John Wesley

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mattrose
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John Wesley

Post by mattrose » Wed Oct 08, 2008 2:26 pm

Hey guys and gals :)

I've been taking a course on 'Wesleyan Theology' and have enjoyed it thoroughly. I thought I would share some bullet points from his life and see if there's any questions about him or Wesleyan theology in general.

The Life of John Wesley

 Born June 17th, 1703
 Number 15 of 19 children (10 survived)
 Rescued from house-fire (1709)
 School in London (1714), Oxford (1720)
 Leader of the ‘Holy Club’ (1729)
 Missionary to Georgia (1735-1738)
 Charles converts, writes 1st hymn (1738)
 John’s heart ‘strangely warmed’ (1738)
 England’s pulpits close to Wesley brothers
 Begins preaching outdoors (1739)
 3 point circuit (London, Bristol, New Castle)
 Societies, Classes, and Bands created
 Fell on London Bridge, married nurse (1751)
 Spouse separated in 1771, died in 1781
 Ordained 28 ministers, separating Methodism
 Traveled about 250,000 miles for preaching
 Preached 40,000 sermons (3,000 unique)
 Wrote/Edited b/w 200 and 300 books
 Gave away more than 30,000 pounds to needy
 Movement reached 50,000 English members
 Movement reached 15,000 Americans
 Wrote final letter (to William Wilberforce)
 Died on March 2nd, 1791

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TK
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Re: John Wesley

Post by TK » Wed Oct 08, 2008 3:02 pm

I heard an anectdotal story about him related by leonard ravenhill-
apparently he was at someone's house for dinner; it was around 8 pm or so and the host wanted to sit around the table and chat for a while, but John said he had to be going because he had an appointment next morning at 4 am. the host said "an appointment at 4 am?" and John said, "yes, every day of my life" and the host asked "With who?" and he replied, "with God."

that always stuck with me.

TK

SteveF

Re: John Wesley

Post by SteveF » Wed Oct 08, 2008 3:16 pm

Hi Matt, I have a few questions:
Leader of the ‘Holy Club’ (1729)
What's a holy club?
Fell on London Bridge, married nurse (1751)
Could you elaborate on the circumstances and significance of him falling? Is that how he met his wife the nurse?

Spouse separated in 1771, died in 1781
Why did his spouse leave?
England’s pulpits close to Wesley brothers
Why were they closed?

Thanks
Steve

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mattrose
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Re: John Wesley

Post by mattrose » Wed Oct 08, 2008 4:57 pm

TK,

Yes, Wesley was an extremely rigid individual when it came to schedule. He thought poorly of anyone that slept more than 6 hours a night. He did not give 'more' time to people just b/c they were well off or 'important'. And, as your story shows, was a very early riser for the purpose of prayer.

SteveF

Thanks for the questions. The bullet points beg for them :)
What's a holy club?
Oxford, in Wesley's day, was a very cold and intellectual headquarters for the religious elite. A large number of the clergy were deists and/or practical atheists. The Wesley's, among others, were different. They were very serious about living a morally upright life. After John graduated he was given a church. Meanwhile, his brother Charles (the great hymn writer) belonged to a group called the 'holy club.' It was, essentially, an accountability group. A group of men got together regularly to challenge each other toward holy living. Since they had such a strict 'method' to their quest for righteousness, they were later called the 'methodists.' When John came back to Oxford, he joined the club. Since he was a leader by nature, he became the leader of the group. They asked each other penetrating questions and kept each other accountable. But, to a large degree, this was works based righteousness. Neither John or Charles were, as yet, 'converted'
Could you elaborate on the circumstances and significance of him falling? Is that how he met his wife the nurse?
Why did his spouse leave?
I'm going to combine these two questions. I used these bullet points to open up discussion on the negative aspects of Wesley's life. Sometimes when teachers teach about people from church history they make them seem so perfect that it makes everybody feel like a slug. I prefer to mention the good and the bad. Let me provide a little history regarding Wesley and the women of his life:

