Tag Archives: Methodism

Jeff Rudy ~ Chemo and the First Rule of Methodism

While I have not fought cancer in my own body, a lot of folks I’ve shepherded over the years have been on that side of the doctor’s desk hearing one of the most dreadful things you can be told as a human: “You have cancer.” I haven’t been through this particular ringer, so I write this knowing that other voices might speak better to this than I can.  But we’re all familiar with the fact that depending on the type and stage of the cancer diagnosis, one of the primary ways to seek to cure or to control it is with chemotherapy.

And then comes the battle – the nasty side effects of assaulting the body with chemicals that are not meant to be there. Walking through that dark valley is brutal; indeed, sometimes it is so much so that it takes the life of the one going through the fight. Even for those who make it through, it seems so inhumane, so harsh, so ruthless; so much pain, so much grief accompanies this. Yet as I hear the stories and witness the testimonies of survivors, the reality of the greater good of this harsh treatment is exposed.  

This has led me to wrestle through the following notion – the times when the first two rules of Methodism – “do no harm” and “do good” seem to be at odds. More directly, it seems that there are times when harm must be done in order to do good. But perhaps we need to dig a little deeper, to go underneath the surface, like Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader needed to go deeper than the outer layer of dragon scales to get down to the core.

In that story, when the dragon (who had been Eustace) comes to the awareness that he will have to allow Aslan to peel off the dragon layers, he is hesitant as he ponders the pain that will accompany this process. Yet there is a word that he used to describe it that has caused me to see this apparent contradiction somewhat differently:


I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is fun to see it coming away… he peeled the beastly stuff right off … and there it was, lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. 


I don’t know if C.S. Lewis intended as much by his selection of the word “hurt” as I am inferring, but there’s quite a significant distinction to be made here. Perhaps this is because at the heart of it, there ought to be a difference between our concepts of “harm” and “hurt.”  Perhaps on the surface and even in experience they might “feel” the same, but when it comes to the general rules of Methodism – indeed, when it comes to the life of following Jesus – there are times when a particular “hurt” may have to be inflicted in order to truly “do no harm” or to “do good.”

Yet anytime an action is taken that causes pain, a party cries, “Foul! Quit doing harm!” And because the church is a complex emotional system and there is a desire to “do no harm” in our hearts when they are at their best, the action is called into question and a retraction and apology are demanded. The allure is to either go along with this demand, on the one hand, or to simply dismiss those who cry, “Foul!” and tell them their ideals or concerns are not welcomed. Yet when we take either of those approaches, we put the body at risk to truly be harmed and not just hurt. We are often so averse to experience anything associated with pain that we would rather die a potentially unavoidable death than to address an illness that needs to be resolved. 

Several years ago, I was at a conference about Christian revitalization movements across the world and a statement was uttered by John Witvliet, Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, that has stuck in my mind. He spoke about the relationship between the theological sustenance of the church and the role of the prophetic voice. He said, “The ‘both/and’ approach to theology is the vitamin to sustain the life of the church. The role of the prophetic is chemo to take on a specific illness/injustice.” 

The better approach, then, is to do the hard work of discerning “hurt” from “harm.” That is not a license to inflict pain or hurt on a whim. A doctor or medical team, after all, doesn’t just prescribe a treatment of chemo on a patient until several tests reveal as specifically as possible what exactly is going on in the body. At best, doctors consult with one another, even those from different specialties, perhaps even those who would be inclined to see it from a different angle, before going forward. One of my parishioners is a seven-year pancreatic cancer survivor. Every time a complication or medical need arises in his body, the doctors overseeing his care take a “committee approach” (it’s a Methodist hospital network,what else would you expect?). They come together to consider his case and work through the right avenue of treatment for the particular issue that has arisen.

Only then, when a clear diagnosis is given and a plan of treatment is agreed upon, comes the undesired yet necessary “hurt”—medicine or surgery—to deal with the illness. And this system of treatment is not the same thing as “harm.” Our Wesleyan Methodist heritage has a great history of promoting healthcare. I live in Memphis, a city that has a truly wonderful and comprehensive Methodist hospital and healthcare system. Given this heritage of valuing healthcare, which deals quite extensively in the area of discerning “hurt” from “harm,” one would think we would be well-poised to grapple with how this plays out in the life of discipleship and even of actions taken in the life of the church, which in the best biblical analogy is likened to the “body.” Yet we struggle. Conflicts happen. Feelings get hurt.  

So why don’t we start engaging our problems and our sensed feelings of being harmed by working through the diagnostic phase of discernment and using Wesley’s own spelling out of the first rule of Methodism (see http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-general-rules-of-the-methodist-church) as a way of “getting to the issue”? Perhaps then we will discover not as much harm is being done as we previously assumed. And then whenever true “harm” is identified, we can talk treatment.



Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Testify: Many Voices, One Song

Note from the Editor: Wesleyan Accent is pleased to reprint this post which shares a rich chorus of voices who have answered questions posed in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Participants considered the following questions: 

Growing up, who did you look up to? Who did you want to emulate?

12043004_10207648467592224_2677489989962293178_nGrowing up, I wanted to emulate my mother. She had such amazing style and strength. She grew up in the segregated South, the daughter of an interracial couple (a black mother and a white father). She was always involved in our community, speaking out on issues, and taking a stand.

– Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais, Associate Pastor: St. Luke’s Community UMC, Dallas, Texas

Years ago my uncle, who was a history teacher at Evanston Township high school, had a picture of Dr. King on his wall. And there was a snippet of a quote. “The time is always ripe to do right”…For years that line always stayed in my soul, even when I didn’t really know what it meant. I looked up to my uncle. I would often help him organize all of his classroom papers. He would talk to me about black history. I was always fascinated with the “Eyes on the Prize” series. That’s where I really began to understand the struggle of Africa Americans in America.

– Rev. Marlan Branch, Pastor: River of Life AME Church, Milwaukee, Wisconsin


I looked up to my grandmother, because I thought she was the funniest, hardest working, craziest
person ever and all these people that would come to her house or we would run into somewhere genuinely loved her, so I wanted to be her.

