The Reformed Wesleyan, Part 2

Time Disclaimer: This post will take about 15-20 minutes to read.

A Slip of the Tongue

I don’t know if you have ever been talking to someone and said something that you didn’t plan to say, but when you said it you were like, “I have to remember that.” OK, if you followed me on that, you now know where the idea for The Reformed Wesleyan came from. It was one of those moments when you say something and you realize that God has told you something out of your own mouth. It doesn’t happen all of the time, but this was one of those instances where I said it and knew that I was going to follow this line of thinking.

My youth group was hosting a Super Bowl party and we had kids from the “church across the street” over with us. We were all having a good time. The pastor of the other church was there and we were just talking about ministry and seminary. I had joked that he should let me come and preach at his church and that I would bring down the “Wesleyan hammer.” I was really just saying dumb stuff. The conversation shifted just a little bit to theology and I told him and the other two ministers there that I was thoroughly Wesleyan, but added this qualifier. I said, “I am probably the most reformed Wesleyan they would ever meet.” That is how it actually happened.

Defining Terms

One of the dangers in choosing or using labels is that it creates ideas and pictures in the minds of the people that hear them. This is the case with this idea of being a Reformed Wesleyan. I am not trying to confuse the lines between these two theological systems. I am not trying to combine them together to make them fit in an unnatural way. The idea I have in my mind is cutting a path that captures what I understand as I read the bible.

The Wesleyan Part

As I have studied the life of John Wesley during my time in the Methodist church I have found a man formally trained and practically motivated. Wesley was trained in the best schools of his day for the ministry.  What he found was that this formal schooling provided enough training to be a good minister, but it left a lot to be desired for practical ways of living out the Christian faith. But, Wesley was also practical. Not merely pragmatic. Because of this he began a pattern of living to remove as much sin as he could in an attempt to draw closer to God. Wesley understood that people needed some way of “doing” the Christian life without robbing the whole effort of meaning and substance.  This is where the “method” for Methodism comes from.

Wesley did come out of the Arminian theological position, but he modified it because he recognized that there were several areas in which the Arminian position did not reflect as clearly as he understood it the depth and breadth of what the Bible had to say.  One of the main areas where this is seen is in the doctrine of Original Sin.  Wesley wrote the following in his sermon on Original Sin:

II, 2. Hence we may, Secondly, learn, that all who deny this, call it original sin, or by any other title, are put Heathens still, in the fundamental point which differences Heathenism from Christianity. They may, indeed, allow, that men have many vices; that some are born with us; and that, consequently, we are not born altogether so wise or so virtuous as we should be; there being few that will roundly affirm, “We are born with as much propensity to good as to evil, and that every man is, by nature, as virtuous and wise as Adam was at his creation.” But here is the shibboleth: Is man by nature filled with all manner of evil? Is he void of all good? Is he wholly fallen? Is his soul totally corrupted? Or, to come back to the text, is “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart only evil continually?” Allow this, and you are so far a Christian. Deny it, and you are but an Heathen still. [source]

Wesley, as I read him, was also influenced by the reformed understanding of Sin as the above example implies.  This was the reason that personal holiness and seeking to increase in sanctification were so important to Wesley and his followers.

The Reformed Part

So, what does it mean that I am a Reformed Wesleyan?  Or to say it another way, in what sense am I reformed? I would begin by saying that I begin with the same basic assumption with regard to how theology should be arranged when studied as a system. The reformed theological system begins with the presupposition that God is sovereign is his interaction with his creation.  Now, this may sound simple, but the implications of this are profound and must be taken seriously.  Where I deviate from the reformed camp is in the area of anthropology, or how God designed and created humanity.

