Posts tagged with: john wesley

oden 2 picIn The Word of Life, Tom Oden declared, “My mission is to deliver as clearly as a I can that core of consensual belief concerning Jesus Christ that has been shared for two hundred decades – who he was, what he did, and what that means for us today.” The Word of Life, Oden’s second systematic theology volume, is a treasure for anybody who wants to know more about the fullness and power of Christ.

Over at Juicy Ecumenism, Mark Tooley offers a write up that touches upon Oden’s conversion from theological liberalism to historic and biblical Christianity. Oden recently addressed the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Baltimore from his home in Oklahoma City:

Oden remembered: “I was socialist, pacifist, Freudian theologian in search of a theological method.” He was also an existentialist who didn’t believe in the historicity of Christ’s Resurrection, thinking it only a “symbol,” and having a “clouded view of the historical Jesus” as interpreted by Rudolf Bultmann.

Being assigned to teach Wesley to seminary students was “Providential,” Oden said. “Going deep into Wesley” awoke within him an appreciation for understanding the Bible through the historic church community.

“It was lonely to be Methodist at ETS in 1989,” Oden smilingly recalled, noting he likely was the first United Methodist scholar to become an ETS member. His ETS membership was “looked at with a cold eye” in United Methodism at the time. Theologians Carl Henry and J.I. Packer helped situate him within ETS. (more…)

tworoadsOver at Fare Forward, Cole Carnesecca provides some great insights into how we should think about calling, offering some similar sentiments to those expressed in my recent post on family and vocation. “Whatever else you may think you are called to,” Carnesecca writes, “if you have a spouse and children, you are called to your family.”

Focusing on the troubled marriages of Methodism founder John Wesley and Chinese evangelist John Sung, Carnesecca explains how a misaligned and over-spiritualized concept of calling can lead us to neglect our basic responsibilities:

We often can over-spiritualize [calling], defining it as a single God-ordained path or the type of thing that comes to the missionary or pastor but not to the lay member. Or we under-spiritualize it, thinking of it as more and no less than a “career.” Both of these approaches miss two crucial points about calling.

I like to describe calling (in my other life as a youth pastor) as the meeting point of opportunity and obligation—what we are capable of doing and what we are responsible for. I mean this to apply to more “everyday” forms of calling— the way that God leads and guides individuals into life choices and experiences—and not the more “Damascus Road” forms of calling that are less difficult to understand. But for any form of calling, both opportunity and obligation must be taken into account and both can be misunderstood.

Indeed, through an orientation of ultimate obedience to God — “thy will be done” — it seems impossible to separate the two. God will not call us to areas that will involve a breaching of basic obligations and responsibilities, whether to the family or otherwise. Likewise, he will not call us to something like family if it will mean the destruction of our God-ordained purpose in this life. (more…)

We all know the promises government has made over the years about how certain programs and initiatives would eradicate poverty. But perhaps nothing rivals the Methodist movement in terms of effectively stamping out poverty in England. Charles Edward White and Bobby Butler’s essay “John Wesley’s Church Planting Movement: Discipleship that Transformed a Nation and Changed the World” is a splendid overview of Methodism’s impact on English society, especially as it relates to the middle class explosion.

People of faith understand best just how primary the change of heart is on all aspects of life. In the West, poverty is primarily attached to social ills. Bad lifestyle choices inherently have an economic trapping affect. The path of holiness, discipline, education, and accountability was so crucial to the early Methodists that the change in the life of the believer was momentous. John Wesley’s theology of holiness and grace would indeed have enormous social repercussions that John Newton and William Wilberforce both lauded his example.

White and Butler highlight just how substantial Methodism’s impact was on England and the world:

The Methodists made such an impact on their nation that in 1962 historian Élie Halévy theorized that the Wesleyan revival created England’s middle class and saved England from the kind of bloody revolution that crippled France. Other historians, building on his work, go further to suggest that God used Methodism to show all the oppressed peoples of the world that feeding their souls on the heavenly bread of the lordship of Christ is the path to providing the daily bread their bodies also need.

The entire essay is worth the read.

I wrote a piece on the Church’s response to disaster relief in the Spring issue of Religion & Liberty. The article for R&L is in part an extension of my commentary “Out of the Whirlwind: God’s Love and Christian Charity” after a tornado hit Joplin, Mo. in May.

