Thursday, February 14, 2013

For lack of a Wesleyan theology...

Interestingly, I've recently heard about push back on theology textbooks being used here and there in the Wesleyan Church from more than one part of the church.  What people don't realize is that there just isn't a great Wesleyan theology book out there right now.  I suppose Tom Oden's Classic Christianity is pretty good, but it's written from a "common Christianity" standpoint and is boring as a fish to me.

Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding is one of the best written, but is mainstream, so annoys Wesleyans who want to agree with everything they read in a theology book.  Theology books from the Nazarenes like Greathouse and Dunning's probably come the closest to a Wesleyan theology, but they write in a way that can alarm conservative Wesleyans.  They probably don't mean it but their "red flag" language at points can come off as in your face. Wiley, as one person said to me recently, is so old it's more of a historical artifact than a real option.

I think it is a sign of theological sickness in the Wesleyan church that a lot of Wesleyans would probably prefer to use a Calvinist theology like Grudem over the Nazarene one by Greathouse.  For example, if I were to write a Wesleyan theology, I have no doubt I would be attacked for it, even if I wrote it in an irenic way.  To me that reflects how much fundamentalism continues to lurk in our church.

11 comments:

Josh Wiley said...

What are your thoughts on "The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace" by Kenneth J. Collins? I know it is by now means comprehensive and is not meant as a text book, but how does it hold up as a basic overview?

Ken Schenck said...

I'm out of my area (as usual), but my impression is 1) that Collins work needs to be balanced by something like Randy Maddox's work and 2) a good Wesleyan theology today is not the same as a theology of John Wesley.

Josh Wiley said...

Looking through the titles of Randy Maddox's work, it looks like I have some reading to do!

Benjamin Merritt said...

Thanks for this. As a theology-nerd layperson (with Wesleyan background), I've found the relative lack of solid Wesleyan theology books to be rather frustrating. The books you linked to look like good starting points for theology from a Wesleyan (or at least almost-Wesleyan) perspective. What about the next level? Are there any decent "close-to-Wesleyan" multi-volume Systematics sets out there? I've been noticing that it is much easier to find this sort of thing from Reformed or Baptist or Lutheran traditions...

Thanks!

John Mark said...

One of the goals of Collins is to rebut or refute Maddox's emphasis on the Eastern influence on Wesley, and by implication, I guess, Wesleyan theology. And as a trivial aside, I have been told that Maddox supposedly felt that there was 'no place for him' in his own denomination, so he has apparently been considered controversial.....
Collins clearly wants to make sure we see Wesley as firmly in the tradition of the Reformers, though influenced by the Moravians, a Kempis and so on.
How do you see the future of the Wesleyan movement? Do you see a time when the kind of unified vision (which *seemed* to exist when a more pentecostal theology was the order of the day) will ever reemerge? Or will there continue to be fragmentation and strong disagreement over what 'real' Wesleyan theology is?

John Mark said...

P>S. I have been told that FAS is going to come out at some point with a systematic theology, I presume a one volume work, and if so I presume heavily drawn from the work of Kinlaw. Have you heard of this?

Anonymous said...

Another "theology-nerd layperson" of Wesleyan background here (like Benjamin above) and I've always been frustrated with this (I do have a Nazarene systematic theology text - can't remember which one at the moment - that I found ages ago). I used to try and get suggestions for books or commentaries from my pastors and pretty much never got any kind of answer at all from them - I say this to say THANK YOU for addressing these issues on your blog!!! (I've gotten better suggestions (Collins for one) from my current UMC pastors, but even then, you can't recommend what doesn't exist out there) But it was a very frustrating situation in high school and college when I was wanting specifically Wesleyan or Wesleyan-Arminian stuff. (Now I'm fairly content to read other folks as long as it's not too Calvinist...)

Ken Schenck said...

JM, I believe Kinlaw, Bounds, and Coppedge are in the final stages of a Francis Asbury systematic theology. It will be interesting to see how it looks!

I've heard (although, again, I hear a lot of things) that Maddox's thoughts on Wesley and the Eastern fathers is more about what he considers to be resonances between the two than a suggestion of explicit dependence. In that sense he is doing more "constructive theology" while Collins is more descriptive.

My take away is that Collins is giving more Wesley past and Maddox is trying to do more Wesley future. I personally think a good contemporary Wesleyan theology should be free to take Wesley to the next level. Are there Enlightenment elements that should be modified? Are there points where Wesley was still too Calvinist? In that sense there could be more than one Wesleyan trajectory today...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I wonder if the Wesleyan difficulty in having a "theology" lies in its tension between the personal (mind) and the objective (experience)? Wesleyans like practical or behavior oriented theology. And they use "love" to "conform" others into their particular understandings. (How is this different from fundamentalism?)

The Church has defined "orthodoxy" in its creeds, but which "orthodoxy" when it comes to "Jesus"?

I think Wesleyans do accommodate themselves to the evolution/development of "the human person". The West protects the "limitations" of the "human", while the East is bent on perfectionism "in God's image" (a limitation in defining "image" to an "objective" moral model).

The West's view of "image" is as an objectified "identifier"("Christ" as the "ideal" (symbol, "unity within the Church"), while the Eastern view of "image" is an internalized one ("Jesus" as the real image to imitate). The problem I believe lies in the East's attempt to objectify "the image of another" into a shape or form (conformity) that defies that person's separate identity.

I think that the politics of the Church (objectifying) in religious framing leaves people with a sense of betrayal of something very personal in our society. It seems that people are still seeking "to save the Church" through a "spiritualistic" understanding and away from the "institution of the Church". An appeal to "faith" (subjectivity) is "at hand". The problem of "faith" is that subjectivity replaces objectivity and that can be dangerous to another's liberty, too, if the personal (mind) conviction is imposed upon others as an "absolute". It is unfortunate that people attempt to control others through the theological, although I recognize that the earlier stages of moral development do depend on "fear". It has splintered the Church into different sects that define themselves by their personal understanding of Church doctrine or dogma....

(I hope that was not too confusing...)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I cannot adhere to Roman Catholicism's view on God,(God's intervention within history and/or individual men) nor can I adhere to the Eastern Orthodox view on man's "perfectibility". As both assume too much about either "God" or "Man".

The Founders provided a protection from both in creating our Constitutional Government. Our government protects Americans from criminals/illegals, but also protects individual's from Government, too!

Flynn Nellis said...

Cutting cable and luxeries can only bring a budget down so far. I get what you're saying, but you are assuming quite a lot into people's lives and circumstances. For any woman who's heart truly is to be home with her children, it is a constant battle in Christian circles to not feel defeated every day.