I will summarize here what I mean by this. The reformed position, as I understand it, sees the effect of sin upon humanity to be total.  That means that everything that a man does is incapable of pleasing God. The concept of total depravity is NOT that humanity is incapable of any form of good.  The thrust of the concept is that nothing that humanity does is good enough to change God’s mind about us. I believe that humanity is totally depraved because of the effects of sin, as did Wesley.  The issue I take here is that the biblical idea of “faith” has to be redefined so that faith itself has to fall under the sovereign control of God. The reason for this is that faith, within the reformed camp is understood as a “meritorious work.”  Or, said another way, if faith originates in a person then this becomes an activity (a work) that compels God to respond with salvation.  I do not think this is how faith is defined in the bible.

Faith is not a “work.” It is not something that when I “do it” makes God notice me.  Rather, faith as it is displayed and demonstrated in the Bible is trust in what God has done. The emphasis is always on God.  That means that God’s action was the necessary cause or source of faith.  What this means is that as God acts and moves we are moved. This is connected to how God created humanity because as I understand it, we are created to respond to truth, which comes in the form of the Gospel. (That is why we have lie detectors and not truth detectors!) We recognize the truth and know it intuitively, but we fail to respond or refuse to respond to the Gospel because we have fallen in love with sin.  The reason that God grounds the salvation event in the preaching of Jesus is because it is through the lives of the redeemed that sinners are confronted with truth in an incarnational way. So when Jesus says that He came to fulfill the law that is what he is pointing to. No one comes to faith without having come in contact with the church! (I will come back to this later on in another post.)

Several examples will help.  Abraham, Moses and the multitude that heard Peter on Pentecost exercised faith in response to God. Abraham looked at the stars of the sky and believed God when God said that Abraham would be a great nation (Genesis 15:1-6).  Moses raised a bronze serpent in the desert and all who looked upon the serpent and trusted that it would do what God promised were healed (Numbers 21:4-9). Then there was the multitude that responded to Peter’s sermon after the Holy Spirit fell in the upper room. As Peter preached over 3000 agreed with Peter about the truth that he preached. Look at the response of the people:

37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (Acts 2:37-41, ESV, emphasis added)

If what Paul said in Romans 1:16 is true , that the Gospel is the “power of God unto salvation,” then we have to take into account what the responsibility of the hearer is in the exchange. This last issue is many times left unanswered, and even unasked. If God is the one who gives the very faith that a person needs to respond when the gospel is preached, as the reformed camp argues, then it cannot be avoided that God is the one withholding faith (for a reason in God’s own mind) from the hearer of the Gospel when there is no response.  But, if faith is an attribute built into the design of humanity, if it is one of the characteristics that we were given when we were made in the image of God, then God bears no responsibility for our failure to respond to the Gospel when preached.  This is the fundamental problem that I have with reformed soteriology.

Now What?

I have given a brief account of where the idea of The Reformed Wesleyan comes from.  I have also tried provide some insight into what I mean by this.  As I continue to figure this out for myself I will address various issues along the way. I look forward to any comments about what I have said and for opportunities clarify and dive deeper.  Join the journey!

My Prayer: Father, thank you for your undeserved grace provided for us by Jesus Christ. Help me to never be ungracious to those that disagree with me and with those with whom I disagree.  Help me to grow in love and in wisdom so that I may be a faithful and clear witness to your love. The Good News of Jesus will never be seen if I am unwilling to address the eternally terrible news of Sin. Continually remind me of what I have been brought out of so that I might enjoy your company forever. You are what will make heaven so enjoyable. When I make heaven about me I have missed it. Heaven is all about you and I should seek heaven because you are there! Keep me focused on you! Amen.

The Reformed Wesleyan, Part 1

Enjoying the Journey

Last year (2010) I was invited by a friend to attend a minister’s meeting in another town. It was an interesting assortment of folks. This group was made up of pastors in our local area. I was the only participant from the Wesleyan tradition. All the others were senior pastors of their churches and I the sole youth pastor. Did I mention that they were all Baptists? The name on the front of a church has never really mattered to me, but it is amazing how these distinctions can create boundaries between people.

