15
Apr
17

2017 Wesley Symposium and Ministry Conference

ben-witherington-iiiIn just over a week Tyndale will be hosting its ninth annual Wesley Studies Symposium, featuring Dr. Ben Witherington III as the keynote speaker.  It’s a great privilege to have a scholar of Witherington’s caliber and profile at Tyndale.  He is a prolific author and one of those rare examples of a top-rate scholar who can also speak to a broader audience in an engaging way.  You can read more about Witherington here.

Given his combination of gifts, we’ve decided to run our academic symposium back-to-back with a ministry conference, aimed at church leaders.  We’ve had two previous Wesley ministry conferences at Tyndale, with Timothy Tennent in 2010, and Leonard Sweet in 2013.

For the ministry conference on April 24, Witherington has chosen to address the topic of “A Singular Scripture in a Pluralistic Culture.” He’ll be addressing the nature of scriptural authority and illustrating his arguments with reference to important issues facing the church today.

For the Wesley Studies Symposium, Witherington’s keynote topic is “The Ethics of Jesus Revisited.”  We also have an excellent lineup of six other presenters for the symposium.

  • Aimee Patterson, “A New Final Enemy: Reflections on Dying, Suffering and Autonomy”
  • Dan Cooper, “Breakdown in Babylon: an exploration of Psalm 137 through the lens of metal culture”
  • Grant Gordon, “John Newton Encounters John Wesley: The Untold Story”
  • David Graham, “The Chalcedonian Logic of Wesley’s Christology”
  • Gerhard Mielke, “What motivated Wesleyan Holiness Women of the 19th and early 20th century to preach?”
  • Aaron Perry, “Ethics, Theology, and Leadership: A Review of the Current State of Ethical Leadership and Why Theology can Make a Contribution”

We are topping all of this off with a worship event on Sunday evening, April 23, featuring Swee Hong Lim, noted expert in global contemporary worship. Supported by local musicians, we’ll be singing the hymns of Charles Wesley to tunes both old and new.

To register or find more information about any of these events, go to ministryconference.ca

24
Feb
17

A Window on early Primitive Methodist Meetings

While reading Hugh Bourne’s History of the Primitive Methodists (1823) at the Rylands library last summer I came across this interesting set of “advices” for leading meetings.  The context, as Bourne relates it, was that some in the PMC were allowing preaching to go on too long, thereby not allowing enough time for prayer.

There are several aspects of these outlines that I find interesting. One is how much attention is given to technique, and keeping things moving along. Not only is long preaching excluded, but so are long speeches from members in the class meeting.  I also find it interesting that, although these outlines are 200 years old, one can still recognize some features of these services in the routinized revivalism of many evangelical denominations (the “song sandwich” approach, for example, that many of us grew up with). Another noteworthy feature is the lack of attention to scripture. For several years now I have been quite concerned about the disappearance of the public reading of scripture from evangelical worship services. However, reflecting on these outlines causes me to think that the neglect of scripture readings is very deep-seated in the revivalist stream of evangelical worship.

Advices for Meetings

Primitive Methodist Connexion, 1819

Source: Hugh Bourne, History of the Primitive Methodists Giving an Account of Their Rise and Progress up to the Year 1823. (Bemersley: Printed for the author, at the Office of the Primitive Methodist Connexion, by J. Bourne, 1823), 59-60.

Outline of a Preaching Service.

“Let all the exercises, in general, be short. The preaching whenever it can, should be followed by a prayer meeting. From the beginning of the service to the end of the sermon, should up about three quarters of an hour; and the prayer meeting should continue about half an hour; the whole to conclude in about an hour and a quarter. After the conclusion, prayer must be made for mourners; or the society may meet for about twenty minutes. Long preachings generally injure both the preachers’ constitution and the cause of religion.”

Outline of a Prayer Meeting.

  1. Open with singing for about four, five, or six minutes.
  2. Spend four, five, or six minutes in prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
  3. Sing about two, three or four minutes.
  4. Let the members of the society prayer in quick succession, for two, three, or four minutes each.

When mourners are in distress, or in any other particular cases, the exercises may be lengthened. But, in general, long exercises in public, are improper and injurious; and should be carefully avoided. And if any one trespass by attempting to drag out to an improper length, the next meeting of the society may determine what remedy shall be applied to such impropriety.