-Makayla Burnham, Student Leader: The Wesley Foundation of Wichita Falls, Texas

Definitely my father. He taught me to be proud of who I am as a black man, to work hard, and get an education so that I would not be overlooked for promising opportunities. One of the most valuable lessons learned from my dad was that as a black man in America, I always needed to work twice as hard just to be somewhat equal to my white counterparts; and three times harder to get ahead. But his Christian example in our home and his savvy business sense is why I will always seek to emulate my dad.

-Dr. Kevin Murriel, Senior Pastor: Cliftondale UMC, College Park, Georgia

Growing up, I most wanted to emulate my mother. She showed incredible strength in difficult situations — most notable being a single mother to five girls. No matter what obstacle came her way, she had the strength to overcome it. She was a praying woman and before most people knew anything about a “War Room” my mother had dedicated one room in our house to prayer. I wanted to be like her, a woman of strength and prayer.

-Rev. Karen Bates, MDiv: Alabaster Box Ministry Services, Bowie, Maryland

What is your first memory of the name “Dr. King”?

Because I’m from a rural and conservative hometown in south central Pennsylvania, it was rare to learn about black men and women who were whitewashed from our textbooks outside of home or church. So my first lessons about the Civil Rights Movement and the men and women who led it like Martin Luther King, Clarence Mitchell, Thurgood Marshall, Daisy Bates, Rosa Parks, Joseph DeLaine and so many others were from my Grandmother and Mother. They demanded that I emulate these men and women and commit my life for justice as well. Because of their model I continue to work to establish and maintain a nonviolent culture on the streets of Rochester, New York where I serve.

– Rev. James C. Simmons, Senior Pastor: Baber AME Church, Rochester, New York

I don’t remember the year that I first learned about Dr. King, but I do remember the story that surrounded the introduction. I vividly recall the time my dad, a United Methodist pastor, told me about his first time being confronted with “Whites Only” drinking fountains and rest rooms while on a road trip during his years at Wesley Theological Seminary. The year was 1961 and my dad was returning to Washington, DC from spring break in Florida when he stopped at a gas station to use the restroom. Appalled at the condition of the restroom, my dad complained to the service attendant. “That restroom is a mess,” he reported. “It is?” replied the attendant. “Oh, you went in the wrong restroom. That is for ‘Colored People.’ You were supposed to go into the ‘Whites Only’ restroom.”
Raised as a farm boy in rural Pennsylvania, my dad had never been exposed to “Colored Only” restrooms or “Whites Only” water fountains. My dad’s traveling companion from seminary counseled my dad to just get back in the car and forget about the ugly experience. No such luck. In no uncertain terms, my dad made it clear to the attendant that the conditions of the restrooms were inexcusable and that the restrooms should be open to all men. My dad’s scolding may have only had a temporary effect on the attendant who grew up in a segregated culture, but that lesson was etched deeply into my soul.

– Steve Beard, Editor-in-Chief: Good News magazine

My first memory of the name Dr. King was from a movie that’s called, “Our friend, Martin” and I thought the man speaking gave great speeches – but I also thought at a young age, from that movie, that Dr.King really liked walking!

– Makayla Burnham

My earliest memory of Dr. King is when I was four years old attending preschool at Bethel AME. I was born the year after King was assassinated. Our church wanted to make sure we knew who King was and what he stood for. Back then, TV went “off” every night around 11pm and each station would play excerpts from Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech.

Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

My first memory of the name Dr. King was in church. Each year we had to recite a speech during Black History Month and our Sunday school teachers made sure we knew about the significant contributions of Dr. King and others to American history. Church taught us things about the Civil Rights Movement and its heroes that our school system never took the time to teach us.

– Dr. Kevin Murriel

If you could do one thing in the next year to impact national and international race relations, what would it be?

The one area of national race relations that I hope to impact this year is helping people 1782069_10153918979655227_1263907353_n-e1453009834806understand that Black Live Matters is not about race, but about justice. Until all lives are given the same value, there is an inequality that exists in this nation and it must be addressed. We have to understand that it is a continuation of the work of Dr. King and a reminder that all men are created equal. Until the scales of justice balance, there is work to do.

-Rev. Karen Bates

53332cb999737-e1453007420315-198x300If there was one area of national or international race relations I could directly impact this year, it would be the attitude of evangelical Christians towards immigrants and refugees. My feeling is that much of the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments that came from many Christians this past year (especially in Facebook posts!) finds its origin in racism. While many of these Christians claim they just want to keep America safe, ironically the best thing they could do to make America safe is by showing love to our “enemies” (people different than us). I love this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” If Americans were to feed, clothe, and educate Muslims around the world, it would be a lot harder for IS to recruit them to harm Americans!

– Rev. Daniel Szombathy, Senior Pastor: Journey Church, Robinson, Illinois

One area of race relations that I probably could impact this year would be awareness of any individual’s culture, religion, or background, so there’s a level of accountability to respect another person’s history.

-Makayla Burnham

One area of race relations that I’d like to directly impact is the disparity in our educational system. Hispanic and African American students in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods often are not exposed to the same textbooks, learning opportunities, and academic information as their white counterparts. Just because children are on the free or reduced lunch program does not mean they should be treated with reduced learning opportunities. I’d like to see intentional investment in the academic excellence of all students regardless to race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

– Rev. Yvette Blair Lavallais

“The time is always ripe to do right” – that quote is really where I wish I could get people to be10690057_839949949404074_8828975281184360831_n-259x300gin to work out, especially in race relations: there are so many on both sides who know the truth but for whatever reason choose to stay silent and not speak. I dream for the Beloved community, the community that King began to speak of right before his death. We will not heal as a people until we believe that we are all God’s creation, equal in potential and promise and presence.

– Rev. Marlan Branch

There are many areas of concern, but I truly want to help the Church better understand its role in racial reconciliation. The Church should be leading the effort towards greater race relations. It is the prophetic voice of the Christian collective that has the power to transform the world following the example of Christ. My personal mission and commitment is to keep this perspective in front of the people of God in hopes that our culture of racism and prejudice will change as the Church stands for what is righteous.

