Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Wesley versus the Wesleyans

The United Methodist Church is in a major crisis right now. Billy Abraham (who is part of the Theological Symposium at Wesleyan HQ these next two days) has given his own spin on the factions within the church here. Part of the UM problem, he suggests, is that it was a conglomeration of multiple parent bodies in 1960s.

The practical focus of The Wesleyan Church, coming as it did at the leading edge of the Church Growth Movement, has minimized distinctions between our parent bodies, especially The Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Pilgrim Holiness Church. The identities of both were arguably forged most in the fires of turn of the century revivalism, as well as the fundamentalizing forces of the mid-twentieth century.

So what is your point, Schenck? My point is that this twin parentage might suggest different levels of proximity to the man himself, John Wesley. For example, as someone from the Pilgrim side, I respect Wesley, but think we can do better. I get a little annoyed at those who think that Wesley is some sort of control or final authority in relation to what Wesleyans must think. Good grief, the guy lived in the 1700s. We potentially have 200 years of further Wesleyan thinking to draw on.

I get especially annoyed with what I view as "I've learned a little" trump-ism. This is the person that now thinks he or she is smarter than everyone else because they've now read a little in the man. I consider this is a transitional stage. Full maturity, IMO, is when one not only knows a little about the man, great though he was, but can now think Wesleyan for him or herself.

Some thoughts...


Chuck said...

Interesting. I know you've written about this topic before but I'd like to see you do a post or series on where you think Wesleyans still agree with Wesley and where we now disagree. While you say "we can do better", are there any ways we have done worse?

I think I understand what you mean about having 200 more years of thought to draw on -- Wesley was the starting point for a certain theological trajectory and we are further along that trajectory. Even Wesley's own thought changed during his lifetime; certainly it would have continued to do so had he lived another 250 years! At the same time, surely at some point things change to a degree where our thought is no longer discernibly Wesleyan. In that case, why bother keeping the name at all? I'm sure some local churches are Wesleyan in name only.

The practical focus of The Wesleyan Church, coming as it did at the leading edge of the Church Growth Movement, has minimized distinctions between our parent bodies

Hmm, the connection of "practical focus" with "Church Growth Movement" might be bothersome to some. It suggests a "whatever works" mentality, but works for what? Do we jettison our theology for techniques? Are we in danger of being just another generic evangelical church, in which case, again, why keep the name?

Ken Schenck said...

Just to give an example, I don't particularly think of baptism cleansing us from the guilt of original sin. And while I don't have a problem with taking communion every week, I don't think that a church that does so is necessarily more spiritual or superior to a church that does not.

Ken Schenck said...

Some other examples. You could argue that Wesley did not take his idea of prevenient grace far enough to include those who have not heard about Christ. Also, he remained very Augustinian-Calvinist in relation to penal substitution, arguably in tension with the general trajectory of his overall theology. He remained a premodern interpreter, which is fine, but he did not leave us with biblical interpretations that are likely to convince in our day of contextual awareness...