Sunday, March 18, 2012

Living in the World (Wes Theo Series)

With this post I finish my outline of a Wesleyan theology.

1. Faith (Introduction)
2. God
3. Creation and Alienation
4. Revelation
5. Reconciliation
6. Restoration

7.1 Spirit and Church
The Wesleyan tradition has always emphasized the role of the Spirit as the administer of God's grace in the world.  The Spirit goes before us (prevenient grace), makes us God's possession (justifying, redeeming grace), changes us to be like Christ (sanctifying, glorifying grace).  Wesley was also an Anglican, so he did not downplay the role of the Church in administering the means of grace as well. Any Wesleyan sense of what it means to live as Christians in this world must have a robust sense of the Spirit's power and the legitimacy, indeed the necessity of the Church.

7.2 Love God and Neighbor
The fundamental Christian ethic is the love ethic: love God and love neighbor.  Wesley did not see justice as contradicting these, but clearly a Wesleyan will emphasize God's love over his justice.  We demonstrate our love for God through our love of our neighbor and the two do not contradict each other.  God's laws are not for their own sake but for our benefit.

7.3 Evangelism
Evangelism has traditionally been equated with trying to get people saved and thus the "gospel" with the possibility of salvation. Biblically, this is too narrow a focus.  The good news is the whole message that Jesus has arrived as king of God's restored kingdom in this world. Salvation is part of that much larger, Christ-centered good news, but it is not the focus.

This fits well with Wesleyan theology even if Wesley himself did not foresee it. As believers, we embody the kingdom of God in the world. And some of us are specifically called as its messengers.

While individual salvation is not the focus of the good news, it is certainly an incredibly important benefit.  While many Wesleyans focus on a threshold event of conversion, it would fit just as well to focus on moving others and oneself further wherever one is on a spiritual trajectory that starts with the beginnings of God's tugging to glorification.  The narrow sense of evangelism thus aims to move a person further in their relationship with God, past conversion and into discipleship. The key to salvation is the direction one is moving and how one responds to the grace he or she has.

7.3 Faithfulness
A major emphasis of the Wesleyan tradition is the importance of faithfulness in one's continuing relationship with God after one has experienced his initial justification and forgiveness. Like any relationship, faithlessness damages and can break the relationship. God of course is not only faithful but incredibly patient and merciful, but he will not reward infidelity. At some point our relationship with God can be broken. 

7.4 Social Justice
What we have come to call "social justice" has always been a major concern of the Wesleyan tradition. In the tradition of the Old Testament prophets, God is concerned with the whole person: physical, psychological, social, and economic. Wesley was part of the social climate of England that led to child labor laws and the eventual abolition of slavery. In the United States, Wesleyan revivalists were involved in the anti-slavery movement and the women's rights movement.

Today, you continue to find Wesleyans in support of women in ministry.  It is in the spirit of Wesley and Scripture to minister to those who face hardship in society. This means working to free those enslaved to addictions of all kinds, to try to move those in poverty toward self-sufficiency, to make sure that the "stranger in the land" is not oppressed. The Wesleyan tradition does not limit such ministry to an individual level but works for change in the very structures of society that perpetuate social disparity and injustice.

7.5 Creation Care
The Spirit of Wesley recognizes that the world is the Lord's and everything in it. We would be irresponsible stewards of God's creation if we supported practices that unduly pollute and destroy it. It is thus fitting with a Wesleyan theology to urge responsibility in the use of natural resources and in the waste produced by human activity.

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