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 I focused my time primarily on the unpublished and published writings of Hugh Bourne, co-founder of the Primitive Methodist Connexion.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).

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




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