I felt (and still do feel) a strong affinity to those guys because I grew up the eldest son of a Baptist minister.  He was also a military chaplain which imprinted in my mind an informal concept of church structure that has always remained.  I may talk about this in later posts, but for me the hierarchical nature of the military appealed to me as I was growing up.  This led to me feeling very comfortable and “at home” within the Methodist church when God opened that door in the fall of 2006.  While the structure of the Methodist church appeals to me, its principles and theological history has also been instructive over the last few years. (Which is why I bring it up and why I see myself as a Methodist.)  John Wesley was an amazing individual. I will definitely be writing about him and what he had and has to teach the Church of today.

I think, that to a large extent, we all are the products of our experiences.  We should not be governed by them because some of them may not have been healthy, but they do inform what we believe.  The hard part of this is that there are events, circumstances and experiences that color our perspective and our perception that may need to be amended. By this I am thinking of both positive and negative experiences. What we should do is to take the time to consider and evaluate the impact these experiences have on our choices and beliefs.  Being raised Baptist there are certain “Baptist” traits that I carry with me, i.e., preaching a certain way, primacy of the Bible for faith development, generally more conservative, etc.  But, with each new experience new opportunities for growth happen.  This is the case for me as I have moved out of the Baptist tradition into the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition.

This change has brought some interesting and needed changes to what I believe.  I have realized that I was not as accepting as I once thought.  I jokingly told a friend that, “I used to be judgmental.”  That is just a silly thing to say, but I was trying to describe how my capacity to receive people as they are before I decided how to feel about them has changed. Another area is in the practical application of Gospel convictions.  While I am not saying that Methodists get it right and others don’t, I have found a “structural and organic” approach to living out what one believes in the Methodist church. This is part of the DNA of the church, even if not lived out perfectly everywhere and at all times.  One critique that I have is that there is a lot of emotion, but not enough affection in this work, but that is another subject for another day.

The Worst Methodist Ever!

This brings me back to the conversation that I had with my group of brothers.  We were talking about something and one of them looks me straight in the face and says, “You are the worst Methodist ever!”  Now, how do I take that? I said, “Thank you.” Every opportunity that you have to break through someone else’s perception of you is a good opportunity.  I am thoroughly Wesleyan.  I, however, do not take that as a whole-sale endorsement of everything that may be considered “Wesleyan” and yet may not fit what I have come to understand in the Bible. There are overarching principles and assumptions that the Wesleyan tradition has made and makes that, for me, accurately represent what I find in the Bible and in my faith journey.

Does that make them right, perfect or prescriptive for others? No.  It does however provide me with a framework to work within so that as I engage the world, others and God I am not just randomly putting together belief’s and doctrines to suit me.  These principles and assumptions do point in a particular direction.  They do lead somewhere.  It is one way of arranging the facts of the Scriptures.  While for some there is a definite order for all the facts, that assumes too much (as far as I’m concerned) about my ability to discern and know what was going through God’s mind when He did what He did (I think that’s a third subject for another day).

If this makes me “the worst Methodist ever,” I am really not sure. As I strive to live my life in light of God’s word and in his presence I have come to the conclusion and conviction that God’s word must be the standard for anything and everything that I do in my life.  The main reason we as Christian’s talk about the canon of scripture is because the word “canon” speaks of a measurement or standard that had to be met in order for a book of the bible to “make it.”  Why should we hold each other to any less a standard.

I am a follower of Christ first. I have chosen to make my home within the Methodist/Wesleyan tradition because I believe that it helps me to organize my thoughts and beliefs in a consistent way.  I have not thought everything through, but I am working on it.

So in good Methodist tradition: Join the Journey!

Next Time:
Where did the idea of The Reformed Wesleyan come from?

Where to Begin…

A Year for the Ages

I guess that the best place to start any story is in the beginning.

