The other day I jotted down some of the great coffee talk we've had at IWU in the last 10 years, mostly around coffee or the lunch table, with religion and other colleagues like Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, Chris Bounds, Steve Lennox, Dave Smith, Burt Webb, Bud Bence, etc... I've tried over the years to share some of those conversations here.
Perhaps it's a bit presumptuous, but I honestly feel that those lunch conversations have been ground zero for theological reflection in the Wesleyan Church. I can't think of any other context where generative theological thought on this level is taking place in the church, at least not with impact. I hope the seminary at some point will become such a place, but it is not there yet. And of course even the undergrad group has disintegrated a bit, with Burt Webb going to Northwest Nazarene, Dave Smith to Bethany, Bud Bence retiring, I've gone to the seminary, etc...
I thought I'd share one insight from those years of coffee talk. Not surprisingly, it comes in its most potent expression from Keith Drury--"John Wesley was not the father of our church. He was more like our great-grandfather, and Phoebe Palmer more like our grandmother." If you've already done it, don't worry about it, but you should think very seriously about picking Wesley as a doctoral topic if you're just starting. For one thing, Billy Abraham has pointed out that Wesley is pretty much exhausted as a topic of study.
There is a certain Wesleyan trajectory where a person begins to realize aspects of our tradition that are a function of late 1800s culture and then turns to Wesley to deepen. But a lot of us feel that if a person doesn't at some point locate Wesley as a function of 1700s culture, you've not gone far enough. Basically, focusing on Wesley these days is not a good ticket to a teaching job. Too many on the market.
Wesley was a great man. His practices were full of great insights. His theology is full of potential. But he did not found the Wesleyan Church or the Nazarene Church or the Free Methodist Church. We have the freedom and I hope the profundity to think greater thoughts than he did. After all, we have 200 more years of good stuff to integrate and evaluate with. For example, he was a pre-modern biblical interpreter. His interpretations may end in truth, but he would not have received good grades in an inductive Bible study class.
Don't fawn over grandpa. He was good. But if we can't be better today, we're mediocre.