  1. Let a little singing be occasionally intermingled to vary the exercises.
  2. If exhortations be given, they may be for two or three, or from that to six or eight minutes. Short exhortations are useful.
  3. Conclude in an hour or an hour and a quarter.
  4. On suitable occasions, prayer may again commence, and especially if there by souls in distress.
  5. This outline may be judiciously varied at any point, as circumstances may require.

Outline of a Class Meeting.

  1. Open with singing for about four, five, or six minutes
  2. Let for or five minutes be spent in prayer, ending with the Lord’s Prayer.
  3. Sing about two, or three minutes.
  4. Leader speak one or two minutes, chiefly to his own experience.
  5. Let fifteen, or from that to twenty minutes, be spent in conversation of the leader with the members.

In speaking to one, the leader, in effect, speaks to all; and it will on some occasions, be found difficult to keep up the attention of the whole meeting for twenty minutes together. But the leader passing from one to another in quick succession will be a great means to keep the attention alive. Also the leader may give out a verse and sing in the midst of the work.

If a class have fifteen or sixteen members, the average time of speaking should be under a minute with each member. If there be twenty or thirty members it should be still less. In particular cases, more time may be spent with any of the members.

If a member have acquired or be acquiring a habit of long speaking, then, the leader, after dropping a few words, must immediately pass on to the next, and begin at once to speak to the next. If this be not attended to the meeting will soon be injured.

  1. When the speaking is concluded, sing for two, three, or four minutes.
  2. Then let the members pray in quick succession, for about two or three minutes each. The leader must take care that none of them trespass upon time.
  3. Intermingle occasionally a little singing to vary the exercise.
  4. Be careful and exact in settling the class paper.
  5. Conclude in an hour, or an hour and a quarter.
  6. This outline may be judiciously varied in any point, as circumstances may require.
21
Oct
16

Reflections on my time at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre

It was a privilege to spend six weeks at the Manchester Wesley Research Centre as a Visiting Research Fellow for the summer of 2016. My work focused on early Primitive Methodism.

I am interested in the development of Wesleyan ecclesiology, especially as related to issues of renewal, unity and division. The Primitive Methodists are of interest as the first major revivalistic breakaway from Wesleyan Methodism. I focused my time primarily on the unpublished and published writings of Hugh Bourne, co-founder of the Primitive Methodist Connexion.  While his colleague William Clowes was the more charismatic personality and a more compelling preacher, it was Bourne who did most of the writing for the movement, particularly through his long tenure as editor of the Primitive Methodist Magazine.

Nazarene Theological College

Bourne and the other Primitive Methodists were very keen to clear themselves of the charge of schism. In doing this they stressed both their continuity with early Methodism and the novelty of their movement as a body of newly-evangelized people. In my ongoing work on this subject I am looking at the arguments Bourne used to defend against the charge of schism, and the theology of the church that underlies those arguments.

I am also considering the interesting mix of influences that can be seen in Bourne’s theology. As was the case with many later nineteenth-century Wesleyan revivalists, Bourne was strongly influenced by John Fletcher. But he was also shaped by his contacts with the Quaker Methodists of Warrington, the “Magic Methodists” of Delamere Forest and other Independent Methodists and revivalists such as Lorenzo Dow. His spirituality had a strong pneumatocentric focus, leading to a very participatory and egalitarian view of church and ministry. Bourne is a fascinating and complicated person, who certainly had his faults. Yet he was also ahead of his time on questions of lay representation and women in ministry.

John Rylands LibrarySome of Hugh Bourne’s writings are only available at the John Rylands Library, and those that are available elsewhere are still quite rare and difficult to find. I was very grateful for the opportunity to spend several weeks at the Rylands through the MWRC Visiting Fellow program, as it gave me access to numerous sources that I would not have been able to find at home in Toronto. I also appreciated the many connections I was able to make with other scholars from the UK, as well as those visiting from North America. At the MWRC and Nazarene Theological College I found a welcoming community and ideal base for doing research on the Wesleyan tradition. All in all it was a wonderful experience – I hope I’ll be able to go back and do further research in Manchester in the future.

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).




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