24
Jun
14

Two Recommendations: Witnesses of Perfect Love and Transatlantic Methodists

These two new books will be of interest to those who study Methodist theology and history.

witnessesofperfectloveFirst, Amy Caswell Bratton’s Witnesses of Perfect Love: Narratives of Christian Perfection in Early Methodism (Clements Academic, 2014), tackles the doctrine of Christian perfection from a different angle: the personal narratives of Methodists who claimed the experience of perfection.  While Methodist conversion narratives are well-known, this book looks at how early Methodist narrated their continuing struggle towards Christian perfection.  By examining four particular cases in detail, Bratton is able to delve deeply into the way that early Methodists interpreted and understood their own Christian life in light of distinctive Wesleyan teaching on sanctification.

What must also be remembered is that such narratives were often published and circulated in Methodist circles.  Therefore, these narratives represent not only personal interpretations of the doctrine, but also one of the ways that Christian perfection was interpreted to the Methodist community.  In other words, theological studies of Christian perfection, which traditionally focus mostly on more traditional theological literature, should also consider these narratives as part of the corpus of Wesleyan holiness teaching.

You can find out more about the author and the book on her site.  Bratton’s book is the most recent volume in Tyndale’s Studies in Wesleyan History and Theology series.  Previous volumes were contributed by Howard Snyder and Victor Shepherd.

20140624_134307My second recommendation is Todd Webb’s Transatlantic Methodists: British Wesleyanism and the Formation of an Evangelical Culture in Nineteenth-Century Ontario and Quebec (McGill-Queen’s UP, 2013).  Webb, who teaches at Laurentian University, offers an account of 19th century Canadian Methodism that stresses its connections to British Methodism.

Against prevailing accounts, which downplayed the contributions of British missionaries to Methodism’s growth in favour of arguing for a distinctive Canadian Methodist identity, Webb argues that Canadian Methodism between 1814 and 1874 must be understood in terms of its relationship with British Methodism.  Canadian Methodists came to see themselves as transplanted Britons, and formed a British identity in a time when there we competing understandings of what it meant to be truly British.  It is not simply that the British Methodists exerted influence on Canadians, but developments in Canadian Methodism also affected the history of the home church during this time.

Webb’s excellent account not only narrates the history of the developments, which can be quite confusing, given the multiple mergers and schisms which took place on both sides of the Atlantic, but he but also notes how particular issues, such as finances (chapter4) and revivalism (chapter 5) can help to illuminate the complex relationship that existed between the various Methodist bodies.

As I’ve already said, both books are highly recommended.

 

16
Apr
14

Toronto, a.k.a. “The Methodist Rome”

Most Torontonians today have no idea of the immense impact that Methodism has had on our city’s history.   Methodism, in fact, played such a significant part in Toronto’s religious, cultural, and political life that in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries the city was known as “The Methodist Rome.”  Toronto had one of the largest Methodist populations in the world at that time, and became known for its rigorous moral culture (hence the other nickname, “Toronto the Good”). This may seem completely ridiculous to contemporary observers (especially in light of the antics of our current mayor), but in the past there were good reasons for identifying Toronto as a centre of Methodist influence.

The main reason that Toronto’s Methodist influence is hidden is because the largest Methodist denomination in Canada joined with Congregationalists and many Presbyterians to form the United Church of Canada in 1925.  Therefore, many Toronto institutions which have Methodist origins no longer bear the Methodist name.

One key reminder of Methodism’s importance in this city’s history is found in some of the landmark buildings that Methodists constructed.   299 Queen St. West (at John St.), is currently owned by CTV and operated as a media broadcasting centre.  However, it’s original name was the Wesley Building, and it was built to house the Methodist Book and Publishing Company in 1913.  After the Methodist Church of Canada joined new United Church of Canada, the building served as United Church headquarters.  It was sold in the early 1970s.

Wesley Building via wikimedia commons

Victoria College, part of the University of Toronto, also has Methodist heritage, having been founded by the Wesleyan Methodist Church in 1841, and originally located in Cobourg Ontario.  The Cobourg campus still stands (and explains why Cobourg has a University Avenue), though it is no longer a university (more on that below).  It now serves as a retirement residence. VICTORIA COLLEGE Cobourg

When the Wesleyan Methodist Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church merged in the 1880s, they decided there was no need for two separate colleges.  Victoria College was was the WMC school, and it was merged with the MEC’s Albert University, located in Belleville (originally Belleville Seminary).  Albert University was then converted to a private school, which still operates today as Albert College, though the current property and building do not date from the days when the institution trained clergy.  Incidentally, the former location of Albert University (where the current College Hill United Church stands) explains why Belleville has a College Street.

