07
Apr
16

Media from the Wesleyan-Pentecostal Symposium

We had a wonderful day at the Wesleyan-Pentecostal Symposium here at Tyndale on March 22. It was a pleasure to partner with Van Johnson and Master’s Pentecostal Seminary in hosting this event. Donald Dayton was his inimitable self and helped us to understand how significant it was to have a gathering of these two traditions, given our frosty relations in the past.  The other papers from scholars, pastors and graduate students provided a great deal of discussion material for the attendees.  More than one person commented to me about how engaged everyone was in the topic, discussing it over coffee breaks and lunch as well as in the sessions.

One of the benefits of moving to our new campus is that all our classrooms have very recently been outfitted with excellent audio-visual equipment. This made it very simple for us to record the presentations. The three plenary talks were recorded on video, and audio recordings of all the sessions were made as well. I’m grateful that all the presenters agreed to allow their recordings to be shared publicly after the event.

So, please take a moment to visit the symposium media page and make use of this excellent content.  I’ve embedded my own talk on Burns, Horner, and Burwash below.

 

25
Mar
16

Country Music: A Good Friday Sermon [audio]

Each year on Good Friday at Wesley Chapel we are blessed to be joined by our neighbours from Bridlewood Presbyterian Church.  Today I gave the sermon, on Matthew 27:45-61, focusing specifically on Christ’s cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Here is the audio, or you can download the file here.

18
Mar
16

Donald Dayton on Experience and Theology

As I announced in the fall, I’m glad to be joining forces with my Pentecostal colleague Van Johnson to host a Wesleyan-Pentecostal symposium on experience and theology this coming Tuesday. When we sat down more than a year ago and began to discuss this possibility, Donald Dayton was at the top of our list of potential presenters, and we were delighted that he said yes.  Dayton’s work in teasing out the theological connections between the Wesleyan-Holiness and Pentecostal traditions has been groundbreaking, and has blazed a trail for a whole body of Pentecostal scholarship.  He is also one of the most respected voices in Wesleyan scholarship, having received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wesleyan Theological Society in 2010.

There is still time to sign up for the symposium, but if you can’t make it, we will be livestreaming Datyon’s lecture at 10:15 am EDT this Tuesday.

The full schedule is posted on the event page, and I’ve also listed the papers below.  As usual, we’ve got a nice mix of scholars, graduate students, and scholar-practitioners.

My own paper will focus on the role of experience in the theology of three figures in Canadian Wesleyan history: Nelson Burns, founder of the Canada Holiness Association, Ralph Horner, founder of the Holiness Movement Church and the Standard Church of America, and Nathanael Burwash, Chancellor of Victoria College at the University of Toronto and a leading mainline Methodist theologian.

I’m looking forward to a great day of discussion.  I hope you can consider participating, either in person or via livestream. The video of the lecture will also be posted as a recording after the event, along with audio of other presentations.

Papers to be presented at the Wesleyan-Pentecostal Symposium, March 22:

  • Bradley Truman Noel, “Experiential Verification: The Pentecostal Advantage in Hermeneutics?”
  • John Vlainic, “How a Theology of Experience Shows Up in Pastoral Care.”
  • James E. Read, “‘Whatever it is which reason or experience shows’: Experience in a Wesleyan approach to ethics”
  • Stephen J. Bedard, “Experience as Christian Apologetics.”
  • Justin Schwartz, “Objectivity is the Fruit of Subjectivity: Experience as a Fundamental Category for Theology in the work of Bernard Lonergan”
  • Janelle Zeeb, “Comparing Arminianism and Open Theism on Theodicy: An Example of How Experience Affects our Preferences for Theological Systems”
  • Peter D. Neumann, “Pentecostal Mediated Immediacy: Overcoming Experience of God as Ecumenical Barrier”
  • James E. Pedlar, “Experience and Theology: Lessons from some Canadian Examples.”

 

06
Nov
15

Why Wesleyans shouldn’t frame salvation as a “choice”

From The Works of John Fletcher, vol II. 2nd American Edition. New York: John Wilson and Daniel Witt, 1809

In the endless discussions and debates between Calvinism and Wesleyanism, it is quite common for people on both sides to frame the Wesleyan position in terms of human choice. That is, people often say that Calvinists believe God determines who is saved, whereas Wesleyans believe God allows us to “choose” our salvation.  However, I don’t think this is a good way of stating the Wesleyan-Arminian position.

When we frame salvation as a “choice” we are leaving too much up to the human person; it is an anthropocentric way of discussing salvation. And it is not the way that Wesleyan theologians primarily frame the issue. You will not find John Wesley, for example, talking about salvation in terms of a human choice. What you will find is John Wesley talking about salvation being granted to all who repent and have faith in Christ; but repentance and faith are always framed as a response to God’s gracious calling and drawing of the sinner to himself. It is not that there is no choice involved at all, but that the word “choice” doesn’t begin to do justice to what takes place in new birth and justification.  Faith is primarily a response to God’s prior, gracious action, and the response is to submit and surrender to the Lordship of Christ, which is to confess our own utter sinfulness and helplessness, and accept that our salvation is found in Christ alone. It’s not that we have the power in and of ourselves to “choose God.” Rather, since Wesleyans believe grace is resistible, we have a “negative” power to resist God’s work in our lives, but a positive response is better discussed as a “yielding” to grace, rather than a “choice” of faith.