Being a Katrina evacuee myself, I returned to the Mississippi Gulf Coast for a time after seminary and the devastation of so many things I was familiar with and had known was simply surreal. I even went along for some in home visits and I can tell you that listening to people and empathizing with their plight is just as important as any material and financial assistance. Perhaps more so, because when the shock wears away a malaise can set in if people believe that their circumstances will not change even if the financial help is there. This is how some Katrina survivors fell into a long term cycle of dependency because they saw no hope for a brighter day.

The wake of devastation tends to push many churches and volunteers towards an even more authentic ministry. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) video below says it all: “Speak from your heart. People don’t need platitudes or everything is going to be alright. They need honesty.”

Methodism’s founder was John Wesley and the denomination exploded out of the 18th century English revival and primarily in this country through circut riders who went anywhere and everywhere where souls were present. After his evangelical conversion in 1738, Wesley was banned from preaching in many English churches and many of the country’s religious leaders tried to stop him from preaching outside as well, charging him with trespassing on their parishes. His famous retort: “I look upon the whole world as my parish.” It is said that John Wesley traveled over 250,000 miles in his life to preach the gospel. Most of that was on horseback. The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles.

Methodism’s credibility shined because it was a church that rolled up its sleeves and reached out to the middle and lower classes. The marginalized and ‘least of these’ were reminded that their worth was infinite in Christ. George Whitefield, another 18th century Methodist revivalist, recorded just one illustration in his journal as an example when he preached to the rough and materially poor miners in Kingswood, England. Whitefield wrote in his journal : “Miners, just up from the mines, listened and the tears flowed making white gutters down their coal-black faces.” One coal miner told Whitefield, “We never knew anybody loved us.”

One thing I tried to highlight a little in my piece is that even now church agencies and ministries are still involved in the rebuilding and restoration after Hurricane Katrina. Next month will be the sixth anniversary of the hurricane. Long after cameras and the media sensation rolled in and out work is being done to transform lives and hearts. The Mennonite Disaster Service has been especially faithful when it comes to meeting the long term needs of disaster victims. They are living out these words by David Livingstone, the 19th century Scottish missionary to Africa, who asked, “If a commission by an earthly king is considered a honor, how can a commission by a Heavenly King be considered a sacrifice?”

During my seminary days at Asbury Theological Seminary, Tony Campolo spoke at a chapel service and offered a litany of denunciations of greed and corporate America. However, one thing he said especially caught the attention of a professor of mine. During his talk, Campolo equated material poverty with spiritual righteousness. Later in the day during class, while the rest of the campus was still gushing over Campolo’s visit, the professor rebuked Campolo rather harshly. He said he stood with him until he started declaring the poor were righteous because of their poverty. We were of course reminded eloquently and emotionally that our righteousness was in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30).

In Campolo’s zeal for building a new kingdom for the poor on earth, perhaps he did not mean to imply that righteousness is found apart from Christ, but he gave a window for a wise professor to impart correction.

Having graduated from a Wesleyan seminary, I was fortunate to hear many stories about the holistic care for the poor that is at the heart of Methodism. Nevertheless, John Wesley always understood first that the spiritual condition must be changed if the social condition was to be improved. Even when Christ heals somebody physically, there is a deep spiritual symbolism with somebody like a paralytic. Paralysis in the gospel represents the crippling power of sin and the inability for man to change not just his physical condition, but his spiritual condition as well. Blindness, leprosy, death, the woman with the issue of blood, deformities, deafness, sickness, and Jesus’ healing of those maladies all carry deep spiritual symbolism about mankind.

Just as I talked about the problem of reducing Christ to political activist in “Jesus as Budget Director?,” there is also a danger in reducing “poverty” to just the material and stripping it of its spiritual components. This is especially true with a glib and partisan quote like “What Would Jesus Cut?”, in a budget-cutting context.

Many Great Society programs point to the unintended consequences of ignoring the spiritual components of poverty for the material. One such example being the crumbling of two parent homes, especially modeled by what has occurred in American inner cities over the past forty plus years. It is always essential to think holistically and spiritually about poverty. The state is unable to do so, and is ultimately not able to address any deeper needs. At the Acton Institute, we understand the main way that poverty is alleviated is through enterprise and access to markets. We also understand that there are important moral foundations for a society and that it is essential that one is a moral agent within the market.

