Installation Sermon: The Triumphs of His Grace

This past Tuesday I was officially installed as the Donald N. and Kathleen G. Bastian Chair of Wesley Studies at Tyndale Seminary.  I’ve been doing the work of the Wesley Chair since I arrived at Tyndale in January 2013. However, since I was a newly-minted Assistant Professor, I was hired with the understanding that I would be officially appointed to the Chair upon successful application for tenure and promotion. So this Tuesday’s ceremony was nearly six years in coming.

It was a good day to celebrate the partnership between Tyndale and the Wesleyan denominations that sponsor the Bastian Chair: the Be in Christ Church (formerly Brethren in Christ), the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, the Salvation Army, and the Wesleyan Church. The Bastian Chair was established in 1993, and Donald Bastian (then Bishop of the Free Methodist Church in Canada) was instrumental in drawing the partner denominations together.

Installation Sermon

The sermon audio is below, and it can be downloaded from the Tyndale website.  It was a bit of an unusual sermon – in fact, it was something of a blend of sermon and keynote address. Had the installation been held a separate occasion I would have done an inaugural lecture; since it took place during our regular community chapel service, it needed to take the form of a sermon and speak to the whole Tyndale community.

The scripture readings were Isaiah 25:1-9 and 1 Corinthians 1:18-31.

As I said on Tuesday, I am truly grateful for Tyndale and for this unique role, which allows me to serve both the Canadian Wesleyan family and the broader church.

 

 

 

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2019 Wesley Studies Symposium

An Evangelical MindI’m pleased to announce that Tyndale’s next Wesley Studies Symposium will take place on April 30, 2019, with Marguerite Van Die giving the keynote address. Van Die is Professor Emerita of History at Queen’s University, and a noted expert on Canadian church history. Her many publications include An Evangelical Mind: Nathaniel Burwash and the Methodist Tradition in Canada, 1839-1917This is the definitive biography of Burwash, the most important Canadian Methodist theologian and an important churchman in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Dr. Van Die’s address is entitled “Building a moral community: Methodists and Public Life in Nineteenth Century Canada.”  I have a number of excellent papers lined up but am open to receiving proposals from other potential presenters. Watch for registration and other details in the coming weeks.

The Free Methodist Position on Baptism (Sermon)

I’ve recently been engaging the controversial question of baptism in Wesleyan theology and practice.  The Methodist position has always been somewhat unusual, and it continues to be of interest despite centuries of discussion and debate.  In the past several months, through student papers, conversations with other pastors, and situations in my own church, I’ve been pressed into renewed consideration of the question.

The occasion for the sermon below was two back-to-back baptism services at Wesley Chapel: four adult baptisms on June 3, and an infant baptism on June 10.  While we’ve had both types of baptism regularly, I don’t believe we’ve ever had them so close together. I realized that, in the ten years I’ve been at Wesley Chapel, we’ve never clearly addressed the question of baptism.

So in the sermon below I’ve attempted to give a brief orientation to the position of our denomination, the Free Methodist church. Given the context of this sermon, my goal was not so much to defend the Free Methodist view (though I do try to answer some common objections) as to articulate it. I also tried not to assume much prior knowledge, given the diverse set of people and church backgrounds we have with us on a given Sunday morning. So the sermon has limitations, and necessarily paints with a broad brush, but I hope it is helpful as a general overview.

*A note to my Salvation Army readers: in the first half of the sermon I set out the major positions on baptism from across the ecumenical spectrum; however, due to time constraints and the heavy amount of content that was already included in the sermon, I decided not to try to explain the non-observant stance of the Salvation Army and the Society of Friends. No disrespect was intended…this was entirely a practical decision. I didn’t think I’d have time to address it adequately. When I teach this topic in the seminary classroom, I always include an explanation of the Salvationist viewpoint.

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.