1). Before his 'conversion experience' he went on a mission to Georgia to convert the native americans. While there, he fell in love with a young girl. But he wasn't sure marriage was God's will for him, so he wavered on whether to marry her. She didn't feel like waiting and, so, married someone else. He was so upset by this that he refused to serve her communion. Her father decided to sue John Wesley for this reason. Wesley was not popular with the colonists to begin with (b/c he was so rigid) and this was the final straw. He left Georgia and is quoted as saying " I went to convert the indians, but who will convert me? "

2). Later in life, after his 'conversion experience' Wesley fell in love again to a woman named Grace Murray. They were, by all reports, a perfect match. She was willing to go on the road with him and/or content to be at home alone while he traveled in ministry. But Charles wasn't sure Wesley should get married, so one day (while Wesley was away in ministry), Charles convinced Grace to marry a different Methodist minister. When Wesley found out, he was devastated.

3) On the rebound, Wesley married a nurse who had helped him recover from a fall on London bridge. They were a horrible match. She wanted John to stay home, but John had lived his entire life as a traveling minister. They had rushed into the marriage and it was a miserable relationship. To add fuel to the fire, his wife would often read his mail (since John wasn't ever home to read it) and she became jealous of all the young methodist women who adored John for his ministry (there's no evidence that John ever committed adultery, but we can certain understand the jealousy). And so his wife left him. He is quoted as saying: "I did not send her away. I will not call her back"
England’s pulpits close to Wesley brothers
Why were they closed?
Once Wesley had a 'conversion experience' he began preaching boldly to a dead church. They didn't like it. He preached at Oxford, for instance, on the Holy Spirit in Acts and basically told the congregation that they needed the Holy Spirit (in a tone as if they didn't have Him). This made people angry and most Anglican churches decided not to let the Wesley brothers preach there anymore. The famous evangelist George Whitefield was already preaching outdoors at the time and invited John to do the same. He reluctantly did so. Only the elite went to the anglican churches then anyways (for the most part), so outdoor preaching allowed John to minister to the masses, who were miserable in 18th century england.

Thanks

SteveF

Re: John Wesley

Post by SteveF » Sat Oct 11, 2008 11:35 am

Thanks Matt, it sounds like that course was very informative and enlightening. I was wondering if there were any other interesting tidbits on your mind you'd like to share? What are your overall impressions of John Wesley?

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mattrose
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Re: John Wesley

Post by mattrose » Sat Oct 11, 2008 3:24 pm

I'll share some of, what I consider, his most interesting one-liners

"Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn."

"Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge"

"When I have money, I get rid of it quickly, lest it find a way into my heart."

"Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can"

"The best of it is, God is with us."

"The Church recruited people who had been starched and ironed before they were washed."

"The longer I live, the larger allowances I make for human infirmities. I exact more from myself and less from others. "

"Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago."

"I look on all the world as my parish"

"As to matters of dress, I would recommend one never to be first in the fashion nor the last out of it"

"I desired as many as could to join together in fasting and prayer, that God would restore the spirit of love and of a sound mind to the poor deluded rebels in America"

"You may be as orthodox as the devil and as wicked"

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mattrose
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Re: John Wesley

Post by mattrose » Tue Dec 16, 2008 1:46 am

Here's my final paper on "What Constitutes Wesleyan Theology?"

A Theology of Extreme Equilibrium



A pendulum has four working features: A foundational pivot, a connecting rod, the Law of Gravity, and a weighted bob. The pivot is the source. The rod connects the source to the bob. The bob swings back and forth in a constant struggle with the Law of Gravity to exist at the center. This swinging follows a consistent trajectory made up of three key points: The extreme left, the center, and the extreme right. But the center point can also be considered extreme insomuch that, at this point of equilibrium, gravity causes the bob to reach its lowest position. In other words, at no other point is the bob closer to ground level.