During our discussions last week in the office around some of the issues of “What Would Jesus Cut,?” I also posed the question “What Would Judas Cut?” It was in part for humor, but there is an important lesson there too. It was a question I formulated with the help of my pastor when we were discussing the “What Would Jesus Cut?” campaign. If we strip the Gospel of its spiritual source in addressing these issues and hardly discern the holistic need of the poor, we are making demands for the poor with the wrong intention (John 12:4-8).

In his evangelistic fervor across 18th century England, John Wesley brought the Gospel to the poor and marginalized. The man who encouraged him to take his ministry outside of church walls was the fellow Methodist evangelist George Whitefield. There is a story about Whitefield that is one of my favorites. Whitefield first took the gospel message to the poor working class coal miners of Kingswood, England. They were disliked for their rowdy unclean ways and disdained by society. After preaching from Matthew 5: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Whitefield recorded the scene in his journal: “Miners, just up from the mines, listened and the tears flowed making white gutters down their coal-black faces.” One miner declared, “I never knew anybody loves us.”

Jesus is the “Bread of Life” and a social gospel without him or one that dilutes his saving power ultimately leads back to the same spiritual maladies symbolized so well in the scripture.

Presidential Campaign Poster from 1900.

Jordan Ballor and I are hosting an Acton on Tap on Thursday October 28 at Derby Station in East Grand Rapids. The event starts promptly at 6:30 p.m. If you are in the Grand Rapids area and like humor, politics, and fellowship, please plan on attending. Here is our description from the event page:
On the eve of mid-term elections, Jordan J. Ballor and Ray Nothstine of the Acton Institute discuss the role of politics in contemporary American life, especially in relationship to the Christian view of government, social and political activism by churches and Christian organizations, and trends in the economy and political discourse. Join us for a discussion that will put the political in its place in relation to our broader social life together.

The description of course does not quite give justice to the event. I have stories about the infamous Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, Father Damien of Molokai, my former boss Congressman Gene Taylor, tea parties, former political consultant Lee Atwater, and Methodist Founder John Wesley. Do you see a connection? I don’t either. But it will make a lot more sense if you are in attendance tomorrow night.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, January 21, 2010

Daren Fonda at Smart Money has a great primer on faith-based mutual funds, “Faith & Finance: A Boom in Religious Funds.” These kinds of funds can be understood as a slice of the broader sector of “socially responsible investing.”

As Gregory R. Beabout and Kevin E. Schmeising wrote in 2003 (PDF),

Over the last thirty years the phenomenon of socially responsible investing (SRI) has been changing the face of investment and corporate life, and carries with it the potential to modify a whole spectrum of relations within market economies. The relations of stockholders to corporations, managers to labor, labor to stockholders, and the corporation to the wider society all promise to undergo transformation if the practice of SRI continues to accelerate.

These kinds of funds reflect in some sense the gaining sentiment that John Wesley expressed in his maxim: “Earn all you can.” But this command was linked to others and limited by responsible duty.

Wesley put it this way: “Gain all you can by honest industry” and “by honest wisdom.”

Gain all you can by honest industry and you have taken the first of three steps in Christian prudence with respect to the use of money.

Writing a commentary for the United Methodist News Service, J. Richard Peck encourages readers to heed John Wesley’s advice on economic policy. “In short, Wesley called for higher taxes upon the wealthy and laws that would prohibit the wasting of natural products,” says Peck. He notes that the cure for economic troubles relating to the poor was to repress luxury.

While some of Wesley’s economc advice is certainly sound, especially his views on the danger of debt, his understanding of basic economic principles in a free economy is severely limited. Kenneth J. Collins, a premier scholar and admirer of Wesley in fact notes as much in his book The Theology of John Wesley: Holy Love and the Shape of Grace just how far Wesley actually misses the mark. Collins declares:

Arguing ostensibly from a larger theme of proper stewardship, Wesley posited a “zero sum” world in which the maxim, “if the poor have too little it must because the rich have too much,” by and large ruled the day. As such, not only did he fail to recognize how capitalism actually works in a growing economy, even in a mercantilist one, but also his concern for stewardship, of what he called robbing the poor,” often developed upon such petty matters as the size and shape of women’s bonnets (and he forgets that poor workers often made these accessories) or upon his favorite moral foibles of censure, the consumption of alcohol.

The Theology of John Wesley will be reviewed in the upcoming issue of Religion & Liberty.

