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John Wesley: “Those Who Are Without”

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

John Wesley (1703 –1791)

I added some bold type to the following quote:

…I have no authority from the Word of God ‘to judge those that are without.’ Nor do I conceive that any man living has a right to sentence all the heathen and Mahometan world to damnation. It is far better to leave them to him that made them, and who is ‘the Father of the spirits of all flesh;’ who is the God of the Heathens as well as the Christians, and who hateth nothing that he hath made.

“Perhaps there may be some well-meaning persons who carry this farther still; who aver, that whatever change is wrought in men, whether in their hearts or lives, yet if they have not clear views of those capital doctrines, the fall of man, justification by faith, and of the atonement made by the death of Christ, and of his righteousness transferred to them, they can have no benefit from his death. I dare in no wise affirm this. Indeed I do not believe it. I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas. I believe he respects the goodness of the heart rather than the clearness of the head; and that if the heart of a man be filled (by the grace of God, and the power of his Spirit) with the humble, gentle, patient love of God and man, God will not cast him into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels because his ideas are not clear, or because his conceptions are confused. Without holiness, I own, ‘no man shall see the Lord;’ but I dare not add, ‘or clear ideas.’

— John Wesley, Sermon #125: “On Living Without God”

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Christ & Nonchristians

questioningQuestion: What do we do with the fact that there have been billions of people who died before Christ came to be among us on this earth? Or what about those who never learned about the saving power of Christ? How is it fair that these never had a chance for salvation? What guidance do the Scriptures give us on this issue, and what has the historic Church said about it?

For many years I have been fascinated by the Wesleyan theological tradition — which happens to be the theological tradition of the United Methodist Church and many other denominations. And in studying this, I discovered that the historic Methodist approach to this issue is a bit different from the ideas commonly heard in the evangelical world today.

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

Bishop Willard F. Mallallieu (1828-1911)

As evidence I point to these paragraphs from Bishop Mallalieu’s article “Some Things That Methodism Stands For” published in 1903. He is discussing Methodist beliefs about the atonement. Bear in mind that Bishop Mallalieu’s whole thesis in this article (and the book from which it was drawn) is “back to the Bible and the Wesleys”. In the second paragraph he addresses these issues. (The bold type was added by me.)

Again, Methodism has always had a theory of the atonement. At least it has steadfastly believed that in the fall of Adam all his posterity has been disastrously affected; that moral depravity has touched every soul; that this depravity has been universal rather than total. Then it has held that the atonement is coextensive with the needs of man, and that the claims of Divine justice have been so fully satisfied that God can be just, the moral government of the universe vindicated, and at the same time all can be saved who comply with the easy terms of redemption’s plan. All prison doors are open, all chains and shackles unloosed, so that any soul may be delivered from the bondage of Satan, and come to enjoy the freedom of the sons of God.

Experimentally, Methodism, from the very first, has had a plain, practical, Scriptural faith. Starting on the assumption that salvation was possible for every redeemed soul, and that all souls are redeemed, it has held fast to the fundamental doctrine that repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ are the divinely-ordained conditions upon which all complying therewith may be saved, who are intelligent enough to be morally responsible, and have heard the glad tidings of salvation. At the same time Methodism has insisted that all children who are not willing transgressors, and all irresponsible persons, are saved by the grace of God manifest in the atoning work of Christ; and, further, that all in every nation, who fear God and work righteousness, are accepted of him, through the Christ that died for them, though they have not heard of him. This view of the atonement has been held and defended by Methodist theologians from the very first. And it may be said with ever-increasing emphasis that it commends itself to all sensible and unprejudiced thinkers, for this, that it is rational and Scriptural, and at the same time honorable to God and gracious and merciful to man.

The basis for this view is here: (more…)

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The Goodness of God’s Creation

My current stroll through the Bible is slow enough that it allows me to notice and think about things. I’m reading about a chapter a day, and that gives me the chance to mull it over in my mind.

IFLike this:

“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” — Genesis 1:31 NRSV

This verse appears at a significant place. It is a summing up statement, coming at the end of the sixth day it is also a statement about the whole world that God had created. The seventh day will be a day of rest.

So, it represents God’s evaluation of the world that has been created: “very good” (ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד).

How often I have lost this perspective of the essential goodness of the world. Part of this is my scientific background, by which I learned about the concept of entropy. Entropy is random disorder. The second law of thermodynamics asserts that natural processes favor the increase of random disorder. With the apostle Paul I have a strong sense that the world is in “bondage to decay.” (Romans 8:21 NRSV). I see the cruelty of life more often than I appreciate its beauty and wonder. I used to have trouble singing: (more…)

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Ryan Danker: What is Christian Perfection?

When I am away from the Internet, lots of good things still get posted, of course.

Like this:

Here is another video in the Seedbed 7 Minute Seminary series. This is a presentation by Dr. Ryan Danker, Assistant Professor of the History of Christianity and Methodist Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary.

Dr. Danker discusses the historical sources of John Wesley’s doctrine of Christian Perfection. This is maybe not the best first introduction to the idea.