In that case, there is more common ground between Calvinists and Wesleyans here than is often presupposed. Both sides teach that people come to faith by God’s gracious work; Calvinists teach that it is God’s grace that brings us to faith and that it always does so effectively for those whom God has chosen; Wesleyans say God’s grace brings us to faith, only that such grace is actively working in all, and that it is resistible. As Wesley states it in his sermon “Salvation by Faith,” §III.3, “That ye believe, is one instance of his grace; that, believing, ye are saved, another.”  Again, I don’t think the language of “choice” does justice to this view of salvation.

Wesley's Notes on Romans 8:29

The same could be said of framing the Wesleyan position around “free will.” When we say “free will” most people assume we are talking about an innate, “natural” human freedom to “choose salvation.” Wesley did not believe that fallen humans were free to respond to God in faith without the working of divine grace. The reason to point this out is because it is a point on which Wesleyans and Calvinists agree. The difference, again, is that Calvinists believe salvation by grace is only available to the elect, who are irresistibly drawn to faith, whereas Wesleyans believe prevenient grace is working in all to draw them to Christ, providing a measure of freedom (not total freedom of the will) sufficient to enable a response to God’s offer of salvation. Grace is “free in all” and “free for all” from a Wesleyan viewpoint, but it is always resistible. So, if Wesleyans want to talk about human freedom, I think it’s best to emphasize that we are “freed by grace” to respond, rather than to assert that we have free will.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs there, but these distinctions are important, because the way the debate is often framed on the popular level exaggerates the differences and obscures the common ground.  I should also note that my own perspective is one that has been deeply shaped by engagement with other Christian traditions; so even though I am a Wesleyan, I am trying to state the Wesleyan position in a way which is responsive to the critiques of Reformed theologians (even though I also happen to believe what I am saying accords very well with what John Wesley himself taught).

09
Sep
15

Tyndale Wesley Studies News – September 2015

 

We are gearing up for another academic year at Tyndale, this time (finally) on our beautiful new campus.  It has been a bit of a chaotic summer, with all the disruption that comes along with a move, and I’m now looking forward to seeing this place filled with students in the next few days.

I’ve just sent out my most recent Wesley Studies newsletter, highlighting next year’s joint Wesleyan-Pentecostal Symposium on the role of experience in theology (March 22, 2016).  I’m really pleased to be bringing Donald Dayton to Toronto as our keynote, and I think we’ll have a great day of conversation about a topic that concerns both traditions.

There’s lots more in the newsletter about recent book releases (including the latest in the Tyndale Wesley series from Chris Payk and my own book, which I will blog about soon) and upcoming events and conferences in Toronto.  Take a look, and subscribe if you are interested.

bayview-chapel

 

08
Jun
15

Sermon Audio: A New Song and the New Creation (Psalm 96)

Last week I had the pleasure of spending five days with twelve fine seminary students, discussing “Creation and New Creation.”  You can find out about the course by reading the course syllabus here.  My goal for the week was lay some deep theological roots for engaging in the practice of creation stewardship. So our course included a range of topics: the Triune Creator, creation ex nihilo, the goodness of creation, general revelation, the image of God, sin, salvation, eschatology, and mission…an ambitious agenda to be sure!  But we were looking at each of these topics in relation to the question of humanity’s role as stewards of creation.  I hope it was successful in setting out creation stewardship as an issue that is deeply connected to core Christian doctrines – not at all a peripheral matter.

At Tyndale we often have summer school instructors preach during our weekly worship gathering, and so I had my first chance to preach in our new chapel on Bayview Avenue. It is an amazing worship space, as you can see from the image below.  My sermon was based on Psalm 96, keeping the themes of my course in mind, and also Tyndale’s transition to our new campus, which is still underway. Listen to the sermon below, or download the file here.

Tyndale Chapel by JDB Sound Photography via flickr

10
Mar
15

A response to a Calvinist brother on predestination

NOTE: this post is in response to a lengthy comment from Jeff Kreisel on my previous post, “John Wesley on Predestination.”  See Jeff’s comment here.

*****

Jeff,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting on my post. I apologize for my slow reply.  I have been swamped the past few weeks with work, and didn’t want to reply too hastily to your comment.

I would also encourage others to read Whitefield’s response, and if they are serious about the debate, to study it in context.  Wesley’s Sermon, “Free Grace” is not one of his better theological writings.  It is very polemical and not as organized as it might have been.  A calmer and clearer statement of his views is found in the Sermon 58, “On Predestination.” A longer treatment of the subject is found in Predestination Calmly Considered. I don’t expect these writings will change your mind, but it is always good to engage with an opposing argument on its best terms.