Christian theology has four working members: The creative Father, the reconciling Son, the redemptive Spirit, and the collective Church. The Father is the source. The Son connects the Father to the Church. The Church swings back and forth in a constant struggle with the Law of the Spirit to exist at the center of God’s will. This swinging follows a consistent trajectory made up of three key points: The extreme left, the center, and the extreme right. But the center point can also be considered extreme insomuch that, at this point of equilibrium, the Spirit causes the Church to reach its lowest position. In other words, at no other point is the church closer to making an impact on the world.

A study in the life and times of John Wesley is a study of extremes. His life resulted in a radical movement and his times placed him in the midst of powerful yet opposing ideas. But I suggest that Wesleyan Theology is a theology of extreme equilibrium. To be extreme is to be of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average. Equilibrium is a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces. By avoiding the extremes to the left and right, Wesley was able to create a movement located in the balance. A balanced church is one so weighed down by the Spirit that it has the greatest potential to impact the world. The distinguishing feature of Wesleyan theology is an emphasis on God’s impact on the ground. The reason John Wesley did not live the ordinary Christian life was that he allowed the Spirit, rather than humankind, to define the extreme. Wesleyan theology is at its most Wesleyan when it finds the weighty balance between the extremes that exist on either side of the center of God’s will.

The Extremes of Wesley’s Times

We live in extreme times. Such a statement could, of course, be uttered in any period of human history. This is illustrated by the fact that we can find evidence of doomsday predictions in just about any historical generation. John Wesley’s generation was no different. He was surrounded by extremes to the left and to the right, but he consistently arrived at a place of equilibrium between the extremes.

Wesley’s family background created a propensity toward moderation. “He was the offspring not just of one church and one tradition but was influenced by no fewer than five heritages, which he combined in creative and in many respects new ways” (Runyon, 208). These heritages were often located in different hemispheres of the ecclesiastical landscape. Wesley had, for example, a mixed Puritan-Anglican background. On the one hand, “both of Wesley’s parents were raised in Puritan clergy homes, and his grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides were ardent Puritans” (Runyon, 208). On the other hand, both Susanna and Samuel (Wesley’s mother and father) had converted to establishment Anglicanism. Wesley was born into a home “that never gave up the piety of Puritanism” (Runyon, 208), and yet was very committed to high church Anglicanism. He arrived, therefore, at some level of balance between the non-conformists and the establishment. This explains how it is that Wesley considered himself an Anglican while continuing to work outside (both literally and figuratively) the box of the establishment. Wesley, though, did remain loyal to Anglicanism through the end of his life. But even this fact came equipped for the development of a theology of equilibrium in that “Anglicanism gravitated toward an understanding of itself as a via media (middle way) between the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions” (Maddox, 22).

Wesley’s blend of Western traditions is mirrored by a blend on an even broader theological plain. His studies brought him toward the center between East and West. That he was influenced by his own traditions is beyond question, but recent scholarship suggests that he was heavily influenced by the writings of the Eastern Father’s whom he encountered amidst the Anglican patristics renaissance (Maddox, 23). This is, perhaps, best demonstrated by Wesley’s fundamental commitment to the therapeutic view of the Christian life. Wesley “integrated the juridical convictions of Western Christianity into his more basic therapeutic (Eastern) viewpoint” (Maddox, 23). Wesley’s radical movement was not initiated by creating new doctrines, but by combining old, cross-cultural doctrines together in new ways.

At first glance, Wesley’s Arminianism may seem like an exception to his rule of theological moderation. Indeed, Wesley was highly critical of the most extreme forms of Calvinism. But setting Calvinism against Arminianism ignores the influence of Deism in Wesley’s day. Wesley’s Arminianism is better understood as the moderate view between hard-core Calvinism (which views God as a micro-manager over creation) and hard-core Deism (which doesn’t view God as a manager at all). It was against these two views, and not because he was a student of Arminius, that Wesley arrived at his balanced position. In fact, “by Arminianism he referred to a moderated Calvinism, tempered in the direction of synergism, over against absolute predestination” (Oden, 256). Nor did he consider Deism an utter enemy. He once argued that deism, in its emphasis on toleration, could provide a way “whereby nominal Christians could be prepared, first, for tolerating, and, afterwards, for receiving, real Christianity” (Runyon, 172). Wesley emphasized both the Calvinistic emphasis on God as the source of salvation (divine grace) and Deistic emphasis on the importance of human activity (response to grace). He arrived at “a conception that can stress God’s gracious sovereignty in a way that actually enhances the place of human responsiveness” (Maddox, 255).