 

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

The Wesleyan Tradition’s Eastern Ontario Roots

I grew up north of Kingston, near the village of Sunbury, and I was raised in a church that is part of the Wesleyan family of denominations – The Salvation Army.  Most of my life, however, I had no idea that there was any significant connection between my geographical roots and my ecclesial roots.  As I’ve gone on to study Wesleyan history and theology, however, I’ve come to see that the historical roots of Wesleyan Christianity in Eastern Ontario are very deep indeed.

This has come home to me in a number of ways in recent months.

This summer, Tyndale Seminary received a generous bequest from Rev. Bill Lamb, who passed away in June.  Bill was a United Church minister and a historian of Canadian Methodism.  He left an amazing collection of historical literature to Tyndale’s library, and I was able to go to his home and help our head librarian, Hugh Rendle, sort through the materials.  Because the earliest Methodist churches in Canada were established in Eastern Ontario, Bill was also a student of Eastern Ontario history.

in 1925 the main Methodist body in Canada united with many Presbyterians and the Congregationalists to form the United Church of Canada – and that means that many of the United Church congregations that pre-date 1925 were in fact Methodist congregations.  Bill had written books on the history of two such congregations – Bridge Street Church in Belleville (Bridging the Years), and Wall Street Church in Brockville (The Meaning of the Stones).  He’d also written a book on the Old Hay Bay Church (The Founders), the first Methodist Church building in Canada, which still stands as a National Historic Site.  At the time of his death, he was working on books on two of the most important figures in Canadian Methodist history, William Case and William Losee.  Therefore he had amassed a very significant body of literature and archival material on Methodism’s spread in Eastern Ontario.

The fact that most Methodists joined the United Church in 1925 means that much of this Methodist history is not immediately apparent to a casual observer today.  People do not realize, for example, that churches like Bridge Street Church in Belleville, Wall Street Church in Brockville, and Sydenham Street Church  in Kingston are monuments to Methodist history.  All Belleville residents are familiar with Albert College and its beautiful campus, but most have no idea that this private school began as Belleville Seminary – a Methodist theological college.

Albert College interior by tjchampagne via flickr

But it is not only the mainline Methodist tradition that has strong Eastern Ontario roots.  The late nineteenth century holiness movement also had a significant impact on this part of Canada, especially in the legacy of Ralph Horner, whose biography I read and blogged about earlier this year.  Horner was from the Ottawa Valley, and had a ministry as an evangelist which centred around Eastern Ontario.   Originally serving with the Methodist Church of Canada, Horner eventually went on to found two holiness denominations: the Holiness Movement Church and the Standard Church of America.  Many of the churches that emerged out of the Hornerite revival in Eastern Ontario are still around today, although these two denominations also merged with others (HMC joined the Free Methodist Church in 1958 and the SCA merged with the Wesleyan Church in 2003).

Holiness Movement Church Hymnal via internet archiveIn addition to the fact that the Holiness churches have historically had a significant concentration of their congregations in Eastern Ontario cities and towns, there is also a rich history of revivals through camp meetings in rural locations.  Almost every little village was impacted.   Even Sunbury, where I grew up, had a Salvation Army corps at one time, and the Hornerite movement impacted nearby Inverary.   In Hastings County today, Ivanhoe may be known today as a place with a cheese factory along Hwy 62, but a century ago it was known as one of the most important holiness revival sites in Canada.  It was at the Ivanhoe camp meeting that Ralph Horner died in 1921, not long after preaching his last sermon.

The surprising thing for me has been the way that my life has now come full circle.  As a professor Wesley Studies at Canada’s largest seminary, my teaching and research interests now coincide with my personal history in a way I never thought they would.   The connection between between my geographical roots and my ecclesial roots, of which I was unaware for most of my life, now seems to have been established by providential design.