-Dr. Kevin Murriel

Kelcy Steele ~ Old Ship of Zion: AME Zion General Conference Address

Reflections on the Quadrennial Address from the 50th Quadrennial Session of the General Conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Assembled July 20-26, 2016 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Like millions of Zionites, I watched our Bishop’s Quadrennial Address at our recent General Conference, given by Bishop W. Darin Moore, Bishop Dennis V. Proctor and Bishop Kenneth Monroe. I watched it particularly with hopes that their words and vision would speak directly to me and to my ministry context. I was moved both intellectually and spiritually as they charted the new course for our beloved Zion. 

We are living in some critical times, which calls for critical measures. Mostly everybody sitting in church today looks pretty good.  We all clean up really well.  But one of the unique things about being a pastor is that I get to sit with many people outside of Sunday morning when they’re not cleaned up so well and listen as they tell me about the brokenness and pain that is eating them up from the inside out. 

I’m proud to declare that the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is my church. It’s my church of birth, it’s my church of choice, and it’s the church I love. It is known by many as “The Freedom Church,” and this I do not take lightly. Yet, while no church can ever claim to be perfect, the church must at least strive to be true. By God’s grace the “Old Ship of Zion” has traversed many dangerous and sometimes tumultuous waters since it first set sail in 1796 from the harbor of the John Street Methodist Church in New York City. We gathered and praised God for the safe arrival at the port of the 50th Session of the General Conference. – Rev. Kelcy G.L. Steele


The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come. (Luke 4:18)

We rely on the foundation of our Wesleyan heritage to proceed on our way forward and stay focused on our purpose. We are a church of order and rule and discipline. We respect authority and submit to being governed by the powers of God and of those whom God has set in positions of leadership. This is an important part of what it means to be a Methodist.

Bishop Ruben L. Speaks outlines a framework for understanding our purpose in what he termed the “Zion Methodist Synthesis”. He states that Zion Methodist doctrine is founded upon three major pillars:

-Christian evangelism

-Christian perfection

-Human liberation

We are now faced with modern-day oppression in multiple forms:

-The senseless violence in our streets

-Mass incarceration of African Americans

-Overcrowded and underfunded public schools

-A faulty criminal justice system

-Disproportionately high unemployment

Our national community is hurting. The Black Lives Matter movement has become the modern-day Civil Rights movement energized and led by millennials. We are demanding an end to the value gap that places less value on black lives than on others. The A.M.E. Zion Church has called for greater accountability for the police departments who are given lethal authority and are sworn to “protect and serve” their communities.


Going through the motions doesn’t please you,

a flawless performance is nothing to you.

I learned God-worship

when my pride was shattered.

Heart-shattered lives ready for love

don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.

Make Zion the place you delight in,

repair Jerusalem’s broken-down walls.

Then you’ll get real worship from us,

acts of worship small and large,

Including all the bulls

they can heave onto your altar! (Psalm 51:16-19, MSG)

2016 AMEZ General Conference Consecration Service Photo Credit: Valentina Stubbs
2016 AMEZ General Conference Consecration Service
Photo Credit: Valentina Stubbs

Some may argue that the church is dying, or maybe even dead. We must reject this heretical notion. A dead church is an oxymoron. It is either a church or it is dead, but it cannot be both. The church is not dead for it is connected and inextricably linked to a living savior. Jesus established the church as his agent of peace, healing, and transformation in the earth realm.

The Board of Bishops calls for an end to the “worship wars.” It does no faction or segment of our church good to debate whether any are more “true” or “sincere” than others in the way they worship. The important concern is not whether the style of a worship experience is more traditional or contemporary, the issue is whether the substance of the worship is transformative.

The A.M.E. Zion Church offers earnest prayers for our sister church, the United Methodist Church, and other ecumenical partners as they face threats to their organic unity over the issue of LGBTQ rights to ordination and marriage. We respect the deeply held convictions of Christians on all sides of the issue and recognize the diversity of strong opinions within our own denomination.

The upcoming presidential election will certainly impact our social, economic, and political life in significant ways. It could have devastating implications, especially when the next president will be responsible for nominating persons for the Supreme Court as well as set an agenda that will shape this country for generations to come.


Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12, NLT)

In the words of Bishop William Jacob Walls, “Methodism is a spiritual movement in the temporal environment.” In Autopsy of A Deceased Church, Thom S. Rainer suggests some observations that are common in churches whose best days could be behind them. Some characteristics are listed with his headings.

-The church refused to look like the community

-The facilities continue to deteriorate

-The church has no community-focused ministry

-The pastoral tenure grows shorter

-The church rarely prayed together

-Members tend to idolize another era

-The church had no clarity as to why it existed.

The maladies affecting ministry of this generation are diverse and complex. So we inquire, which tools can be used to stem the tide of the present reality? Bishop Robert Schnase offers some practical steps in his treatise, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The tools are profoundly simple and yet, simply profound;

-Radical hospitality – without a warm and engaging environment this is oxymoronic.

-Passionate worship – spirited worship devoid of authentic spirit resonates as sounding brass and tinkling cymbals!

-Intentional faith development – requires a plumb line or biblical understanding and application.

-Risk-taking mission and service

-Extravagant generosity


I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12-14 NLT)

In many ways, life is like an airport; there are those who are staying put and those who are moving on. How unfortunate if we fail to recognize God’s call to move on. The call of the Lord has always been toward a greater future and fulfilling our potential.

God has a plan of movement for everyone; God will lose some doors so that you will find the new door he has opened for you. Sometime God requires you to stay still while you receive clear directions where you are and sometimes God wants you to move on to a higher level, a better place. We must stay connected to God, stay in touch with God, and stay in tune with God so that we can recognize God’s call to move on.


We issue a renewed call for a Faith and Order Conference to be held in conjunction with the General Convention on Christian Education.

Pastors and local churches are challenged to expand our teaching ministries with the goal of offering relevant biblical principles that youth, young adults, adults, and seniors can successfully apply in their daily living and more effectively navigate a complex world.

The AME Zion Church will make young adult leadership development and mentoring a major priority at every level.

Churches must discover innovative ways to provide practical, hands-on ministry opportunities.

In order to engage the unchurched, reach Millennials, and cultivate a deeper Christian maturity of our members we must make intimacy with God through Jesus Christ and healthy relationships with one another the focus of all ministry.