There is also a study guide for purchase: PDF Discussion Guide.

 

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How the Black Church Bucks the Trend of Decline

churchLGPeople who write about the current religious scene in the USA are quick to comment on the rise of the “Nones” (people with no religious affiliation), the decline of the mainline church (steep), and the decline of Christianity in America in general (not as steep but noticeable.) I think the rise of the “nones” is not much of a story — people no longer go to church because its the thing to do — we’ve known this for a long time. These people are not necessarily — or even likely to be — atheists or secularists. They are that demographic that used to attend church — or identify with a church while rarely attending — who now don’t.

It’s not a crisis when people don’t come to church. It’s a crisis when the church stops spreading the Gospel of Christ. The Great Commission was never: “let people come to you.” It was: “go into all the world and make disciples.”

The more evangelical (its hard thing to measure precisely) segment of the church seems to be holding its own — maybe. (I personally wonder how much evangelical and conservative decline might be related to the resurgence of hard line Calvinism — but, again, that would be hard to measure.)

But, Adelle M. Banks reports in the Relifion News Service that this is not so much the trend in the black Church: Black churches bucking the trend of decline. She writes: (more…)

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Staying Alive

I’ve been thinking lately about the things that keep me alive spiritually.

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsWhen I left the active ministry in the United Methodist Church I did it out of loyalty to my wife and family, and out of a disillusionment with the system under which I had been serving.

But like a lot of things that don’t start well, it has turned out well. I tell people: “I still do all the things I used to love, but I no longer go to meetings, and no longer deal with Bishops or District Superintendents.”

I never understood the concept of retirement and I still don’t.

Fortunately, I’ve managed to remain busy since I left the United Methodist itinerancy. (more…)

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Church is Not an End in Itself

Someone recommended an out-of-print book to me as the best thing she had read on pastoral care. I am not so actively involved in pastoral care anymore, but I was interested in the book and found a used copy through Amazon.

cultivating wholenessIn the early chapters of the book I read this:

Religious communities do not exist as an end in themselves, they are created in response to a call. Faithfulness to the call comes first. Community follows. Religious communities share a common vision or goal that is supported by theological understanding and nurtured by religious observance and spiritual practice. Secualr communities, too, bond through shared missions that are reinforced through ritual.

While religious communities differ in their theological expression and religious practice, Christians and Jews believe their communal experience is intrinsically rooted in their faith experience. Both groups study the Hebrew Scriptures and other sacred writings for guidance in their communal life. Both Christians and Jews acknowledge that those in their communities are able to love and accept each other and care for the world because God first loved them.

— Margaret Kornfeld, Cultivating Wholeness, A Guide to Care and Counseling in Faith Communities (page 17).

This is a valuable and important statement — and when churches loose sight of this they also lose their continued reason to exist. (more…)

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The End of My Blog Break? Maybe

blog-breakI don’t apologize for taking blog breaks — and I’m not now — but, I must admit, this has been a rather extended one. My last post here was in May. So, I’ve been away a lot longer than usual. I am often too busy in the summer to spend much time on the Internet — though I find it intellectually stimulating at other times. I like to work outside at various gardening projects when the weather permits. I spend more time outside, just generally. I often fill pulpits in the summer. I just don’t have time for Internet activities.

But, this time, there was something more. I just got to feeling like I didn’t have anything to say. (more…)

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Praying With A Sincere Heart – Psalm 17:1-5

Wesley Study BibleThe Wesley Study Bible contains this little overview of the themes of Psalm 17:

Has anyone ever said to you, “Life is not fair,” and you thought, “Well, it should be!”? Life is filled with ups and downs, times when what seems fair to you is not fair to another. Psalm 17 begins with “Listen to what’s right, LORD; pay attention to my cry!” (17:1a). This is a prayer for deliverance from the wicked and for the freedom to live in God’s righteousness. While life is not fair all the time, it is right at all times to pray to God for deliverance from wrongdoing and for justice for all the children of God.

The Psalmist (David, we are told) begins by declaring his own faithfulness. Why would God want to listen to those who are not faithful to God’s purposes? Why would God listen to the deceitful? Surely God hears the prayers of the repentant and remorseful, but sincerity of heart is always a precondition of effective prayer. (more…)

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The Founding Mothers of Mother’s Day

From United Methodist Communications:

In the late 1860s, before there was an official Mother’s Day holiday in the U.S., a Methodist mom organized “Mothers’ Friendship Day,” at which mothers gathered with former Union and Confederate soldiers to promote reconciliation. We asked Harriett Olson, the current head of United Methodist Women, and Donna Miller, archivist at Historic St. George’s United Methodist Church, to tell us more about the women behind the holiday.

