Author Archives: Jack Jackson

Jack Jackson ~ Wesley’s 5:2 Fast

John Wesley believed true Christian disciples made fasting integral to the life and faith.  To not fast was to not be a Christian in his mind.  I’ve always found this a bit perturbing since my idea of fasting is to skip an afternoon snack.  But for Wesley, to not take fasting seriously as a core spiritual practice was to not take Jesus seriously.

Therefore I was intrigued when, back in December, a friend of mine introduced me to what he thought was a new weight loss miracle, the 5:2 Plan.  This program is not so much of a diet, though many use it to lose weight, but rather it is more of a health plan that includes intermittent fasting at its core.   The 5:2 Plan follows a weekly pattern of eating regularly five days a week and then twice a week fasting for 18 hours.  Typically the fast goes from 4 pm one day to 10 am the next day.  As I read more and more about the 5:2 Plan, the more I realized there was nothing new about this type of fast at all.  John Wesley followed a similar pattern of fasting that he believed was rooted in early church practices.

Wesley describes his understanding of the practice and benefits of fasting quite extensively in Sermon 27, “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount:  Discourse Seven.”  In this sermon Wesley describes fasting in great detail and I only want to pick out a number of points that jumped out at me.

First, Wesley followed the ancient Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, not eating until 3 pm.  Second, fasting specifically entails giving up food, not just a type of food.  To avoid particular kinds of foods such as “pleasant food” is a form of abstinence as opposed to fasting.  He encourages abstinence for some, but most he encourages to follow his practice of not eating until 3 pm.   Advocates of the 5:2 Plan propose today that intermittent fasting, which is what Wesley did, is healthy in a number of ways, such as getting the body to process nutrients better.  But for Wesley, the purpose of fasting was not to lose weight or to be more physically healthy.  This relates to a third point, that Wesley believed fasting was crucial for the spiritual health of Jesus’ disciples.  Wesley believed that Jesus’ assumption that Christians will fast in Matthew 6:16 should be read by Christians as a command.  Jesus says “when you fast”, not “if” we fast.  Therefore, Wesley argued, fasting should be a core Christian practice.

I wonder, was Wesley correct?  Must we fast as followers of Jesus?  Or is fasting simply an option for us to embrace or ignore based on our preferences?

Do I need to see this ancient practice as integral to my life of faith apart from which I will find it hard, perhaps impossible, to receive God’s blessings as Wesley describes?

What about you?  How has fasting been a blessing or a burden to your spiritual life?  How do you engage Wesley’s sermon?  I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Jack Jackson ~ Reflections on Dean’s “Almost Christian”

I recently read a book that has been on my shelf for a couple of years, Kenda Creasy Dean’s Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. Dr. Dean is a professor of youth ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary, who also happens to be a United Methodist. I haven’t been as convicted by a book in a long time.

In this book she reflects on various aspects of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR). The basic thrust of her book is that most American youth, even those that profess a Christian faith, actually do not believe in the story of God in Christ, but instead affirm what Christian Smith and Lisa Pearce (the NSYR directors) call Moral Therapeutic Deism (MTD). As Dean writes, the study “reveals a theological fault line running underneath American churches: an adherence to a do-good, feel-good spirituality that has little to do with the Triune God of Christian tradition and even less to do with loving Jesus Christ enough to follow him into the world.” Rather, teenagers approach their faith practices as “good” things to do, like other extracurricular activity, but not essential to life.

Let me first say that I recommend the book to anyone in youth or pastoral ministry, as well as any parents that care about their children’s discipleship. As I read through the book I was repeatedly challenged by Dean’s assertion that the blame behind the wide acceptance of Moral Therapeutic Deism in today’s youth does not lie with youth themselves, but rather with their parents and the churches these youth attend. In essence our children aren’t disciples because we aren’t disciples. We’re more focused on our kids’ happiness and success than we are on their discipleship.

So I ask you, is this true? If so, I’d love to hear from people who think they are actually raising their own children, much less youth in their church, to follow Jesus.

What is happening in your family’s discipleship? What does family discipleship look like? How is your church facilitating your family’s discipleship? Are we going about discipleship as a family, or as a bunch of individuals? Any thoughts?

Jack Jackson ~ Next Steps for Claremont School of Theology


In 2011 Claremont School of Theology (CST) joined with schools from Jewish and Muslim communities to form a new umbrella academic institution, Claremont Lincoln University (CLU). In creating CLU the partner schools envisioned an institution that would facilitate education and relationships across diverse religious traditions. Last month that experiment in partnership came to an end, and for that I am thankful. Continued relationship with CLU would have diminished CST’s commitments to a broad range of Christian traditions in general, and the United Methodist Church in particular.

There were many dreams for Claremont Lincoln. One of mine was that it would serve as a conduit for the development of deep friendships, co-learning opportunities, and joint vocational projects amongst students, staff, and faculty from a variety of religious traditions. The students in each school under the CLU umbrella would tend to identify with the religious tradition of their home institution. For instance, CST would continue to have mostly Christian students, many of whom were from the United Methodist or Korean Methodist churches. CLU would be a platform for relationship building and learning across traditions. I hoped that the relationships that developed from such a learning model would provide a foundation for people from different religious communities coming together to address both local and global challenges.

Over the last 18 months, it has become clear that my dreams for this particular model for theological education were not to be. During that time, the leadership at CLU has pursued a different direction that focuses on religious awareness in corporate communities. While this direction has some merit, it is not consistent with CST’s heritage or its future as one of United Methodism’s graduate theological schools. Given this divergence of missions, it seems best for both institutions to go their separate ways.

