Great Days for Wesley Studies

June 23rd, 2011 / 2 Comments

Studies in John Wesley and the Methodist movement have increased in quantity and quality recently. Two new journals, Wesley and Methodist Studies and Methodist Review, expand and deepen this important domain of scholarship.

A number of Wesleyan societies, projects, and research agendas emerged in recent decades. Some focus more on historical questions related to the Wesley brothers or the Methodist movement. Others, such as the ongoing Works of John Wesley project, gather and edit various writings to offer scholars resources for their studies.

A variety of Wesley centers of study have been created in the last few decades. These centers offer programs, resources, or study opportunities for those interested in Wesleyan thought. Northwest Nazarene University’s Online Wesley Center, for instance, is a website collection of historical and scholarly resources about the Wesleyan tradition, theology, holiness writers, the Church of the Nazarene, and Christianity in general.

Wesley and Methodist Studies

One of the interesting recent projects is the Wesley and Methodist Studies journal originating in the Manchester Wesley Research Centre. Geordan Hammond, William Gibson, and David Rainey are the editors for the first three volumes of the journal. The editorial board includes leading scholars in Wesleyan and Methodist studies.

Two articles caught my eye in the most recent Wesley and Methodist Studies volume.  Philip Meadows explores what the calls “An Ancient-Future Wesleyan Theology of Evangelism.” In this proposal, he draws together what the best insights of the conversionist and missional evangelism paradigms.

Meadows concludes his essay in this way: “I suggest that an ancient-future theology of evangelism, in the Wesleyan tradition, would be centred on the divine embrace, as a journey in to communion with the triune God, and would make the development of an evangelical and charismatic form of spiritual direction its first priority. Putting relationships of spiritual direction at the heart of the small groups in the church might have the potential to spread the gospel through the transforming influence of embracing relationships: flowing out through homes, to neighbors, and all the world in ever-widening circles of holy love.”

I like the sound of that!

The second essay to catch my attention is written by Christopher Bounds and titled, “How are People Saved? Major Views of Salvation with a Focus on Wesleyan Perspectives and their Implications.”

Bounds sets up a number of sliding scales that move from one extreme, in which God does all the work in salvation, to the other extreme, in which humans do all of the work. He uses classic “Augustinian” and “Pelagian” labels to talk about the degree to which God or creatures contribute to salvation.

What makes Bounds’s article interesting to me are the shades of nuance across his sliding scale.  Here’s my attempt to show these nuances using Bounds’s labels:

Salvation

Humans Do All the Work                                                                                      God Does All the Work

Pelagianism

 

Soft Semi-Pelagianism Semi-Pelagianism Soft Semi-Augustinianism Semi-Augustinianism Soft Augustinianism Augustinianism

 

I’m not convinced by Bounds that various positions in the Wesleyan tradition can be easily identified with one of these seven positions. But I really like the thought he put into parsing out how Wesleyans have thought about activity from both the Creator and creatures in salvation. This is a thought-provoking piece!

The recent edition of the journal has some book reviews of special interest. The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley, edited by Randy Maddox and Jason Vickers, is reviewed by Tim Macquiban. The Wesleyan Theological Society honored this book with its 2009 Smith-Wynkoop Book Award. In addition, The Oxford Handbook of Methodist Studies, edited by William Abraham and James Kirby, is reviewed by Mark Smith.

Methodist Review

A second new journal, Methodist Review, originates from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. Editors for this new journal include Ted Campbell, Russ Richey, and Rex Matthews.

My favorite article in the most recent edition of Methodist Review is Randy Maddox’s piece, “The Rule of Christian Faith, Practice and Hope: John Wesley on the Bible.” A form of this essay will also appear in a new book I am editing with Richard Thompson called, The Bible Tells Me So.

Maddox argues that John Wesley’s central interpretive lens is God’s assuring work of the Holy Spirit both to pardon and transform all who respond to God’s inviting and empowering love. And God makes it possible for all people to respond!

Check out my brief summary of the Maddox Methodist Review article in this blog I wrote several months ago.

Upcoming Wesley Conferences

Let me conclude by alerting you to upcoming Wesley conferences in Nashville in early March, 2012. The Wesleyan Theological Society will explore the Wesleyan tradition in relation to world religions. WTS program chair, Michael Lodahl, has chosen this title: “On Faith(s): The Wesleyan Tradition and the World’s Religions.” Here’s the call for papers.

The day prior to the WTS meeting, philosophers and psychologists in the Wesleyan tradition will meet. Philosophers will explore religious experience with the meeting title, “Curb Your Enthusiasm?” Psychologists will explore the integration of theology and psychology with the meeting title, “Whatever Happened to Integration?” Contact me if you want the calls for papers.

Many good things are happening in Wesleyan studies these days. For those of us who find Wesleyan thought helpful, there is much to celebrate!

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Comments

Todd Holden

Tom

First off, its to see you are back from your visionquest!

One thing that popped out at me as I read your blog was Meadows assertion, “I suggest that an ancient-future theology of evangelism, in the Wesleyan tradition, would be centred on the divine embrace, as a journey in to communion with the triune God,…”

As a pastor I find all too often folks who do not know what that “embrace” is. They do not know what it feels like and just as important, what it does not. I know that as I write this, some might think, “Thats the pastor’s job. It is solely up to them to get the people to this place.” BUT and this is a big “BUT”, it needs to be considered that as a pastor we see people who have “been in church” for decades who have no idea what God’s embrace is nor what it feels like at all.

I do believe that it is my place to help people along this journey. I do not believe that it is the pastor’s and only the pastor’s responsibility to “get” people to this place. Each of us, and I think especially those who have been within the church, are responsible to actually desire this and to crave it for ourselves. We should each one of us seek God and tell Him directly that we want His sweet embrace.

I certainly have no argument with Meadows assertion. I do however have much sadness regarding those who are supposed to know the way and simply do not. I believe that this tenderness is part of being Wesleyian. It is part of truly following Christ.

We have a pantry here and we see hundreds of people who actually have no clue about God. They genuinely seem to want to know “if” there is anything to this “God” thing, that Christians talk about.

I thank God for assertions like Meadow’s that draw us all in to the tender heart of our God and Savior!


J. Robert Ewbank

I am a great believer in and hopefully student of Wesley and enjoy reading about and writing about him.
Wesley’s Wars discusses the theological wars John Wesley waged on behalf of “true religion,” a religion of the heart. They were fought to protect the people in his society who trusted him with their spiritual health, and he took that seriously. He waged war on incorrect ideas of original sin, predestination, the church, and Christian perfection. It is available through WestBow publishing a division of Thomas Nelson or Amazon.
The earlier book, John Wesley, Natural Man, and the ‘Isms, is still available through Wipf and Stock. Both are at Cokesbury and many other places.
Both books have a Study Book in the back of the book for students to use to find the most important elements of each chapter. Answers are also provided. The books are good for Sunday School and evening studies.
I have a M.Div. from Garrett-Evangelical and extra work there on the theology of John Wesley. I live in Mobile, Alabama and am active in Saint Mark United Methodist Church.
Good reading.
Bob
Look for author as J. Robert Ewbank


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