Curiously, Peck also highlights Wesley’s advice for less reliance upon pharmaceuticals. However Peck does not add that Wesley was at war with some healers or physicians in his own time who were taking advantage of the poor with faulty and expensive cures. Wesley published Primitive Physic, or an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases in 1747. He generously distributed copies for free for the poor to fight back against those taking advantage of them. In Wesley’s account there are certainly improvements in medical suggestions, and his tips on healthy living are fairly standard even today. Wesley did not pull these cures and suggestions from thin air, much of his tips came from doctors he trusted. Still there were suggestions like rubbing your head with raw onions for curing baldness and holding a live puppy on the abdomen as a recommendation for intestinal obstruction. The point is that we would not take medical advice from Wesley over more advanced modern medicine, nor should we take economic advice from somebody with little economic understanding. It’s important to note that Wesley’s passionate assistance to the poor is certainly an effort to emulate.

The best advice Methodists can take from Wesley is to be rooted in the Good News he so passionately preached and spread across the globe. When United Methodism as a whole fully recaptures Wesley’s chief suggestion to his followers which was to “preach Jesus Christ and him crucified,” his followers will then again be aligned with the ancient truths.

Picking up on themes we’ve touched on here, here, and here, last week NYT columnist David Brooks weighed in on the culture of debt in the United States.

“The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined,” he writes. “The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened.”

Brooks has his own proposed solutions for this cultural shift. Elsewhere Richard Posner and Gary Becker debate whether there has been a paradigm change and if so what it means.

I submit that a good place to start to look would be religious institutions. Max Weber had a profound insight when he pointed out the specifically theological backgrounds (even if he didn’t get the particular backgrounds quite right) and their impact on morally-informed behavior make all the difference between someone like Richard Baxter and John Wesley on the one hand and Benjamin Franklin on the other (the easy cloak vs. iron cage comparison). A divine mandate inspires and motivates in ways other things simply aren’t able.

Brooks wants us to return to Franklin-esque “bourgeois virtues.” But it may just be that those secular virtues don’t have cultural staying power on their own, and when divorced from religious undergirding become a waystation on the way to rampant consumerism.

But hey, at least this guy has figured out a way to make the economic stimulus package permanent (unlike the Bush tax cuts).

Readings in Social Ethics: John Wesley, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” References below are to page numbers.

  • A warning on the dangers of riches: “‘There was a certain rich man.’ And it is no more sinful to be rich than to be poor. But it is dangerous beyond expression. Therefore, I remind all of you that are of this number, that have the conveniences of life, and something over, that ye walk upon slippery ground. Ye continually tread on snares and deaths. Ye are, every moment, on the verge of hell. ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘Who was clothed in purple and fine linen.’ And some may have a plea for this: our Lord mentions them that dwell in kings’ houses, as wearing gorgeous, that is splendid apparel, and does not blame them for it. But certainly this is no plea, for any that do not dwell in kings’ houses. Let all of them, therefore, beware how they follow his example, who is lifting up his eyes in hell: let us follow the advice of the Apostle, being ‘adorned with good works, and with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit’” (316).

  • A condemnation of gluttony and indulgence: “‘He fared sumptuously every day.’ Reconcile this with religion who can. I know how plausibly the prophets of smooth things can talk, in favour of hospitality, of making our friends welcome, of keeping an handsome table, to do honour to religion, of promoting trade, and the like. But God is not mocked: He will not be put off with such pretences as these. Whoever thou art that sharest in the sin of this rich man, were it no other than faring sumptuously every day, thou shalt as surely be a sharer in his punishment, except thou repent, as if thou wert already crying for a drop of water to cool thy tongue” (316). Great wealth does not make vice permissible.
  • A sermon illustration intended to motivate us to do good works: “At Epworth in Lincolnshire, the town where I was born, a beggar came to a house in the Marketplace, and begged a morsel of bread, saying, ‘She was very hungry.’ The master bid her be gone, for a lazy jade. She called at a second, and begged a little small beer, saying, ‘She was very thirsty.’ She Lad much the same answer. At a third door she begged a little water, saying, ‘She was very faint.’ But this man also was too conscientious to encourage common beggars. The boys, seeing a ragged creature turned from door to door, began to pelt her with snow-balls. She looked up, lay down, and died! Would you wish to be the man, who refused that poor wretch a morsel of bread, or a cup of water?” (317)

Next week: Abraham Kuyper, The Problem of Poverty.