We strongly encourage the revitalization of the class meetings.

Every church will designate a Voter Education/Mobilization Coordinator.

The A.M.E. Zion Church will fully embrace our legacy and our mantra as the Freedom Church.

We recommend that the 50th Session of the A.M.E. Zion Church General Conference officially endorses the following legislative and policy initiatives: (My Brothers Keepers)

-Raise minimum wage

-Gun control legislation


-Additional diversion options

-Boosting opportunities for people in prison to earn time off

-Improving accuracy of federal criminal record keeping

We suggest that pastors and lay leaders offer Life Enrichment Classes or ministries for their churches and invite persons from the community to participate.

We must practice lifestyle stewardship of our time, talents, temple, and treasure.


To learn more visit www.amez.org.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Ambassadors in a World of Islands

Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. – I Corinthians 1: 1-9

Fifteen years ago in May a phrase quickly washed up on the shore of North American pop culture: “voted off the island.”

A coworker becomes annoying: “we need to vote her off the island.”

A friend embroils himself in complicated circumstances: “if he isn’t careful, they’ll vote him off the island.”

“Survivor” had landed and has showcased average men and women plotting, scheming, sunbathing and eating bugs ever since. “Survivor” watching parties decked with tiki torches and the wafting scent of grilled pineapple made their way through the suburbs.

The tribe has spoken.

Fifteen years after Mark Burnett’s smash reality hit, I led my toddler by the hand, past flickering candles standing torch-like in shallow sand, past icons glinting with gold like the sea at sunrise, into a small room mysterious with a far-off, exotic scent. My family and I were visiting an Orthodox church. There were several reasons: I want to our children to experience different cultures, different forms of Christian worship. I want to tuck those memories quietly into their childhoods.

My husband and I also sensed something else extremely difficult to put into words as kind Orthodox believers asked what brought us after the service concluded. Words floated to the surface: “appreciate,” “enjoy,” “hospitality,” and “world.” Always “world.”

“The way things are going in the world…what ISIS is doing in the Middle East…”

We finally recognized the impulse: we wanted to show respect and appreciation. We wanted to learn. We wanted to show solidarity. The realization crystallized when I said, “I felt like I somehow wanted to express, ‘Greetings in the name of the Lord Jesus, from the followers of Christ in the family of Wesley! Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!'”

Thankfully, I did not startle the good people of this Orthodox congregation with such a Pauline greeting. And yet –  together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours…

We had followed an impulse, an instinct, a hunch. We wanted to be ambassadors.

After all – a great deal of the New Testament was written by believers, to believers, about believers, in order to encourage believers. We saw it on their faces: the melted sadness, the sense of grief at what has been happening to Orthodox and Coptic Christians in the Middle East; the grateful acceptance of offered condolence.

Somehow, when a Copt is martyred in Egypt, North American Protestants feel it personally, point to it as persecution. Are we not called, then, to reach out in love to the family of traditions to whom that martyr belonged?

See how they love one another…I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him.

How can we be ambassadors in a world of islands – islands of culture, islands of politics, islands of loyalties? Every man is an island, we read, and we’re so very ready to vote him off of it.

But isolation kills. The Apostle Paul knew this, and in the days of long walks, no Marriott and tired feet, sent letters to scattered churches. The details changed from location to location. Some things remained the same:

You are not alone. The Holy Spirit will give you power. I thank God for you. Keep the faith. Don’t get distracted. You are part of a big family of believers, and they are praying for you.

In 2003, in celebration of the 300th anniversary of the birth of John Wesley, Cardinal Walter Kasper spoke at the Ponte Sant Angelo Methodist Church of Rome:

Wesley’s Letter to a Roman Catholic, written during the anti-Methodist riots in Cork in 1749, was something of an exception to all of this. Indeed it has been referred to as an ecumenical classic. In a plea for greater understanding, Wesley outlines what he sees as the essential beliefs of “true, primitive Christianity”, wherein most of what is said could be easily embraced by the Catholic Church. He invites Methodists and Catholics “to help each other on in whatever we are agreed leads to the Kingdom”, and proposes that “if we cannot as yet think alike in all things, at least we may love alike”, and finally, expresses his hope that they will meet in heaven.

We are called to be ambassadors in a world of islands: to strengthen the Body of Christ around the world, not to outlast other tribes by strength of will or cunning strategy, but to greet like long-last family: I give thanks to my God always for you!  We are called not only to share the good news of God’s love to the world at large, but also to share it, time and again, with branches of the family tree different from our own.

You are not alone. The Holy Spirit will give you power. I thank God for you. Keep the faith. Don’t get distracted. You are part of a big family of believers, and they are praying for you.

We’ve all had enough “Lord of the Flies.” Jesus Christ calls us to practice sharing our island with others who call out his name as waves slide in and out of the sand seconds before their heads are separated from their bodies.

How fitting, Triune God, that John the Revelator saw you making all things new while he sat on an island…

Kevin Watson ~ Christian Perfection: Problem or Promise?

John Wesley believed that Christian perfection, love excluding sin, was possible in this life – by the grace of God.

At the end of his life he even wrote in a letter that he believed that the doctrine of entire sanctification was “the grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodists; and for the sake of propagating this chiefly He appeared to have raised us up.”1

Is the Wesleyan understanding of entire sanctification a problem or a promise?

One of my favorite things to do as a seminary professor is talk with students and church folk about the Wesleyan understanding of Christian perfection, or entire sanctification. People often have some understanding of the role that holiness played in John Wesley’s theology. However, they also often assume that he did not really mean that Christian perfection meant “love excluding sin,” which was, in fact, one of Wesley’s definitions of Christian perfection.

When I walk through what Wesley did and did not mean by Christian perfection, people sometimes seem to recoil from the doctrine. To some it seems naïve. To others it is discouraging. For those who have a negative reaction to the doctrine, the common reaction seems to be that it is a problem. What do we do with the fact that in order to be ordained in The United Methodist Church we have to say before God and our colleagues in ministry that we “are going on to perfection,” and that we “expect to be made perfect in love in this life”?