For many years Claremont School of Theology has been grounded in Wesleyan traditions, specifically the United Methodist and Korean Methodist denominations, while at the same time welcoming persons from a variety of religious and non-religious traditions, Christian and otherwise. CST’s mission has always been excellent academic and spiritual preparation of persons for leadership in their community, be it parish ministry or otherwise.

I still believe that critical to that training in the 21st century is developing an awareness of, and relationships with, persons from other religious traditions. Learning from and sharing with persons from other religious traditions, some of whom are quite different and who may even have competing theological commitments, is necessary if our world is to survive, much less thrive in the next century. This hope of developing relationships with persons from other traditions that inspire trust, and an ability to collaborate on important projects, was part of the initial motivation behind CLU.

As Claremont Lincoln University shifts to a corporate and secular focus it’s clear the integrity of the initial vision behind the partnership with CST has been lost. Retaining the partnership with CLU would have trivialized CST’s Christian and Wesleyan commitments.The only responsible choice, then, was to wish CLU well and sever our institutional ties.

My hope is that Claremont School of Theology will continue in its commitment to preparing women and men, both Methodist and otherwise, for leadership in the church and world and in partnership with like-minded educational institutions from other religious traditions. My hope that CLU would prove the conduit for partnerships across religious traditions was short-lived. But the importance of creating communities of learning and relationships where people from very different religious communities, sometimes even with different values and commitments, come together for the betterment of the world is as pertinent today as ever.

Jack Jackson ~ Evangelism: ESJ’s Roundtable Conversations

Evangelism is a natural and necessary element of multifaith conversations from Wesleyan perspectives. True conversation by Wesleyans means true announcement of the good news of Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and coming reign. Yet a real conversation also means Christians are open to hearing what other faiths consider good news in their traditions. Multifaith conversations for Wesleyans always include evangelism (which to be authentic, must never include manipulation or coercion) and being evangelized.

Perhaps the best example of a Methodist model of this link between evangelism and multifaith conversations is E. Stanley Jones, a missionary to India with the Methodist Church from the 1920’s to 60s, and perhaps the twentieth century’s most significant missionary working out of the Methodist tradition. Critical to understanding his evangelistic ministry is appreciating the role of conversations with non-Christian communities.

He sought truth wherever he might find it, a characteristic that made him quite willing to submit Christianity to the scrutiny of its critics and be willing to be in conversation with persons from quite divergent traditions. He sought conversation with persons from other traditions because, if there was a better representative of God than Christ, he wanted to know it. He believed that there are people in other traditions who, like him, sought truth and would want to hear what Christ had done in Jones’s life. He lived in a tension between certitude of Christ’s supremacy and a great openness to truth wherever he might find it. In the end, though, he never discovered a more perfect representative of God than Christ and he never seemed to question the need for redemption from sin that Christ offers. His commitment to Christ, his desire to share the good news he found in Christ, and his openness to truth in other faiths, led him to offer and test his faith through three practices, namely large-group evangelistic lecturing followed by a question and answer session, round table conversations, and Christian Ashrams. Round table conversations provide the best example of where Christians both evangelized and were evangelized in multifaith settings.

Round table conversations were gatherings of smaller groups of people, usually between 15 and 40 people, which would allow for a more personal conversation than even a question and answer session afforded. Jones tried to ensure that approximately two thirds of the participants were non-Christians, with the remainder being primarily Indian Christians. Everyone was asked to share only their religious experience and specifically “how religion was working, what it was doing for us, and how we could find deeper reality.” The focus was on the practical effect of faith in a person’s life. The goal was to discover other people’s actual experience, not their understanding of dogma or doctrine. The focus must be “deeply experimental. What does religious bring in experience? What is its value for life?” The focus of conversations was not theology but the experiential benefits of faith. The round table conferences provided a venue for pointed conversations about different faiths, conversations where Jones believed an “untrammelled” Christ eventually stood at the center. Round table gatherings encouraged conversations among people from various religious traditions, secular philosophies, and ethical systems, who gathered as equals to share about their experience of religion.

The goal of the round table conversations was two fold. The first was to bring together people from India’s various religious traditions. The second was to create a space for educated Indians to specifically contemplate Christianity. In this way the gatherings were both interreligious and evangelistic. Every person was invited to share around the table. The conception of a round table was intentional, since nobody was head of the meeting. Jones himself never started the sharing and resisted attempts to summarize or comment on other people’s sharing. He usually shared at the end.

The goal was to have true conversation about each person’s experience of their own faith and its practical benefits for them, not doctrinal debate. The result was that people from each tradition were challenged, even Christians, regarding the source and substance of their faith. The result was an “attitude of appreciation with appraisal” of all religious traditions. Jones came to believe that these round table conferences provided the greatest venue for true conversation between people of different faiths.

Jones’s round table conversations offer an interesting vision of one Wesleyan community’s linking evangelism and multifaith conversations. He clearly believed in the uniqueness of the Christian faith, but his belief in humanity and the ability of all people to interact with the Holy Spirit led him to engage in open-ended conversations about the nature of various religious traditions and how people experienced the divine through them. His commitment to Christ was not a barrier to conversation with other traditions but rather opened him in dynamic ways to hearing other’s faith stories and sharing his own. In his mind, true multifaith conversation always included sharing the good news of Christ, and openness to good news from other traditions, though he never found better news than Christ. His round table gatherings, while highly specific to the context of India in the first half of the 20th century, are a model that offers insights into how Christian communities can engage in conversations that are authentically evangelical, noncoercive, and multifaith in nature.