The famed Wesleyan Quadrilateral further illustrates Wesley’s concern for theological moderation, though the term itself is a bit misleading. It could “more adequately be described as a unilateral rule of Scripture within a trilateral hermeneutic of reason, tradition, and experience” (Maddox, 46). Thus, for Wesley, “Scripture is the primary, rather than exclusive, Christian authority” (Maddox, 37). But why did Wesley often argue from Scripture and reason, Scripture and tradition, or Scripture and experience? Reason, tradition, and experience served the role of moderating the mis-interpretation of Scripture. Wesley understood the possibility of corrupting the Word of God. This could be done by reading one’s own interest into the passage, taking the passage out of context, or by subtracting from the Scriptures to please human ears (Oden, 63). It was necessary to moderate one’s reading of Scripture with these three secondary sources of authority. The quadrilateral was an exercise in moderation.

Highlighting Wesley’s moderating tendencies may seem to suggest that the driving force of his theology was avoidance of doctrinal extremes. But this was not the case! Wesley was compelled not by a desire to avoid extremes, but by a desire to discover a theology that emphasized actual transformation in the heart of the believer and in the world in which he lived. To use the pendulum illustration again, his aim was to arrive at the center, not because it avoided the extreme left and right, but because it was the point of the most extreme proximity to ground level impact. Perhaps this explains the one major area in which Wesley’s own theology is often dismissed as extreme: His teaching on Christian perfection.

Wesley received a heavy dose of theological criticism for his teaching on the doctrine of perfection. It was, after all, an extreme teaching. Wesley refused to give up on the word perfection, deciding instead to delineate between what he meant by the term and what he did not mean. “There was little controversial in Wesley’s disclaimers. The same cannot be said for his positive explication of Christian perfection” (Maddox, 181). He taught that Christian perfection provided deliverance from all inward sin and refused to restrict the experience of entire sanctification to the deathbed. Though Wesley was “hardly the first to affirm such a possible degree of transformation,” it was his insistence on the instantaneous nature of this event in the Christian life that made his teaching so controversial (Maddox, 188). Thus, it was at the point in which the Spirit was making the heaviest impact where Wesley was most willing to take an extreme viewpoint. Any doctrine that detracted from extreme transformation was to be avoided.

The Extremes of Wesley’s Life

One of the most important skills for a student to develop is to learn how to ask the right questions. When studying the life of John Wesley, one should wonder how it is that a man who tended to take such moderate theological positions began such a radical, world-changing, Christian movement. The pendulum provides the answer. When the bob is at the center, it is at its most extreme point in terms of proximity to ground level.

Before highlighting the extreme lifestyle and accomplishments of Wesley’s life, something must be said in regards to the emphasis on the Spirit in his theology. Again, it is not repulsion from the extreme left or right which brought Wesley time and time again to the center, but the weight of the Spirit. The more power the Spirit exercises over the Church, the more radical the Church’s impact on the world. Wesleyan theology is filled with discussion of the Spirit because Wesley himself was filled with the Spirit.