And what do we do about the fact that many of our colleagues in ministry who have already answered this question seem to have lagged in their zeal for going on to perfection?

At maybe the most basic level, how could we ever hope to make this “grand depositum” of Methodism credible in a context where one of the most popular clichés is that “nobody’s perfect”?

Christian perfection is a scandal to most 21st century Americans.

For better or worse, the doctrine of entire sanctification is not going to be purged from contemporary Methodism. In The United Methodist Church, for example, there is an article in the “Confession of Faith,” which is one of the key statements of official UM doctrine, that is specifically focused on Christian perfection. Here is Article XI from the “Confession of Faith” in its entirety:

We believe sanctification is the work of God’s grace through the Word and the Spirit, by which those who have been born again are cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will, and to strive for holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

Entire sanctification is a state of perfect love, righteousness and true holiness which every regenerate believer may obtain by being delivered from the power of sin, by loving God with all the heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Through faith in Jesus Christ this gracious gift may be received in this life both gradually and instantaneously, and should be sought earnestly by every child of God.

We believe this experience does not deliver us from the infirmities, ignorance, and mistakes common to man, nor from the possibilities of further sin. The Christian must continue on guard against spiritual pride and seek to gain victory over every temptation to sin. He must respond wholly to the will of God so that sin will lose its power over him; and the world, the flesh, and the devil are put under his feet. Thus he rules over these enemies with watchfulness through the power of the Holy Spirit.2

As we see, in Article XI sanctification is not about something that I either have to do to make myself better, or for which I have to feel guilty about not being good enough. It is a “work of God’s grace,” whereby those who have experienced new birth are “cleansed from sin in their thoughts, words and acts, and are enabled to live in accordance with God’s will.” Entire sanctification is really nothing more than sanctification happening to the uttermost. It is God’s grace freeing us from everything that has kept us chained to sin and death. It is God’s grace enabling our positive response.

Article XI of the “Confession of Faith” is solid Wesleyan theology because entire sanctification is focused on nothing more than God’s grace enabling us to fulfill the Greatest Commandment found in Matthew 22:37-38, love of God and neighbor.

The doctrine of entire sanctification is not a threat or a problem. It is a precious gift!

God has not only acted in Christ to make forgiveness and reconciliation with God possible. We are not forgiven, and still in bondage to the ways of sin and death. The Triune God has given his children everything they need to live the kind of life for which they were created, in this life.

And, as Article XI affirms, this is not only for spiritual elites or super Christians. Holiness, even to the exclusion of sin, is something that is available for every single person. If the possibility of living the life that God intends is a live option, shouldn’t we earnestly seek it? And encourage others to be made holy as well?

May the Holy Spirit renew the imaginations of Wesleyans, that we would be inspired and enlivened – not threatened – by the possibility of Christian perfection. May the same Spirit give us words to express what God the Father has done for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. May we see what is possible in this life because of God’s amazing grace. May we believe, know in our bones, that God’s grace is more powerful than the ways of sin, even death itself. May we, as a family of faith, see the promise of entire sanctification once again. Amen.

1 John Wesley, Letter to Robert Carr Brackenbury, September 15, 1790; in The Letters of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M.. 8 vols. Edited by John Telford, (London: Epworth Press, 1931) VIII: 238.
2 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 2012. (Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 2012), 104, p. 73.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Why I Love Being Wesleyan

Jedi John Wesley: the statue at Asbury Theological Seminary
Jedi John Wesley: the statue at Asbury Theological Seminary


When I first arrived at seminary, I was astonished at the number of Wesleyans I met. Wesleyans everywhere! Having grown up in the small but active Wesleyan denomination, I was gratified to see it represented so fully.

Then, about a week into the semester, I began to realize something – all the Wesleyans I was meeting were Wesleyan, not Wesleyan. They were Wesleyan in their theology (as opposed to Catholic or Calvinist), not Wesleyan in their denominational affiliation. A good many of them were denominationally United Methodist.

I was a little dismayed – so the Wesleyan church had perhaps fewer student representatives than I first thought – but I was also relieved in a vague, undefined sense: there was a much bigger Wesleyan community out there than I had realized; full, robust Wesleyan theology was flourishing in a variety of soils.

I’m proud that I grew up in the Wesleyan church, a denomination that laid the groundwork of my fledgling faith as a child. I’m also proud to continue as a member of the Wesleyan movement through my service in the United Methodist Church, a denomination with a rich heritage that I hope will help steer it through its current identity crisis.

So why do I love being Wesleyan, in its fullest sense?

I love being Wesleyan because I wholeheartedly believe that theology matters, and that Wesleyan theology is good theology. Despite being a child of the age of ecumenism – and despite having a strong ecumenical bent – I am deliberately, thoughtfully Wesleyan. Church, we have some amazing resources as participants in the Wesleyan movement. For Wesleyans, the Bible matters, becoming more and more like Jesus Christ matters, the freedom to exercise the will matters, the means of grace matter, and people matter, from the least and the last to the prominent and powerful: it is full-orbed, Spirit-driven engagement with the Word of God and the world, soup and Scripture, Ebola medication and intercessory prayer.

I love being Wesleyan because there was something about John Wesley that constantly put things in perspective: he was someone who knew how to elicit a response. Do you want to grow in your spiritual life? Excellent – he would plug you into a well-organized community – with community expectations. There was a constant “choose this day who you will serve” hanging in the background; early Methodists were people who responded to the call to go deep or go home. There weren’t gimmicks, or appeals marketed to egos, only a call to be genuinely, really committed to this lifestyle. That confrontational call to action in all its pared down, extremely difficult simplicity appeals to my Scottish side (after all, you couldn’t be halfheartedly alongside William Wallace!).

And I love being Wesleyan because Wesleyans are creative people: amid the things that stay the same, all times everywhere, we Wesleyans have elbowroom to ask, “how might the Gospel of Jesus Christ look in this setting? How can we effectively serve the marginalized and learn from them? How do the arts communicate grace?” and on, and on. Within the liturgical calendar, within the rhythms of celebrating communion and reading through the Word of God, within these timeless frameworks is an extraordinarily fertile ground for creative appropriations of our Wesleyan heritage.