Mystical and Missional: Elaine Heath on Phoebe Palmer

Heath Naked Faith the Mystical Theology of Phoebe PalmerI’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Elaine Heath’s Naked Faith: the Mystical Theology of Phoebe Palmer (Eugene OR: Pickwick, 2009).  Palmer had a massive influence in Wesleyan circles and beyond in the nineteenth century, but, as Heath notes, she has been largely forgotten or marginalized – even within her own tradition.   She certainly hasn’t been taken seriously as a theologian, though Thomas Oden sounded an enthusiastic call for the retrieval of her voice in his introduction to the collection of her writings he edited for publication (Phoebe Palmer: Selected Writings (New York: Paulist, 1988)).  John Farina, general editor of the series “Sources of American Spirituality,” of which the Oden volume was a part, briefly located Palmer in “that great mystical stream that runs like a golden river down through the ages” in his general introduction to the book, noting especially the interest in Catherine of Genoa in Palmer’s circles.  Heath has taken up this idea and written a book that attempts to both offer an interpretation of Palmer’s thought as an expression of mystical theology, and to hold out “Saint Phoebe” as a guide for the renewal of contemporary Methodism.

Palmer, for her part, would have resisted the “mystical” label, but Heath shows, through a discussion of the mystical tradition, that Palmer’s resistance was really to the antinomian perversions of the mystical tradition which she encountered (35ff).  Heath identifies mysticism as “the radically transformative experience of the Divine that is described by the great Christian mystics and saints throughout the ages” (41).  She also notes that genuine Christian mysticism will be Trinitarian, ecclesial, and transformational (42).

While a great deal could be said about the reception of mysticism in Protestant circles, and the degree to which John Wesley himself embraced some aspects of mystical theology at various points in his life (Heath deals with these issues), I was particularly taken by the way in which she connected mysticism with Christian mission.

Phoebe PalmerFor Palmer, the primary way this was expressed was in her own calling to a ministry of preaching and teaching, which followed immediately upon her “day of days” experience of sanctification.  Her profound mystical experience, then, became the source of an unprecedented (for a woman) ministry which had massive influence on the history of the Methodist, Holiness, and Pentecostal traditions.  Even those experiences of “union” with God that make some Protestants nervous, Heath contends, impel the mystic to service, rather than retreat from the world (as many suppose):

“The fruit of unitive experiences is a powerful desire in the mystic to help all people experience salvation and sanctification.  This desire partly originates in visions of the mysic being made one with the Trinity, whose goal in the church is to seek and to save the lost. Thus the life of the mystic increasingly becomes one of humble service in the world” (59).

Heath also carefully distinguishes problematic mystical “Quietism” from a healthy sense of “quiet,” an active passivity that bears fruit in missional activity:

“The result of true mystical passivity is an increase of strength and spiritual energy, an increase of love for God and neighbour so that the individual is increasingly alive to God in the community and world as the process of passivity progresses” (75).

Interestingly, in some other reading I recently found Henri Nouwen making a similar claim: “Mysticism is the opposite of withdrawal from the world. Intimate union with God leads to the most creative involvement in the contemporary world” (The Genesee Diary155).

Heath’s work seems to break new ground on several fronts: a sustained interpretation of Palmer as a mystical theologian, a retrieval of her theology by distinguishing it from the ways in which it was distorted by her later followers, and a contribution to research into the mystical aspect of Wesleyan spirituality – and I could go on.

Phoebe Palmer via cyberhymnalI think it is particularly important as a contribution to contemporary discussions of the “missional” character of the church.  I’ve sometimes worried in the past that some strands of missional thinking are anti-ecclesial, and create a false dichotomy between the church’s inner life (thinking here in terms of spirituality) and its mission.  In other words, the church is not only sent into the world, but also gathered together, and it is in the gathering that we are centred on the particular identity of the God of the gospel, who then sends us out.   Heath’s work on mysticism and mission helps to bridge this perceived gap between “inner” life its fruit in “outward” activity.  There is a strong connection between the arguments in this book and the account of the new monasticism in Longing for Spring, which Heath co-wrote with Scott Kisker (see my review here).  I still need to do some further reading of my own on mystical spirituality, as it is not an area with which I’m familiar, but my initial reaction to Heath’s work on Palmer is to give it a hearty endorsement.   Next on my list is her 2008 book, The Mystic Way of Evangelism.