A Wesleyan Theology tangent - Embury United Methodist Church, Shelby Forest, Millington, Tennessee 38053

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A Wesleyan Theology tangent

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A few Semesters ago I spent a lot of energy diving into a Wesleyan Theology. Reading John Wesley’s sermons and countless articles and books on his perspective. Although I was taking a course that was required for my pursuing ordination, I took the course not as a requirement but as an opportunity to own a new theological heritage.

Theology for me is about becoming.

It’s not a static list of beliefs to hold but about a process of learning who we are and who we know and understand God to be. So questions of theology aren’t just about complex Greek words, but also about asking “what kind of universe do we live in?”. Again studying Wesley isn’t about owning his beliefs but about knowing him as a person and who I am becoming as a follower of Christ with many “friends and guides”. Wesley is now one of these friends. Continuing to learn my new found Wesleyan heritage I turned to process theologian and UMC pastor John B. Cobb. Reading his book on Wesleyan theology “Grace & Responsibility” was illuminating for me because he wasn’t afraid to criticize Wesley or engage his thoughts, but took him as an incredible man and one we can learn a lot from. Even in looking back at Wesley or “being a Wesleyan theologian,” doesn’t mean a static, stuck in the past, theology, but one that is still becoming.

Wesley in Cobb’s understanding was a product of his time. Highly influenced by the protestant reformation and the streams that grew out of that event. But he was also in numerous ways ahead of his time. So to be Wesleyan we don’t have to “go back” and agree with everything he did. Rather to follow his footsteps is to take on his worldview and methods in pursuing theology and faithful living. Wesley was progressive for his time, but still many of his beliefs would seem old hat today. What made this book so powerful was the acceptance that to think progressively today, may actually be more Wesleyan then to agree with everything he said over a hundred years ago. This is good news to me today as I struggle to own my calling to the Methodist Church today. It from time to time appears along with most mainline churches to be dying. But I don’t think it will.

I think we are in the midst of changes that like any reformation or birth that is full of tears and labor pains. So along with Cobb I say stick with Wesley, stick with this amazing man who himself evolved in his faith, struggled and embraced his doubts, and was radically progressive for his day. For Cobb, Wesley and myself there are a few things that will push us toward the future God is calling us too. “God is present and active in the entire creation”. This statement alone could change your life. Where is God? What is God like? John Wesley affirms that God is present and available, loving all of creation. This means every particle every person or plant is loved by God. Salvation for Wesley was not escapism, it was not somewhere else some time else but a present reality to be engaged in here and now. To say it another way: for John Wesley, Salvation is broad and encompassed all of our life. The love and grace of God goes before us and sustains us, and woos us to fuller life, wholeness and healing. Salvation is not about accepting or assenting certain beliefs but about experiencing the love of the present, active, living God.

Cobb says that for Jesus the Kingdom of God is a state of the world in which God’s will is done universally- where all are healed and liberated as well as freed from sin. This affirms Wesley’s views as well. Salvation in the Wesleyan tradition then is big, expansive, or as Cobb say's Wesley expands the contemporary notions he was given. It is as intimate as your heart knowing that you are loved as an individual by the creator of the universe, but as broad as the social justice movement fighting for peace and wholeness of different people groups. These two ideas alone I would gladly explore the rest of my life. That God is close, available, as near as your next breath, and that salvation is as intimate and broad as God is. For Wesley to be alive is to be held and loved by the spirit of the living God.

So again to look at theology it’s about becoming. It’s about asking those questions that help us know who we are and who God is. For Wesley God’s very nature was love, and God’s spirit was the breath in our lungs. That’s the kind of universe we live in. That’s who we are. Before we put on tribal or cultural identities and classifications we are known and loved by the divine creator of the cosmos. That’s good news.

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