Saturday, June 06, 2009

Three potential blind spots from the symposium...

Steve DeNeff just gave a masterful presentation on preaching a Wesleyan hermeneutic. Very good stuff.

But let me just mention three potential blind spots as we walk away from the weekened:

1. To assume inadvertantly that unique Wesleyan identity is only a matter of theology and ideas.
I believe the center of Wesleyan identity is the heart and an optimism about life change, resulting in a changed life. It is why we can be more generous in the realm of ideas than some other traditions. We are heart people first, then head people.

2. John Wesley is not our father. The 19th century holiness movement was, and we have a fundamentalist brother.
Phoebe Palmer was our mother and Wesley is at best our grandfather. Accordingly, John Wesley is not the arbitrator of our decisions, including our hermeneutical decisions. This is especially the case because he could not possibly have anticipated the issues we currently must process. He set a very important tone for what followed, but the answer to the question of a Wesleyan hermeneutic does not rise or fall with him.

3. We have to stop thinking of "affirmation" as the only--or perhaps even the primary mode of Scripture.
Scripture does a lot of other things to. It expresses despair, anger, joy, for example. Stories affirm identity and values. Commands are even a different thing from affirmations of truths or propositions.

A couple lesser potential blind spots:
1. We didn't have hardly either women here, few pastors and even fewer laypeople, and most importantly there was no one here from the southern hemisphere or the third world, to make sure their voices were heard and questions raised.

2. We should at least note that standing against gay marriage is a different kind of activity than standing up for slaves or the unborn. There is a tendency today to lump all such issues into a prophetic model of standing against sin. There is at least a distinction in the kind of activity that should be taken into account.


Nathan Crawford said...


I couldn't agree more with the first blindspot...and I'm actually writing an essay for a book right now on how a fundamental Wesleyan theology (and, I'd argue, a broader Evangelical theology)begins not with content, but disposition. Specifically, I think theology begins with being attuned to the Other, namely God and neighbor. It is this being-in-tune that allows theology to develop. Which also means that the first thing a theology does is to look for how someone is transformd to being-in-tune with the Other, God and neighbor. It seems to me that Wesleyans have their beginning here, with the focus on salvation and the experience of God (especially if you start a Wesleyan genealogy at Phoebe Palmer instead of John Wesley; although Wesley was pretty interested in an experience of transformation too).

But, I may quibble with your saying Phoebe Palmer and the American Holiness Movement is our beginning. I'd say that this is where we branch off differently than more mainline Wesleyan groups, like the UMC. Where both Holiness Wesleyans and the UMC come from Wesley, there is a split when it comes to Holiness Movement in America, focusing specifically around the idea of social holiness. As Dayton shows, the embrace of a holistic holiness (including social and personal) is what causes the split between the Revivalist Holiness Movement in America and their mainline brethren. Anyway, from reading Luther Lee, this is the sense I've gotten.

All in all, though, I want to affirm what you are saying here. Good reporting.

Ken Schenck said...

Yes, the conference was about wesleyan as in the Wesleyan Church. I wasn't trying to describe the Wesleyan tradition as a whole. Your book sounds interesting...

Anonymous said...

Ken, I don't understand your distinction between the Church and tradition. Isn't the Church dependent on tradition and is "a" tradition itself, as a traidtion defines the historical context of a certain "tradition"? So, whether denomination traditions or religious traditions, there are distinctives that define the "rules of engagement" of understanding traditions itself. And it results in understanding where one begins in their understanding of tradition...reason, experience, text, or tradition...and how those are "connected" in interpreting faith....

Ken Schenck said...

Anon, I'm not sure I understand your comment. Are you referring to my response to Nathan? In it, I was addressing the question of the identity of the Wesleyan Church, which is more particular than identity within the broader Wesleyan tradition. There were forces that led its various component parts to withdraw from the broader Methodist tradition and, for good or ill, they potentially contribute to a distinction in its identity.

For example, Daniel Steele was a Methodist, but he did not typify all Methodism at that time. On the other hand, he did typify Wesleyan Methodist Methodism at that time, and the Pilgrim connection also at that turn of the century.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your 3rd point!