Wesley “placed the Spirit at the center of his understanding of Christian life” insomuch that “he equated the Holy Spirit with God’s gracious empowering Presence restored through Christ” (Maddox, 119). He lived in a time when intellectuals discussed theology without being filled with the God they studied (Oden, 222). Others claimed the Spirit’s presence when, in reality, their experience was based on human emotions and mistaken interpretations. Wesley avoided the extremes of intellectualism and enthusiasm by focusing on the active role of the Holy Spirit in conformity with previously revealed truth (Oden, 229-230). While other theologians focused on the finished work of God through Jesus Christ, Wesley made sure to include the continuing work of God through the Spirit. This spread the attention from merely being converted at one particular point in the past to daily conversion into the likeness of the Son by the power of the Spirit. This was away from the extremes of the Antinomians who severely de-emphasized transformation. It was away from the extremes of the enthusiasts who de-emphasized the need of Christian experiences to align with God’s previous revelation. And it was away from the extreme skeptics who denied the ability for people to experience the power of God. Wesley’s theology, then, radically confronted some of the leading traditions, experiences, and reasoning of his day with an emphasis on the genuine experience of the power of the Spirit.

What did the Law of the Spirit look like in Wesley’s life? For one thing, it left him somewhat unconcerned about whether or not he could be considered a theologian by traditional standards. Wesley never wrote a systematic theology. Because of this, some wonder whether he may be called a ‘real’ theologian (Maddox, 15), but Maddox rightly brings into question such usage of the word ‘real’ in regards to theologians. Might it be that a ‘real’ theologian is not necessarily a systematic theologian, but a practitioner of theology? Theology was worthwhile only insofar as it impacted the lives of people.

The Law of the Spirit also led Wesley to radically identify with people, with special emphasis on the poor. Wesley defined “rich” as “one that has food and raiment sufficient for himself and his family, and something over” (Jennings, 33). Solidarity with the poor could best be achieved by direct contact and so Wesley constantly visited the less fortunate. He found ways as an individual, as an advocate, and as a leader to help the underprivileged. “It is estimated that during his lifetime he gave away more than 30,000 pounds to aid the poor and needy” (Haines & Thomas, 17)! He even let his hair grow unfashionably long in order to save money to give to the poor (Jennings, 120). While the weight of his material wealth remained the same throughout his earthly life, the weight of the Spirit was able to bring him to the point of rare solidarity with the common man. The potentially destructive force of material possessions did not trap him.

Thirdly, the Law of the Spirit provoked Wesley to make a radical ground level impact in terms of both geography covered and depth of transformation. “What John Wesley had experienced, he felt compelled to share: He was to proclaim this good news to everyone in every place; he was to ‘spread scriptural holiness over the land.’” (Langford I, 13). It is estimated that Wesley traveled between four and five thousand miles a year and preached forty thousand sermons during his ministry (Haines & Thomas, 14)! But Wesley went beyond preaching and insisted on follow-up. He organized societies, classes, and bands with the goal of bringing initial faith to fruition (Langford I, 15). Wesley’s ministry was not geared toward making a few converts, but toward making many disciples, they themselves filled with the Spirit. The more Spirit-filled believers, the more potential impact the church could make. His ministry was radical in both its scope and depth. His consistency was nearly unmatched. Even into his eighties, Wesley was willing to do the hard work of evangelism and charity. He was not taken off course by the contemporary trends of his day.

We see, then, that Wesley’s primary concern was not the latest novelty, material possessions, or his own legacy (1 John 2:16). But the removal of sin, alone, wasn’t the burden of Wesley. He was, instead, motivated by a passionate love for people. It was extreme love for God and humanity that led a theological moderate like Wesley to live an extremely radical life. For Wesley, “it is all comprised in that one word, love” (Oden, 323)


Toward a Theology of Extreme Equilibrium


Like Wesley, we live in extreme times. Also like Wesley, we desire to make an extreme impact. But our means toward making a difference often differ from that of Wesley. We tend to think that the way toward balance is an equal and opposite extreme. But genuinely Wesleyan theology reminds us that true impact is found only when we are weighed down by the power of the Holy Spirit.

In general, liberal theologies emphasize ground level impact whereas fundamentalist theologies emphasize traditional doctrines of God and the spiritual realm. Illustrated by the pendulum, liberal theologies fail when they focus on the role of the bob at the expense of the foundational nature of the pivot, the role of the connecting rod, and the importance of weighing down the bob. Fundamentalist theologies fail when they focus on the truths about the pivot, rod, and gravity without putting any of this truth to earthly good. These errors result in two theological systems that our out of balance, one drifting to the left, the other to the right.