So here’s to being Wesleyan – a movement that has stretched across the centuries to you, here, now – and that will, by the grace of God, continue to spill over into the centuries ahead.

Tammie Grimm ~ The Character of Discipleship

When you hear the term “discipleship” what comes to mind? An educational program for adults in your church? The reflective/debriefing group sessions during a mission trip? A moment to promote a given ministry or event during the worship service? A particular pastor who serves at a multi-staffed church?

Each one of us can probably come up with three or four examples of discipleship that all look different from each other – and hopefully each example contributes to the same idea – that discipleship is how we live our Christian lives in love and service to God so that we are an example of God’s love in the world.

Wesley’s Take on Discipleship

The truth is, as much as contemporary Wesleyans talk about making disciples and doing discipleship, John Wesley rarely used the term “disciple.” For him, the term was synonymous with being a Christian or being an eighteenth-century Methodist. In his tract, “The Character of a Methodist,” John Wesley discussed what made those pioneer Methodists identifiable to the rest of the world. Wesley said it was not the things that early Methodists did or said, but rather that a person loved God with their heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30).

Through loving God so completely, a Methodist found contentment in God, trusted God for every need, prayed and sought after God so that the lives they lived in attitude and action were consistent with God’s love for the world. In the next to last paragraph of the tract, Wesley remarks that being a Methodist is really nothing new to the world and was simply the “common principles of Christianity – the plain, old Christianity that I teach, renouncing and detesting all other marks of distinction.” In other words, being an eighteenth-century Methodist means to be a Christian – to be a follower of Jesus Christ in any age or era.

According to Wesley, being a Christian disciple is an all encompassing endeavor. Using the customary gender-specific language of his day, Wesley describes a Christian disciple as follows:

[H]e is a Christian, not in name only, but in heart and in life. He is inwardly and outwardly conformed to the will of God, as revealed in the written word. He thinks, speaks, and lives, according to the method laid down in the revelation of Jesus Christ. His soul is renewed after the image of God, in righteousness and in all true holiness. And having the mind that was in Christ, he so walks as Christ also walked.

Methodists, or Christians, are characterized by patterning their lives after Christ and being renewed, transformed into Christlikeness as they continually follow Christ’s example.

Contemporary Implications

Two remarkable things stand out when reading Wesley’s tract. First, Wesley does not discuss what activities, actions or ministries early Methodists – or Christian disciples – do. Actually, the only activity he explicitly mentions in the whole tract is prayer; which is as much action as it is an attitude for preforming acts of mercy and piety in this world, i.e. by acting prayerfully.

The other remarkable thing is closely related and has to do with the title itself: “The Character of a Methodist.” Notice Wesley did not title it “Programs of a Methodist” or “Ministries of A Methodist” or even “Moments of a Methodist.” The fact that he talks about the distinguishing marks or characteristic qualities of Methodists makes me wonder why contemporary Wesleyans are prone to discuss discipleship as a program, or a ministry area, or a focus moment in our worship services when Wesley saw things quite differently. To be either an eighteenth century Methodist or a contemporary Christian disciple is actually characterized by a way of living in this world which qualifies the way (or manner in which persons do things in this world) for the sake of God’s Kingdom.

Christian Character Demonstrates Our Discipleship

Make no mistake, in order to demonstrate our love for God and offer it to others, Christian disciples will be engaged in activities and actions in this world. But those activities and actions are not in and of themselves our “discipleship.” After all, many activities and actions Christians do in this world – feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, offering aid in times of crisis – look just like what other well-intentioned, caring persons do in this world. Christian discipleship is characterizing how we engage in activities in this world that demonstrates the love of God to this world. Christian discipleship is about living in such a way that we distinguish ourselves as followers of Jesus from those that do similar things out civic duty, moral obligation, or humanitarian aid. Christian discipleship is not so much about doing something – or anything – at all.

Christian discipleship is being a follower of Jesus and living in a manner consistent with Christ’s example even when we are hanging out with friends, stuck in traffic, or surfing the internet. We do not “do discipleship’ as much as we “demonstrate discipleship” by letting Christ’s character infuse our daily actions and lives so that others might know Christ by the way we live.

Ellsworth Kalas ~ Wesleyan Songs for Lent

In my 38 years as a Methodist pastor I tried to make Lent a growing time for my people. I hoped that something about the season, the Lenten preaching, and the special midweek events would inspire some perfunctory church members to find new life in Christ, or a deeper daily walk with their Lord.

I wish I had done better! I wish I had drawn in the net with more vigor! And I wish I had made better use of Charles Wesley’s hymns.

I don’t know what hymns Wesley might have written for Lent; a better scholar could tell you that. I only know that if you’re looking for the Wesleyan accent for Lent, you can find it in scores of Charles’s hymns. Because for the first generation of Methodists the best of the Lenten spirit was not a seasonal thing, it was an everyday way of life.

Few hymns say it better than one Charles wrote in 1749, “I Want a Principle Within.” See how he sets the standard for a life of growth in Christ:

I want a principle within, of watchful, godly fear;
a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.
I want the first approach to feel of pride or wrong desire,
to catch the wandering of my will, and quench the kindling fire.

A contemporary sociologist or psychologist might find Wesley’s language quaint, and probably inappropriate to our times. “Principle” is one of those words we come upon less and less in our writing and speaking. Marilyn Chandler McEntyre reminds us that “when a word falls into disuse, the experience goes with it.” We should worry when a word like “principle” begins to be obsolete.

And of course “watchful, godly fear” is downright offensive to many. They want no fear in their religion; they want a God who affirms them constantly; after all, what are we paying him for?

For many in our culture, “a sensibility of sin” is the last straw. It’s strange that it should be so, because the ancient landmarks are going down so rapidly that hardly anything is now seen as sin. Matters which shocked us a few years ago are now greeted by a shrug of the shoulders. It’s hard to have a sensibility of sin in a culture where almost anything goes. It makes you feel as if you’re wearing high-button shoes, and walking with a man adorned with a top hat.

But then Charles Wesley leads us to the heart of Lent and to the heart of every day of seeking the fullness of life in Christ: such a longing to please our Lord that we want the Holy Spirit to check us at the first sense of pride, wrong desire, or the wandering will — anything, that is, that might “quench the kindling fire.”