The year 2010 was for me one of the most spiritually vibrant, challenging and devastating of my entire life.  It was vibrant because I experienced so many points of growth that I am not sure that I can count them all (or even remember them).  I am not talking about major moments of radical transformation, even though a couple of these took place.  I am talking about my ever increasing awareness of God’s moving in and around me.  The ever increasing sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading has grown in ways that I cannot explain.  Have I perfectly walked in all of this… Not even close!  But I have found myself growing in areas I have long wanted to see it in.

This period has also been challenging and devastating.  I have seen that I still have areas of my life that I have not fully surrendered to God.  When you see this, as I have, you come away from these confrontations of conscience and, if you are honest, you know that you will never be the same.  I attended a spiritual retreat in February 2010 that, as far as I am concerned, broke the dam of God’s renewing purpose for my life.  I would not realize what God did that weekend until the year had come to an end.  But, as I look back that was the point that I can identify where God broke through to me.

An Unexpected Friend

Connected to this event was the convergence of two lives. God brought a man into my life that would become my brother. He gently demonstrated the love of Christ to me and prayed with me and for me.  He discipled me and taught me what discipleship could be and should be. The lessons that I learned at home from my father specifically, and my family in general served as the underlying foundation that God has used to bring me to where I am right now. This is a process. In no way am I trying to say that I have arrived at anything. If anything I have come to realize that any talk of arriving is to miss the point all together.

If I had to summarize what is different today from one year ago I would say that I no longer see my faith as something to be serious about.  Being a disciple of Christ is something serious and if it is serious then there must be an equal sign between my life and my talk.  Faith = Life = Speech.

A New Desire

Basically, what I believe has to find expression somewhere in my life.  Otherwise I am only playing lip service to what I read in the Bible. This has been the cumulative effect of what God has brought to my attention this past year.  As a result, I hope to share some of those lessons here.  These are not the perfected statements of an academic.  At times they may resemble the ramblings of a searching soul. In the end, I just want to put what I am learning in a place that I can come back, reflect, pray, correct and try again.

Faith, like a fire, must be fed properly and stoked to keep the winds of doubt, fear and error from siphoning the life God has promised away from us. I am tired of being frustrated at God, when the truth is, many times, I am the source and root of my anemic and feeble faith.

Father, I ask that you would be with me, as you always have been.  But, now allow me the strength to not see the circumstances of my life as coincidences or happenstances. Father, you hear your children.  What I ask is that I might pray in such a way that your name would be foremost in my mind and in my heart.

Remove distractions that would hinder me from seeing you.  Renew desires that are pleasing to you and replace the ones that I have lifted up out of selfish and fleshly motives.  You alone are worthy of attention and affections.  May it be true of me.   Father, help me to practice this each day, leaving the future in your sovereign plan.

Father, may anybody that reads these and future words be challenged to turn to you. For you are supremely, uniquely and solely worthy of our praise, worship and honoring. May we all seek to lift your name up higher above all others. Amen.

A New Chapter

Here We Go!

Welcome to my new blog.  I have been posting on my Christian Dojo blog over the last few years.  The idea of the Christian Dojo was to provide “training” in what it means to be a Christian.  I have not given up on that idea totally, but I feel that I am heading in a different direction in my faith journey.  I want to look more closely at what I believe and why I believe it. I want to dig into what it means for me to actually do what I am saying I hold to.  I don’t want to move onto something else until, as much as is possible, what I say and what I do are the same.  I will be investigating what it looks like to be a Christian that has committed everything to God.  I am not interested in having the right words.  I want for my life to be right before God.

The concept of this blog will be the focus of the first few posts. I will provide some history of what God has been doing. The blog will be part study, part theological reflection, part devotional expression and even a few random ramblings that come across my brain.  All-in-all, what I want to do is not take the Bible or my beliefs for granted.  I want to take a look at what I see in the Bible and in my own life and make sure that I have not just incorporated something without processing and integrating it into the whole. This may get messy, but that is what new beginnings are all about.  I hope you can come along for the ride.  Either way, I am going!

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