I can’t respond to all that you’ve said, but let me offer a few thoughts and clarifications.

First, Wesley’s position was certainly not based on mere emotion; perhaps some Wesleyans base their theology on emotion, but I suspect that the same is true of people in every theological camp. Wesley’s view was based on scripture first and foremost, interpreting scripture by scripture in light of the whole “analogy of faith” (the overall biblical message).  It’s not that Wesley simply “felt” Calvinism presented God as unfair; rather, he believed the central message of Scripture is that God is love, as revealed in the gospel of Christ. You may disagree with his interpretations of scripture, but you can’t accuse him of not taking scripture seriously.

5952670-MRe: Calvinism and total depravity – there are some differences, to be sure. Some Wesleyans don’t use the term “total depravity,” though I think it can be applied to Wesley’s view.  My main point is that Wesley agrees with the Reformed tradition that unregenerate humanity is completely helpless and unable to save themselves. Without the grace of God we can only “add sin to sin.”  In our own power, we are not capable of not sinning. Wesley is quite clear on these matters.

One area of difference, however, relates to Wesley’s view of original sin and imputed guilt.  Wesley wholeheartedly affirms that all people are born totally corrupted at birth, and inclined to sin, such that they are not able to turn to God in their own power, as just noted above. He does not support, however, the idea that infants are counted guilty for Adam’s sin.  We are counted guilty for our own sins, which we will inevitably commit because of our inherited corruption. Therefore all are guilty, with the exception of infants and small children who have not reached an age at which they can be held accountable for their actions (though they are still totally corrupted).

Now, in relation to your charge that Wesley is inconsistent, and the question of those who do not have access to the gospel (these two issues are related): Wesley acknowledges that some people (such as himself) have significant advantages in that they have been raised in a Christian environment and have many opportunities to respond to the gospel. That is why he leaves such cases (those who have never heard the gospel) up to the judgment and mercy of God, and believes God will judge them according to the light they have received. And he would make such a case precisely on the basis of God’s justice and love for all. Those who have never heard the gospel would not be damned for rejecting the gospel, since they have never had opportunity to do so; therefore we are not sure how they might be judged, but we leave it in God’s hands. This is not grossly unbiblical, as you charge.  First, he is not saying that they will be saved apart from Christ or Christ’s work on the cross; Wesley was well aware of John 14:6. Rather he is saying that they will be saved by Christ, though they have not known Christ by name in this life (but have responded to the grace that was available to them). Second, in the sermon I noted, he explicitly appeals to Acts 10:34-35 as a scriptural example. We might also note the “holy pagans” or “pagan saints” of the OT as examples of God being mysteriously at work outside the visible bounds of the church (Rahab, Jethro, etc.).

Calvinists such as yourself say that it would be a “failure” of God’s grace if he was to draw someone to himself and yet leave them with the ability to resist God’s grace. We simply have a different understanding of divine and human action; it does not “take away” from God’s agency if human persons are able to resist grace. We cannot compete with God’s agency; this isn’t a tug-of-war.  We can only respond to God because he is at work within us; that means our response is not “work” on our part; and yet because God is at work within us we can respond.  Grace is enabling and transformative by its very nature. In much of this we agree; however, Wesleyans believe that God’s grace enables a genuine human response, which would not be possible if such grace were irresistible. This is the heart of the matter I referred to in my previous point: a sovereignty understood in a monarchist sense, or a sovereignty understood in terms of a loving Parent. It’s not a “failure” because this is God’s purpose – to save those who yield to his gracious work in their lives. God has freely chosen to work in this way with his human creatures, because it accords with his loving and just nature.

Finally, you say that Wesley asserts that every human is a child of God. Perhaps I was sloppy in my own language explaining Wesley’s position. Normally, he only uses the term “child of God” for believers. Indeed, it is a hallmark of his teaching that all Christians should have the assurance of salvation through the Spirit’s witness to their adoption as sons.  He is quite clear that this is the privilege of believers – to know that they are in fact God’s children.  I do not recall, off-hand, if he refers to all people as children of God; there is a sense in which this is the case, since God is the Father of all that lives. And if Wesley ever says something along those lines, I’m sure that is what he meant (simply that God is creator of all and therefore “Father” to all in that sense).  Do you have a reference to Wesley calling all humans children of God?

Perhaps your point is simply that if only believers are properly called children of God, then God’s loving character as Father does not apply to non-believers?  My point in stressing the “Parental” character of God is not to say that therefore all are in God’s Parental favour; it is, rather, simply a point about God’s own character and the way he exercises his sovereignty. The distinction between the “sovereignty of a king” and “sovereignty of a parent” should not be stressed too far, however. I’m not talking about absolute distinctions but differing emphases; Calvinists certainly draw upon parental analogies for God, and Wesleyans certainly draw on monarchist analogies.  But each tends to favour one or the other.

I’m sure I haven’t changed your mind, Jeff; you certainly haven’t changed mine. But I hope these comments clarify some of Wesley’s ideas.

Yours in Christ,

James




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