It was soon decided that it would be best to move the merged Victoria College to Toronto.  “Old Vic” is one of the many beautiful buildings on the U of T campus, built in the 1890s, and is the oldest building on the present Victoria College campus.  The inscription in stone over the main entrance way is a reminder of the building’s Methodist origins: “The Truth Shall Make You Free.”

Old Vic via wikimedia commonsA tour around Victoria College will take you to a number of buildings named after notable Methodists, such as Burwash Hall, named after leading Canadian Methodist theologian and churchman, Nathanael Burwash, and Annesley Hall, named after the mother of the Wesley brothers, Susanna Wesley (née Annesley).

Ryerson statue on campus via wikimedia commonsIf we were looking for buildings which speak to Methodism’s legacy in a more indirect way, we could mention Ryerson University, named after Egerton Ryerson, Methodist minister, scholar, and politician, who had a huge impact on social and political life on Ontario.  One of Ryerson’s achivements was founding the Toronto Normal School, a public teacher’s college.  The Normal School buidling was eventually turned over to the educational institution which would evolve into Ryerson University.  A portion of the facade of the Normal School has been preserved and incorporated into the current Ryerson campus.

Of course, Methodism’s greatest architectural legacy in Toronto is found in the many historic United Church buildings which trace their origins to the former Methodist Church.  Some notable examples would be Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St. Clair Avenue West, St. Luke’s United (originally Sherbourne St. Methodist Church) at Carlton and Sherbourne Streets, and Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church on Bloor Street West (originally Trinity Methodist Church).

But if Toronto was thought of as a “Methodist Rome,” then it’s cathedral would have been Metropolitan Methodist Church (now Metropolitan United), an impressive and imposing building constructed at Queen and Church Streets.  It is no coincidence that the nineteenth-century Methodists chose to construct their flagship church building here, between St. Michael’s Cathedral (Catholic, to the north) and St. James’ Cathedral (Anglican, to the south).  The picture below, taken in 1896, shows Metropolitan Methodist in the foreground, with St. Michael’s behind.  Recalling that these spires would have dominated the city skyline at that time, Metropolitan Methodist is an enduring architectural witness to Methodism’s role in shaping Toronto’s history.

Metropolitan Methodist Church via wikimedia commons

25
Feb
14

Comparing William Booth and Isaac Hecker: my paper at WTS

I’m looking forward to the annual Wesleyan Theological Society meeting late next week at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.  I’ve never been to Idaho, so I’ll be glad to see it first-hand, although I must confess I’d rather visit that state during a warmer time of the year!

This year’s theme is “Atonement in the Wesleyan Tradition,” and features keynote addresses by Ben Witherington III, Randy Maddox, and Jason Vickers.  A recent press release discussing the speakers and award recipients is available here.   You can find the full schedule of papers here.

I’ll be presenting a paper that builds on my dissertation research.  It will be presented in the Ecumenical Studies section, and the title is “Universal Atonement or Ongoing Incarnation? Comparing the Missional Theologies of William Booth and Isaac Hecker.”  Here is the abstract:

This paper will compare the missional theologies of William Booth and Isaac Hecker, two founders of 19th century missionary agencies. Booth, who started The Salvation Army in East London in 1865, was a Wesleyan revivalist who had previously been ordained in the Methodist New Connexion. Hecker was also raised in the Methodist church, but after a roundabout spiritual journey, became a Roman Catholic, first serving as a Redemptorist Priest, and then founding the Paulist Fathers in New York City, in 1858.

William Booth via wikimedia commonsBooth and Hecker were both possessed by visions of universal revival and reform in their later years, and both believed that God’s vision for universal reform extended beyond spiritual life, to social and political structures. However, the theological assumptions behind their universal visions for mission were markedly different, and are illustrative of divergences in 19th century Wesleyan and Catholic theology. The scope of Booth’s vision was founded upon the universality of the atonement, which provided a missionary mandate to evangelize the whole world, with a particular focus on those people not being reached by “the churches.” Hecker’s vision, on the other hand, was built on the universality of the Catholic Church as the historical extension of Christ’s presence in the world. These differing Christological starting-points funded two very different understandings of work of the Spirit, the place of the Church in God’s universal mission, and the relationship of their respective missionary bodies to established church structures. Whereas the Church has a rather ambiguous place in Booth’s understanding of world-wide redemption, Hecker’s view is thoroughly ecclesiocentric.

