Sunday, September 09, 2007

Wesley Right?

Here are some excerpts from an address given by Will Willimon at the Oxford Institute of Wesley Studies at Christ College, Oxford University: What If Wesley Was Right? (HT: Michael Spencer)

Wesley was more medieval than modern theologian. That is, he inherited the robust Trinitarian faith that had been worked out in the early centuries of the church. God is not an idea, an abstraction, a source of meaning, a wholly other, a general concept, or a technique to help us make it through the day; God is the One who presently, directly speaks, creates, intrudes, convicts, enlightens, demands, commands, passionately loves, continually transforms. Wesley's biblical interpretation is a sort of anti-interpretation in which he assumes that God speaks through scripture, every word of it. Rather than assume that the task of the interpreter is to make the text more meaningful to sophisticated, modern people who drive Volvos, Wesley seems to assume that the task of the text is to make the interpreters' lives more difficult.

We've reduced God to a collection of propositions. He is no longer the dangerous, unpredictable, living God.

Spent Calvinism, sliding into a renovated Deism, has triumphed. Silence is what you get when you know everything about God except that God is love. God is all distant concept, abstraction, and essence . . . and never speaking, revealing, troubling subject. We've got just enough God to give our lives a kind of spiritual tint without so much God as to interfere with our running the world as we damn well please.

How true this is of much of contemporary theology: Knowing everything about God except that God is love.

Reaching out to speak to the world, we fell in face down. Too troubled by our expectations of what our audience could and could not hear, we reduced the gospel to a set of sappy platitudes anybody could accept and no sensitive, thinking person could resist. "Open minds, Open hearts, Open doors." Our testimony got reduced to whatever the market could bear. In the process of such "preaching," distinctive Christian speech was jettisoned and the discourse of instrumental, utilitarian, therapeutic Deism is the dominant homiletic mode. Finney's pragmatism triumphs.

We've become market driven instead of gospel driven. We've traded transformation for mere therapy.

Ecclesiologically, when the name "God" designates a stable, abstract essence rather than an active, reaching Trinity, then internal maintenance displaces external mission.

Wesley should be the patron saint of the missional movement.

Wesley's "conjunctive theology," (Ken Collins) in its complexity and tensive holding together of seemingly disparate emphases (knowledge and piety, sacramentalism and evangelism, faith and good works, justification and sanctification, personal holiness and social holiness, reason and enthusiasm, etc., etc.) is just the sort of sweeping intellect that is produced by the worship of a complex God for whom Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, these three, are one.

When you've got a resurrected Christ, we always have more future than past. God give us more theologians and fewer historians.

Theology is much more than memorizing and repeating what dead men have written.

Wesley's full embrace of both forgiveness and radical personal transformation sent both Lutherans and Calvinists through the roof. On the cross, Jesus didn't just do something about our guilt; Jesus defeated the kingdom of Satan and established the Kingdom of God; Jesus recreated the world and us, making us into a new people who had a fresh start in life. What Lutherans and Calvinists thought wrong was Wesley's extravagant assertion that something radical was done not only for us but also is being done in us to sever our desires from their evil affections and to infuse us with robust craving to live a life of love toward God and neighbor.

The Enlightenment still holds our imaginations captive and that captivity is killing us.

May the spirit of Wesley live on.

Pastor Rod

"Helping You Become the Person God Created You to Be"


M. Pease said...

Sorry for taking so long to comment. Life is strange. I am not an Arminian believer, nor am I any longer a (shudder...) Calvinist, but I think that where it counts, Wesley had it right. It is we, the believers, who are called to implement the announced Kingdom of God by loving and meeting the needs of those we meet, through the Power of the Holy Spirit in us.

I haven't been commenting much lately in part because I am kind of in "the choir" and am reticent to simply Rah Rah! etc., and in part because I think that organized religion is a dead horse that we would better bury than flog (In short a petty complaint compared to the rest of your positive message).

Pastor Rod said...


I find it strange when people say that they are not Arminians but that they don't consider themselves Calvinists anymore. I'd be curious to know what makes you not a Calvinist and also what makes you not an Arminian.