John Cobb’s process theology is an attempt to do Wesleyan theology without recognizing Scripture as foundational to the process. Both theologies critique the extremes of dominant Christian belief (Deism and Calvinism), but Cobb’s supposed balance is vastly different than Wesley’s because Cobb treats reason, instead of Scripture, as the ultimate authority. Because Spirit inspired Scripture is brushed aside, Cobb’s theology drifts away from the center. His concept of God is noteworthy for what is left unmentioned. He doesn’t focus on God as the Creator, Lord of history, Lawgiver, or Judge. But instead of modifying these views, Cobb replaces them by viewing God primarily as the One Who Calls us into the new future. For Cobb, “God can be conceived as a very special kind of energy-event” (Cobb, 71). His view is a form of pan-en-theism. With this concept, two more ‘missing’ divine attributes emerge. For Cobb, God is neither omnipotent nor immutable in the traditional sense. Rather, God argues for change and is affected by it. Without the foundational pivot point of God’s nature, and without a special emphasis on the reconciling work of Christ, Cobb’s bob swings to the left.

On the other hand, many contemporary churches in the Wesleyan tradition have been enveloped by a form of fundamentalist theology which emphasizes the truth of justification and the hope of heaven at the expense of the doctrine of holiness of heart and life. In this theology, justification is accessed by “praying the prayer” and is done for its own sake, rather than for the sake of initiating sanctification. While this mindset may be found in many ‘Wesleyan’ churches, it is completely foreign to Wesleyan theology. Wesley was “convinced that the traditions following Luther and Calvin had not grasped the full implications of the work the Holy Spirit intends to do in us” (Oden, 311). Nor can a Wesleyan theology ignore the call for transformation here on earth in favor of waiting for the joys of heaven. The truths of justification and heaven should never be used as enemies to sanctification and social action. By focusing on truth, but not the full truths, some Fundamentalist theologies swing the church to the right, far from balance.

While churches and theologians in the Wesleyan traditions range from the extreme left to the extreme right, genuine Wesleyan theology beckons us back to the fullness of the salvation found in the Spirit-filled life. Cobb’s theology swung to the left because of the failure of the right. The right became even more extreme in response. Balance is found not by discerning the current trend and attempting to swing the pendulum the other way, but by experiencing the power of the Spirit and slowing the swing altogether. Contemporary culture is less and less likely to attend a church because of its doctrinal extremities and more and more likely to attend a church that is making an impact. There is, perhaps, no time better than the present for Wesley’s theology of extreme equilibrium to thrive than the present.

As weight is added to the bob of a swinging pendulum, gravity dictates that the motion to the left and right become less extreme and more time is spent closer to ground level. As more and more are added to the true Church, liberal and fundamentalist arguments fade into the background and the church is better able to reach the remaining lost and grow in maturity. Pendulums are, of course, often used for time keeping. When the bob comes to rest, it keeps time no more. The church exists on earth to reach the lost and grow in maturity. When the power of the Spirit fully rests on a maximized Church (in terms of both quantity and quality), time will come to an end. Eternity will commence.

SteveF

Re: John Wesley

Post by SteveF » Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:36 am

Matt, I found the following statement on wikipedia:

"John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, became sympathetic to the teaching of universal reconciliation and embraced it near the end of his life.[34]"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_universalism

Since you did a very thorough study of Wesley's life, I was wondering if you’re aware of him entertaining and embracing Universalism? I was thinking the contributor may have been confusing John Wesley with John Wesley Hanson (who's name came up when I googled "John Wesley universalism")

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Re: John Wesley

Post by mattrose » Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:58 am

No, I'm not aware of anything in Wesley that would lead someone to that conclusion. His few statements on the subject put him in the eternal torment camp, it seems to me. I'm not familiar with John Wesley Hansen, but you may be right.

SteveF

Re: John Wesley

Post by SteveF » Mon Jan 26, 2009 12:00 pm

Thanks Matt

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