help me resolve this tension. When Christ commands us to love the Lord with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, I believe that Christ does not command us to do anything which he himself will not provide us with the grace to in fact do. I believe that the salvation offered in Christ is full and complete, while at the same time it is being made complete through the perfecting of the saints. I believe it is true that we have been set free from the power of sin, and now have laid before us the possibility of being a person who “sinneth not” if we truly abide in Christ. But the possibility is itself different from the reality.

    Does the Offer of Free Grace Empty us of Our Motivation for Good Works?

    Any cursory reading of Scripture will reveal that the tension between faith and works has been there all along, from the life of Abraham through the writings of James. And the preaching of free grace, as Paul discovered, would inevitably lead to abuse. It is my contention, and that of many others throughout church history as well, that any understanding of grace that does not result in complete peace before God apart from works and as a catalyst for action as a citizen of Christ's Kingdom is reflective of a deep misunderstanding of both grace and works. Wesley writes:

    The first usual objection to this is, that to preach salvation or justification, by faith only, is to preach against holiness and good works. To which a short answer might be given: "It would be so, if we spake, as some do, of a faith which was separate from these; but we speak of a faith which is not so, but productive of all good works, and all holiness."

    Wesley also states, "for none can trust in the merits of Christ, till he has utterly renounced his own." This is itself a remarkable statement, and a stumbling block for many. What Wesley is saying is this: you must not only repent of your sins, but your righteousness. Your righteousness must be claimed as a gift from God, and the source of that gift must never be forgotten. The moment you begin to believe that your desire to do good works, to pray, to read the Bible, etc. did not first arise from the work of God’s grace in your life, you will begin to believe that you are your own savior. You will then place salvation by works before and above salvation by grace. And for this reason, we must renounce even our good works as deserving of merit before God, and instead place our good works before God’s throne as a testament to his grace and glory.

    This kind of grace is scandalous, and has been since it was first announced in the life of Jesus Christ, and furthered in the ministry of Paul. Reading between the lines of Wesley’s sermon, there is a somewhat humorous undercurrent: grace as the pervasive and dominating theme of the preaching of Jesus Christ is being discouraged by Wesley’s opponents because, it is supposed, it will demotivate others from doing the good works we are commanded to do. But Wesley himself accused the Anglicanism of his day of being lukewarm, and apathetic toward care of the poor, orphan, and widow, the work of evangelism and commitment to piety, while the people to whom Wesley preached and discipled were accused of excessive fervency for those very things the established church had ignored. It was the evangelicals, like Wesley, who were accused of being nut-jobs, yet they were the people truly working for the good of society as well as the up-building of the saints.

    Thus, having dismissed all objections to the preaching of salvation by grace through faith, Wesley declares with passion:

    When no more objections occur, then we are simply told that salvation by faith only ought not to be preached as the first doctrine, or, at least, not to be preached at all. But what saith the Holy Ghost? "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, even Jesus Christ." So then, that "whosoever believeth on him shall be saved," is, and must be, the foundation of all our preaching; that is, must be preached first. "Well, but not to all." To whom, then are we not to preach it? Whom shall we except? The poor? Nay; they have a peculiar right to have the gospel preached unto them. The unlearned? No. God hath revealed these things unto unlearned and ignorant men from the beginning. The young? By no means. "Suffer these," in any wise, "to come unto Christ, and forbid them not." The sinners? Least of all. "He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Why then, if any, we are to except the rich, the learned, the reputable, the moral men. And, it is true, they too often except themselves from hearing; yet we must speak the words of our Lord. For thus the tenor of our commission runs, "Go and preach the gospel to every creature." If any man wrest it, or any part of it, to his destruction, he must bear his own burden. But still, "as the Lord liveth, whatsoever the Lord saith unto us, that we will speak."

    The same calling remains today. For Wesleyans, and for all Christians, the gospel of free grace is to be preached. But it is to be preached with the same robusticity and boldness of Wesley himself, and, before him, so many others who were faithful to the gospel. Grace is preached in light of the depth of sin, and is thus amplified by contrast. The implications then, of grace, and the salvation it brings are vast, both in the fact that Christ has redeemed us so that we might experience loving communion with God, and so that we might be free from sin. And, then having been freed from guilt and sin, we are called to preach this gospel to every creature, inviting all to experience that very same love of Christ, to the blessing and transformation of the whole world.

    Thursday
    May312012

    Reading John Wesley :: Matt Lipan, Andrew Conard, and an Experiment in Wesleyan Holiness

    067 - john wesley

    My friends Matt Lipan and Andrew Conard have birthed an interesting project: reading through a handful of Wesley sermons and discussing them online with others. Here are the basic guidelines and prevailing format:

    • A Twitter chat each Monday night at 8:30pm cst/9:30pm est starting on June 4th.
    • Utilization of the hashtag #jwchat for Twitter conversations. 
    • Read and discuss Wesley's first 8 sermons over an 8 week period, reading & discussing one sermon a week.

    Lipan provides links to the sermons as well as their titles, and three questions to guide discussion on his blog.

    Here are direct links to the eight sermons they will be discussing:

    1. Salvation by Faith (6/4)
    2. The Almost Christian (6/11)
    3. Awake, Thou That Sleepest (6/18)
    4. Scriptural Christianity (6/25)
    5. Justification by Faith (7/2)
    6. The Righteousness of Faith (7/9)
    7. The Way to the Kingdom (7/16)
    8. The First Fruits of the Spirit (7/23)

    I have joked with Methodist friends that the reason I have felt compelled to read John Wesley is to help Methodists remember who they are. The gulf between Wesley's preaching and my contemporary experience of Wesleyan theological exposition and practical holiness is too wide, in my opinion. Lipan and Conard's reading experiment will help address lack, or so I hope.

    I'm not sure if I'll be joining in each Monday for the Twitter conversation, but I am considering a response in the form of essays. We shall see.

    Check out the project and join, if you are so inclined.