I will close by reflecting on the potential pitfalls of each view, and suggest some ways in which contemporary Wesleyans and Catholics might think together about universal mission in a way that avoids the theological extremes of our 19th century foreparents.

Hecker via wikimedia commonsFor Booth, the scope of Christian mission is very much related to his convictions about the universality of Christ’s atoning work, and the full implications of the atonement for human life.  As he got older, he came to believe that Christ had come not only to offer “spiritual” redemption, but to “destroy the works of the devil in the present time” by relieving humanity of temporal as well as spiritual evil (see his article “Salvation for Both Worlds” for example).  On other hand, for Hecker, the Catholic Church’s unviersality meant that the church was called to take up and incorporate the best of all the cultures of the world.  Hecker had a keen sense that the Spirit was guiding universal history, and had given “characteristic gifts” to the different cultures and races of the world, all of which needed to be directed to their proper ends and brought together in the one universal Church so that they might enrich the church’s life and bring glory to God.

As I’ve previously note here, I think Booth and Hecker are a very interesting comparison.  They are both compelling figures in their own right, but also provide an fascinating window into broader trends in the nineteenth-century church.   Hopefully the paper will help to bring out the contrast between the ecclesiological ambiguities of Wesleyan-holiness revivalism and the ecclesiocentrism of Catholic thinking from the same period.

23
Jan
14

Sermon: How Can I Keep from Singing? Psalm 126 [audio]

I was glad to have a chance to preach at Tyndale’s community chapel a couple of months ago, on Psalm 126.  The sermon is part of a series of “Journey” chapels – a series designed to help our community navigate through a year of transition to our new Bayview campus.  We’ve been looking at one of the Psalms of ascent for each of these chapel services.

I used this wonderful Robert Lowry hymn (written 1860) as a window into the message of the Psalm:

Robert Lowry via wikimediaMy life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear the sweet though far off hymn
That hails a new creation:
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What though my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Savior liveth;
What though the darkness gather round!
Songs in the night He giveth:
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of Heav’n and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift mine eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smoothes
Since first I learned to love it:
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing:
All things are mine since I am His—
How can I keep from singing?

Here is the audio, or you can download it from this site.

19
Dec
13

Sixth Annual Wesley Studies Symposium at Tyndale Seminary

Registration is now open for Tyndale’s annual Wesley Studies Symposium, taking place on March 25 at Tyndale’s new Bayview Campus.

haykin_lg_sqThis year, in honour of the 300th anniversary of George Whitefield’s birth, we’ll be welcoming Dr. Michael Haykin as our keynote speaker.  I am very pleased that this distinguished Baptist historian has agreed to come and make a presentation to our symposium. His talk is titled, ““The Revived Puritan”: The Life and Piety of George Whitefield.”

Here is a bit more from our event page:

2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth George Whitefield, friend, partner-in-ministry, and sometimes theological enemy of John Wesley. Because the lives of these two men are so intricately intertwined with one another, we are going to feature a paper on Whitefield as our keynote address at the Wesley Symposium.

Dr. Michael Haykin is a leading Baptist historian, who has published on a wide variety of topics, from the Church Fathers to Jonathan Edwards. He studied at the University of Toronto, where he earned a BA at Victoria College, and an MRel and ThD in church history from Wycliffe College. In addition to his position at Southern Seminary he is Director of the Andrew Fuller Centre for Baptist Studies, and an Adjunct Professor at the Toronto Baptist Seminary, where he previously served as President. His many books include Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival (Evangelical Press, 2005); The God who draws near: An introduction to biblical spirituality (Evangelical Press, 2007); and Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011).

bayview-campus-frontOther speakers for this year’s event include Dr. Claire MacMillan (National Director, Church of the Nazarene, Canada) Rev. Leonard Chester (Archivist of the Brethren in Christ Church, Canada), Rev. Dan Sheffield (Director of Global and Intercultural Ministries, Free Methodist Church in Canada), Rev. Michael Tapper (PhD Candidate, St. Paul University), Rebecca Nicol (PhD Candidate, McMaster Divinity College), and Rev. Dale Harris (Pastor, The Freeway Free Methodist Church, Oshawa).  You can find more information about the paper topics here.  We will also have a book panel on Lift Up a Standard: The Life and Legacy of Ralph Horner, including presentations from myself and Dr. James Robertson, and responses from authors Rev. Laurence Croswell and Mark Croswell.