I wonder how it is that I have so often sung those words without being moved to repentance? It’s good that in this Lenten season we’ve given up some comfort of body, or that we’ve engaged more fully in the Scriptures or prayer or service. But beyond that there is the tough, deep-down cry for God to take over the privacy of our thought-lives.

That is, a Lenten invasion that would leave Christ on the throne.

Kevin Watson ~ Christianity with a Wesleyan Accent: Wesleyan Discipline

In “Thoughts upon Methodism,” John Wesley wrote:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out. (Wesley, Bicentennial Edition of the Works of John Wesley, 9:527)

This is the final post in a series that has explored the basics of Christianity with a Wesleyan Accent, especially focusing on the doctrine, spirit, and discipline that Wesley believed made Methodism a powerful movement of God. My first post emphasized that Wesleyans are more passionate about being Christian than about being Wesleyan, but that they do proclaim Christ with a recognizable accent. The second post discussed the doctrines that are at the heart of a Wesleyan proclamation of the gospel. The third post considered the spirit that was essential to early Methodism.

This post concludes this series by summarizing the most essential aspects of early Methodist discipline and their relevance for contemporary Christianity with a Wesleyan accent.

Perhaps the best way to introduce someone to early Methodist discipline would be to hand them a copy of the “General Rules.” (If you are interested in a thorough introduction to the “General Rules,” check out my book A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living.) The “General Rules” reveal three key aspects of early Methodist discipline.

First, anyone could join, as long as they were earnest in their desire to find salvation in Christ. In other words, Methodists invited people to belong before they fully believed long before post-modern Christians began criticizing contemporary Christians for excluding people until they had the right beliefs or experiences that made them fit to belong.

Second, all who joined with the Methodists, regardless of whether they had yet experienced saving faith in Christ, were expected to begin keeping the “General Rules.” These rules were both straightforward and specific, so it was easy to know whether you were keeping them or not. The first rule was to do no harm. The rule was focused on things that harmed others or your relationship with God. The second rule was to do good, with particular focus on concrete acts that express love for neighbor. The third rule was to “attend upon the ordinances of God,” or practice the means of grace. Wesley included the following under the practices that Methodists must “attend to”: the public worship of God; the ministry of the Word, either read or expounded; the Supper of the Lord; family and private prayer; searching the Scriptures; and fasting or abstinence.

Finally, the “General Rules” reveal that Methodists believed that the Christian life could not be lived in isolation from others. And so, Methodists gathered together to “watch over one another in love” in small groups. Every Methodist was required to participate in a weekly class meeting where they talked about the present state of their relationship with God. In class meetings, Methodists held each other accountable for keeping the “General Rules.” Perhaps more importantly, they learned how to filter their lives through the lens of the gospel as they gathered together weekly to answer some form of the question: “How does your soul prosper?” (Check out my book, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience, if you are interested in learning more about this practice.)

Wesley was adamant that people could not make progress in following Christ apart from other people. This is what he meant by the often misused phrase, “no holiness but social holiness.” Here is the context in which Wesley used the quote:

Directly opposite to this is the gospel of Christ. Solitary religion is not to be found there. ‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the gospel than holy adulterers. The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness. (Wesley, Works, 13:39)

Methodist discipline, then, is open to anyone who is willing to live by it. Right beliefs or experiences were not prerequisites for joining the “people called Methodists.” But, you did have to be willing to hold to some basic practices and commit to a common life together.

In my experience, contemporary Methodists are fairly good at making it easy for people to belong, but are largely unable or unwilling to help people to keep the promises they make to God and each other when they join a Methodist church.

In contemporary United Methodism, for example, when one joins a church they make a commitment to support the church by their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. But how many churches actually hold their members accountable for keeping these vows? Not nearly enough.

In fact, the norm now is for churches to have membership that is significantly higher than their average attendance, a practice which upon reflection reveals a failure to live into our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” In contrast, historians of American Methodism have often noted how difficult it is to quantify American Methodism’s influence from the 1780s to the mid 19th century, because there were so many more people who attended Methodist services than were members of the Methodist Episcopal Church. In this period, a member was – at a minimum – someone who attended a weekly class meeting. If you failed to attend regularly during one quarter of the year, you would be removed from the membership rolls of the church (you could join again as soon as you were willing to abide by Methodist discipline).

What difference does any of this make today?

Christianity’s days of being identified with dominant United States culture are over, or at least quickly passing. (I believe this is a good thing, but that is for another post.) People are increasingly asking whether Christianity really makes any difference in their lives. If they find that it doesn’t, they often simply choose to stay home rather than attend church.

In an increasingly post-Christian context, Wesleyans need to be effective and proactive in helping people see the difference that being a Christian makes for human flourishing.

The good news is that we already have a basic blueprint for how to help people embrace faith in Jesus and become his apprentices. Methodist discipline, or the method that gave Methodism its name, was focused on helping people become deeply committed Christians, to become mature followers of Jesus Christ. This does not usually happen by accident or without forethought or effort. As Dallas Willard has said, “grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” (Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teaching on Discipleship)

The biggest challenge contemporary Wesleyans may face is our own unwillingness to be a disciplined people. The idea that being a Christian involves a commitment to a way of life flies in the face of the mainline Christian sensibilities that have infected the Methodist movement. And so we worry that it is too invasive or impolite to ask someone about their life with God. Or we fear that no one will come to a church that asks people to commit to participating in a weekly small group.

The Methodist tradition has experience with being a God-breathed movement that has the form and power of God. And we also have experience with resembling a dead sect, struggling for life and a collective sense of God’s presence in our midst. Which one do you think the church most closely resembles today?

As an historian of Methodism, I am convinced that the times that the Wesleyan tradition has been the most effective at helping people experience deep and lasting conversion to a new life in the kingdom of God have been the times that it has been the most committed to a disciplined approach to the Christian life.

And, thanks be to God, I already see signs of God knitting together women and men who are most passionate about regaining the form and power of godliness, who are returning to the basics of the doctrine, spirit, and discipline that Wesley prophesied were essential to spiritual vitality.