 

 

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Noble: How Christ Sanctified Our Humanity

51fvsmreI-L._UY250_From a book I’ve been reading:

Here surely is how Christ sanctified our humanity: by living a human life with all the practical choices and decisions of every day, and with all the outer demands and all the inner pressures and weakness of mortal humanity living in a fallen world in this present evil age. He took our sin, but in no way was he sinful. He entered into our slavery, but in no way was he enslaved. He entered into our pollution, but in no way was he defiled. Rather he sanctified not only our human nature in his nativity but also our human life by his consistent and continuously holy living. Having become one of us, a member of our sinful human race, “sinful flesh” (Rom 8:3), he not only sanctified our human nature in his own Person, but so sanctified human personal life that it became possible for us too to live as he did as genuinely compassionate and holy persons. It was under these conditions, we must conceive, that he sanctified our human life by consistently selfless, God-centered choices, which ultimately were to lead him inevitably to the cross.

— Noble, T.A. (2013-02-19). Holy Trinity: Holy People: The Theology of Christian Perfecting (Didsbury Lecture Series) (p. 176). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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Ministry is Servanthood – Colossians 1:25

As I mentioned before, in Colossians 1:24-29, the apostle Paul talks about his own ministry.

paul-iconIn verse 24 he talks he says “I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” I have commented on that verse here: Sufferings for Christ’s Sake. Now he goes on to talk about his ministry in terms of servanthood.

I have sometimes encountered resistance to the idea of the “Servant Leader.” A colleague in the ministry, many years ago, was contemptuous of the idea. If you are the leader, you are in charge — that was his point of view. If you were a servant you served at the wishes of those were in authority. To him, it was a matter of who gave orders, and who served. Yet, in the New Testament, both Jesus and the apostle Paul take a very different view. Jesus said: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NRSV). It seems strange to me that my old colleague in ministry could not wrap his head around this principle from the teaching of Jesus. But, it is clear that the apostle Paul also subscribed to this view. To him, true leadership was also a form of servanthood. (more…)

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The Secondary Role of Theology

desire-found-meIn the Introduction to his book Desire Found Me, André Rabe makes the following comment:

God and our concepts of God are not identical. God seldom, if ever, reveals concepts about himself. He simply reveals himself. Such encounters deeply transform our concepts.

Just so. Our concepts of God are conclusions people have reached from the way in which God has revealed God’s self. God does not send a theology text to the human race. God encounters people in the midst of their lives. On the basis of these experiences, conclusions are drawn. Philosophy — that is to say, our general knowledge of logic and of the world and the way it works — is drawn in to fill out the picture. But, the encounter is first.

Christians believe that the ultimate revelation of God is the Person of Jesus Christ — often called by theologians “the self-revelation of God.” But, Christ’s coming into the world was for the purpose of human redemption — for more than for human information. (more…)

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Theology as Provisional

Conservative-Evangelicals-Misunderstood-MillennialsTheology is always an interim report. It is always learning, always growing, always being revised in light of new information.

The only knowledge of the world that is available to us is probable knowledge. Everything in the world we live in is based on probability. We are forced to base our day to day decisions on what is probably true, what will probably happen, and so forth. I’m sitting in a chair. I suppose it might collapse. Any number of things might happen. A meteorite might come crashing through the window and kill me in the next few minutes. But, since neither of these things are the least bit probable, I need not worry about them — or even think about them.

I can’t wait for absolute certainty. I must act based on what I believe is likely to be true, what is likely to happen, and so forth. The Cartesian reconstruction (or Lockean reconstruction) of knowledge — arriving at certainty based on “sense experience” — is a mistaken quest. That kind of certainty is simply not available. (more…)

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When God’s People Fail – Amos 3:9-15

Amos0615Notice how the ideas in Amos chapter 3 are organized:

  • The opening verses of chapter 3 identify the people against whom Amos is prophesying: “against the whole family that [God] brought up out of the land of Egypt.” (Discussed here.)
  • Verses 3-8 speak of Amos’s own role as a prophet. (Discussed here.)
  • Verses 9-15 speak of the destruction that will fall upon the nation.

The prophet calls the surrounding nations to witness against YHWH’s Chosen People.

Verse 9:

הַשְׁמִיעוּ עַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאַשְׁדּוֹד וְעַל־אַרְמְנוֹת בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם וְאִמְרוּ הֵאָסְפוּ עַל־הָרֵי שֹׁמְרוֹן וּרְאוּ מְהוּמֹת רַבּוֹת בְּתוֹכָהּ וַעֲשׁוּקִים בְּקִרְבָּהּ
“Proclaim to the strongholds in Ashdod, and to the strongholds in the land of Egypt, and say, ‘Assemble yourselves on Mount Samaria, and see what great tumults are within it, and what oppressions are in its midst.’”

The people of God are on display. Their behavior is being judged by the nations around them. The tumults (מְהוּמֹת) and oppressions (וַעֲשׁוּקִים) in its midst shock even the nations. The witnesses are to assemble on Mount Samaria — indicating, as usual, that the Northern Kingdom is the main focus of this prophecy (though, compare verse 13). Amos chooses two nations as his witnesses — he mentions Ashdod, a major city of the Philistines, and then Egypt. It is, of course, significant that the invited witnesses are also traditional enemies of the nation. Before them, Israel is put to shame — before these nations who are not the chosen of YHWH. Yet, the prophet implies, they have a better sense of right and wrong. They become the judges. (more…)

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