Visit this page to find more information and to register.

08
Nov
13

Theological Signs of the Times: Catholic – Evangelical Convergence?

789488I was privileged to receive my PhD this past Saturday at St Basil’s Church on the campus of St. Michael’s College here in Toronto.   After six years of hard work, and numerous hurdles to clear, it was nice to have that final piece of the puzzle and say that I am truly finished.

Honourary doctorates were given to two fine Catholic scholars, Father James K. McConica, CSB, and Father Robert M. Doran, SJ.   Doran, currently at Marquette and a former member of the faculty at Regis College, gave the address.  He focused on what he called “theological signs of the times” for Catholic theology in the 21st Century.   As he spoke I was struck at how two of the three major tasks he identified for Catholic theology could just as easily be said to be major tasks for evangelical theology at the present time.

The first point he raised was more specifically Catholic, and focused on the integration of major theological insights from the second half of the 20th century.  He focused on the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar, Bernard Lonergan, and Gustavo Gutiérrez:

“How does our discipline integrate Balthasar’s restoration of beauty as a transcendental and as the way in which the truth and goodness of God are disclosed to us, with Lonergan’s openness to modern science, modern critical-historical scholarship, modern philosophy, and the post-modern welcome of the religious “other”? That in itself is a tall order. But then there is the further and larger task of implementing that integrated intellectual vision in the service of the Church’s preferential option for the poor.”

While “integration” is an ongoing concern in evangelical theology (integrating theology and practice), clearly the kind of integration he is talking about here is more specific to Catholics, and involves a concern to bring integrate these important insights into the magisterial teaching of the chruch.

His second point, however, is one that remains a major issue in Western theology in general: the theology of the Holy Spirit:

“The need for a developed pneumatology is present already in the insistence of Vatican II and of Pope John Paul II that the gift of the Holy Spirit is present and active beyond the explicit boundaries of Christian belief. Those affirmations of the Council and of the Pope are doctrinal statements. Theology has yet to explain how this can be and to unravel the implications of these statements for the whole of Christian comportment in the contemporary world…”

St._Basil's_Church via wikimediaEvangelicals have likewise neglected the theology of the Spirit, and yet the increasing importance of the Pentecostal and Charismatic traditions in global Christianity is forcing all of us to give more attention to pneumatology.  Doran’s particular concern seems to be bringing pneumatology to bear on Catholicism’s inclusive understanding of the way in which the Spirit is at work in those who are not Christians.   As a Wesleyan, I immediately thought of the category of prevenient grace as my own tradition’s approach to this issue.  In Wesleyan thinking, God’s grace is basically understood as the loving presence of the Spirit.  Prevenient grace is our term for the grace of God which “goes before” and precedes personal faith.  Prevenient grace, we believe, is at work in all people, drawing them to Christ.  Wesleyans, therefore, certainly have a category for thinking along these lines.  However, much work remains to be done, especially in making the connections between prevenient grace and the  presence of the Holy Spirit more explicit.

Doran’s final point is one which has become almost a fixation for many evangelical theologians today:

“There is need…for our theology to become a theology of mission, and especially a theology of missio Dei, of divine mission as grounding all ecclesial mission. The mission of the Church participates in and carries forward the missions of the Holy Spirit and the Son. Every theological topic – God, Trinity, the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, grace, revelation, creation, anthropology, original sin, personal and social sin, redemption, sacraments, church, social grace, praxis, resurrection, eternal life – has to be integrated into a theology of divine mission and of ecclesial mission as a participant in the missions of the Holy Spirit and of the Son.”

07_063161At Tyndale Seminary we have quite explicitly been attempting to do this very thing: to place the entire project of theological education in a missional framework.  We still have a long way to go – at least I know I do!  But Doran’s statement above could be taken up by our theology department with very little alteration as a statement of our current agenda.

Of course all of this needs a lot of unpacking, but I mention these broad themes because I was quite encouraged by Doran’s talk.  I strongly identified with his concerns and the challenges he believes Catholic theology is facing, and sense that many evangelicals are attempting to face the same issues, in our own way.  If these are indeed “signs of the times,” then they may be signs of what God is doing across the Evangelical-Catholic divide.

You can read Doran’s address here.

29
Oct
13

John Wesley on Animal Salvation

I must apologize for the lack of recent activity on this blog.  I’ve been quite busy writing lectures for two new courses this fall, as well as preparing a paper for the recent “New Creation” conference, jointly sponsored by Northeastern Seminary and the Canadian Evangelical Theological Association.