It is, after all, precisely the collective commitment to a particular doctrine, spirit, and discipline (or method) that gives Wesleyan Christians their distinctive accent.

Photo credit: Mike Peel

Andrew C. Thompson ~ Want to Know More About John Wesley?

I received an e-mail from a pastor in Tennessee a few days ago posing this question:

A church member asked me to recommend a biography on John Wesley, and I didn’t know what to suggest. Wondering if you could suggest something?

That’s not an infrequent request to get for a seminary professor who teaches Methodist history. When I get an e-mail or a phone call along those lines, there are always a few book titles I suggest. We are living in a time where there are a lot of top-notch Wesleyan historians and theologians working on different aspects of the Wesleyan tradition. So fortunately, there are a number of good books you can pick up depending on the specific area of your interest.

Here are a few titles I’ve recommended in the past with some notes about how they can be used fruitfully:

A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley (Kenneth J. Collins)

  • Kenneth J. Collins’ book, A Real Christian: The Life of John Wesley (Abingdon, 2000), is a relatively brief treatment of John Wesley’s life. It is a true biography in that its subject matter is the person of John Wesley, from his birth to his death. If you are looking for a relatively short book and one that focuses solely on the figure of Wesley, then this is probably the way to go.

Wesley and the People Called Methodists (Richard Heitzenrater)

  • Richard Heitzenrater’s book, Wesley and the People Called Methodists (2nd ed., Abingdon, 2013), is a longer work that focuses on Wesley in the context of the rise and development of early Methodism. Heitzenrater includes background material in an opening chapter on the English Reformation and the development of the Church of England in the late 16th and the 17th centuries. He also includes some material on the early development of American Methodism in the late 18th century as well. So this book is a biography as well, but it is more like a biography of early Methodism (with Wesley, of course, as the main character). Naturally, learning about the broader context of early Methodism is a very helpful way to understand Wesley himself better. For someone who wants to understand not just the man John Wesley but also the movement to which he committed himself for most of his adult life, this is the book to choose.

Both of the authors—Collins and Heitzenrater—are top-notch historians. Both also have a real gift for historical prose writing. The quality of their books is at an academic level, but both books are written so well that they are easily accessible by a lay audience. So if you are interested in a very readable account of John Wesley’s life and ministry, you can’t go wrong with either one!

Sometimes I’ll also get requests from people who are less interested in a biography than they are in a book that explains Wesleyan theology in a way that can be really embraced by a congregational audience. For people who are interested in the distinctives of the Wesleyan approach to spirituality and discipleship, I often recommend these books:

Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision (Paul W. Chilcote)

  • Paul W. Chilcote has written one of the most compelling books on Wesleyan theology for a popular audience with Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision: An Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley (Intervarsity, 2004). He divides his subject matter up into broad topics that arise from the Wesleyan approach to the Christian life: Message, Community, Discipline, and Servanthood. If that sounds so broad that it’s hard to get your mind around what he’s talking about, I think you’ll find that the individual chapter titles explain where he’s going well enough. The section on “Message” includes chapters on the Wesleyan understanding of grace; “Community” has chapters on the importance of growing in discipleship within a fellowship of believers; etc. Chilcote has chosen an effective arrangement of his subject matter, which highlights the way in which the Wesleyan vision embraces the “both/and” rather than the “either/or” in various areas of the Christian life. So in the choice between faith or works, the Wesleyan approach is to hold both faith and works together. In the question of whether faith should be embraced rationally by the head or affectively by the heart, the Wesleyan approach is to say that it is both head and heart. (You can draw out such pairings at length: form and power, law and gospel, pulpit and altar, justification and sanctification, God’s grace and human response, etc.) Chilcote refers to these as the “conjunctions” in Wesleyan theology. Encountering the richness of such a holistic conception of the life of discipleship reveals why the Wesleyan tradition is so utterly compelling.

John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life (Charles Yrigoyen, Jr.)

  • Charles Yrigoyen, Jr.’s, John Wesley: Holiness of Heart and Life (Abingdon, 1996) is a book that covers a number of themes in Wesleyan discipleship. Yrigoyen’s opening chapter offers a short biographical background on Wesley’s life before moving into a series of chapters that focus on the framework of Wesley’s theology (grace, salvation, etc.) and the practices known as the means of grace (which Yrigoyen identifies by the Wesleyan terms “works of piety” and “works of mercy”). He then adds chapters on Methodism in the American context and on the possibility of Wesleyan renewal in the present. It is a book that has a little of everything, which makes it a good introduction for someone who doesn’t know much about Methodism. There is one caveat to mention, though, which is Yrigoyen has written the book from a self-consciously United Methodist perspective. Wesleyans from other denominational backgrounds might find all the references to the UMC a bit off-putting. A helpful feature of the book is that it includes a substantial study guide, prepared by Ruth A. Daugherty. The guide—which is somewhat misnamed and ought to be called a “teaching guide” in that it is designed for a teacher to use in preparing a series of lessons—could be used profitably in small group or Sunday school settings.

A Blueprint for Discipleship (Kevin M. Watson)

  • Kevin M. Watson’s A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living (Discipleship Resources, 2009) is the best book available on the General Rules of early Methodism. These three rules—which consisted of doing no harm, doing good, and attending upon the “ordinances of God”—were developed by John Wesley to guide the life of the early Methodist Societies. They served both as the pattern for how Methodists understood their engagement with the means of grace and as a disciplinary mechanism that defined what was required to remain in the membership of a class meeting. There has been a great deal of interest in the General Rules in recent years because of their potential to help form mature Christian discipleship today, and Watson’s treatment of them is the best resource available.

I’m always encouraged when pastors and laypeople express an interest in finding out more about our tradition. Ultimately however, if we want not only to learn about Wesley but also to become Wesleyan, we should take John Wesley’s approach to the Christian life seriously. It isn’t just about becoming familiar with a fascinating figure in church history. It is about letting that figure serve as a guide to point us toward Jesus Christ and the salvation that he wants to give us. In that sense, I always hope that those who go off to buy books on Wesley or Wesleyan theology do so with the intention of using them as a resource for their own practice of discipleship.