Wednesday, October 18, 2006


I am reading through Steve Long's book John Wesley's Moral Theology again and it has struck me differently than it did the first time that I read through it.

In this book Long contends that Wesley is no longer relevant to the world today, but this is exactly the reason why he thinks that Wesley's voice is NEEDED. He says,

"I find his (Wesley) work compelling precisely because of its alien character ot our modern sensibiliites. I am attracted to those aspects of his work that seem somewhat outrageous to us, those statements of his that we no longer utter in polite company. To ask why they seem outrageous to us may say more about us than they do about him. It may help us understand our own times better and also receive Mr. Wesley's witness for the church catholic in these times."

One of the things that I appreciate about the emerging church conversation is it's dedication to engaging the postmodern culture and it's worldview. Somehow in my ministry I find that postmoderns and young people who are put off by church find there way to either me or the youth group. Maybe it's because I fit better in the ambiguousness of postmodernity than the orderly modern world view. I don't know.

I am excited though becasue over the last several weeks, especially through the UMerging Colloquy I have come into contact with others who see Wesley and Methodism as a way to engage the postmoderns in our still predominantly modern culture. I see this as very much a missionary effort- to reach and build friendships with people who feel out of sorts and out of sync with the modern world view and way of life. It reminds me of what I've read and learned about the early Methodist Societies that were not out to replace the Anglican Church but to stand alongside it and within it as a way to reach those the church could not reach and be a place of renewal with a different way of being "Church".

Long goes on to say later that:
[In my book] I will not argue that Wesley's work matters because it is so exceptional or unique. It is not. It matters because it is part of an important conversation about God and the moral life that he inherited from others and to which he made some faithful contributions. To be faithful to the Wesleyan tradition, we should read and hear the witness of those others as much as we read and hear the witness of Wesley."

I wonder if a postmodern embrace of Wesley for Emerging Methodists is embracing Tradition as just as important as Reason and Experience (Scripture has always taken the drivers' seat among the 4 areas). The moderns have done well to read Wesley through the lens of scripture, reason and experience- just look at the state of our churches. We stand at polar extremes- Conservative AND Liberal Fundamentalism- both struggling to have THE say on doctrine. But Tradition has lost its place at the table. If Long's interpretation of a now irrelevant Wesley is correct then the postmoderns have a chance to go back to the premoderns and pre-enlightenment thought and see what Wesley's heroes had to say in shaping Wesey's thoughts and PRACTICES. It may be through reading the narratives of scripture through the lens of tradition equally with reason and experience that we can reframe a Different sort of Methodist who is able to better navigate through the postmodern waters we're finding ourselves in more and more.



Eric Lee said...

Great post, Jonathan! I think I would agree. I read this book earlier this year and it's just great!



Evan said...


wow great blog...i happened on it by accident while searching for fishing info on the web.can't say i'm smart enough to understand all of it but i was blessed none the less. your site is now on my favorites list.i hope you are exceedingly blessed

much love,
Evan Fuson

Anonymous said...

Over the months I have gone from wanting to battle post-modernism and defend the faith, to an excitement and new vision for ministry in a post-modern world. I see post-modernism as a new opportunity for the church to reform and renew itself. I am looking forward to seeing this happen.

daniel greeson said...

go Steve Long. gotta love that guy. As much bad rap as Tradition has recieved in the past, it is definitely needed as a strong voice in any conversation about how we understand Scriptures and our God.

Andrew C. Thompson said...

Great post, Jonathon. I have not read Steve Long's book yet, but it is on my wish list. I agree completely that Tradition has been neglected, which is ironic for a church whose founder lived and breathed the early church tradition.

My most powerful experience with spiritual practices as means of grace has been through Covenant Discipleship, which seeks to reclaim the power of early Methodist bands and class meetings. I wish more people in our church could know the life-giving grace of real mutual support and accountability with others.

Anonymous said...

Who is John Wesley?