This post is adapted from one section of my paper at that conference, which focused on John Wesley’s mature theology of “new creation” – a central strand in his later thought, which brought together the personal, social, and cosmic dimensions of salvation.

Wesley Statue at the New Room Bristol via Bob SpeelJohn Wesley had a lifelong interest in animal life, and it is well-known that he was an advocate for the protection of animals against abuse from humans.   But in the final decade of his life, the issue of animal suffering came increasingly into his view as a theological problem, and formed an integral part of his mature theology of the new creation.

Thus he begins his remarkable sermon “The General Deliverance,” written in 1782, with a quotation from Psalm 145:9 in the Book of Common Prayer: “his mercy is over all his works.”  Yet, Wesley asks,

“If the Creator and Father of every living thing is rich in mercy towards all; if he does not overlook or despise any of the works of his own hands, if he desires even the meanest of them to be happy according to their degree –how comes it to pass that such a complication of evils oppresses, yea, overwhelms them?” (Sermon 60, “The General Deliverance,” §1-2)

He answers the question by arguing that all animal suffering, including that which various species currently inflict upon one another to ensure their own survival, is the result of the fall.  Thus, before the fall, animal creation was “happy” and enjoyed a kind of “perfection” according to their kind, which was seen in their loving obedience to humanity, who as God’s vice-regents, were God’s appointed conveyors of blessings to all other creatures.  The obedience of animals to humanity, therefore, could be seen as bearing “some shadowy resemblance of even moral goodness” (§I.5.). In short, animals in the original creation were, Wesley suggests, at peace with humanity and with one another.

Yet, as a result of the fall, humanity’s relationship to God was disrupted, and therefore the blessings of God no longer flow through human stewardship to God’s creatures (§II.1).  After the fall, then, animals came to be at war with one another. It is because of sin that “an immense majority of creatures, perhaps a million to one, can no otherwise preserve their own lives, than by destroying their fellow-creatures!” (§II.3)  Moreover, humanity’s loving and kind stewardship of animal creation has been turned into an exploitative domination, and humanity has become such an enemy of animals that his cruelty surpasses that of a shark hunting its prey (§II.6). Wesley is unwilling to grant that such animosity and brutality is part of God’s original design for his creatures.

Peacable Kingdom by Edward Hicks via wikimedia commonsWhy would God allow animals to be subject to such vanities?  Surely, he reasons, God will one day restore animal creation to a state which is superior to that of the original creation. As they have been subjected to a degree of the corruption brought on by the fall, so also will they be liberated to experience “a measure of “the glorious liberty of the children of God”” in the new creation (§III.1).  This will entail a greater strength, swiftness, and understanding than each creature in its kind has possessed in the original creation, and, like human creatures, they “will be delivered from all irregular appetites, from all unruly passions, from every disposition that is either evil in itself, or has any tendency to evil” (§III.3). Therefore, as they had originally been able to evidence “a shadowy resemblance of even moral goodness” (§I.5), so in the new creation, “No rage will be found in any creature, no fierceness, no cruelty, or thirst for blood” (§III.3).

Working on the assumption of creation as a “great chain of being,” with humanity occupying a higher place in the chain, and creatures proceeding downwards in accordance with their likeness to the creator, Wesley speculates that all creatures might “move up” one level in the chain, and that some animals might therefore even join humanity in becoming “capable of God.”

“May I be permitted to mention here a conjecture concerning the brute creation What, if it should then please the all-wise, the all-gracious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What, if it should please him, when he makes us “equal to angels,” to make them what we are now, — creatures capable of God; capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being? If it should be so, ought our eye to be evil because he is good?  However this be, he will certainly do what will be most for his own glory” (§III.6).

Lest we think this was a one-time indulgence on Wesley’s part, he ventures the same speculation in his 1785 sermon “The New Creation” (§17).

As I said, these reflections on the place of non-human creatures in God’s plan of redemption are one important aspect of Wesley’s late thinking about the “new creation.”  Some of these ideas might seem strange at first, but in fact they cohere well with Wesley’s overall concern to defend the character of God as just, merciful and loving.  In that sense, we can see deep connections here between how he resolves the issue of animal suffering and his rejection of the Calvinist understanding of predestination: both are rooted in his understanding of the character of God (see my earlier posts about predestination and the character of God here and here).




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Twitter Updates


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 87 other followers