Total providence or total depravity? (John Cassian as a remedy for Augustinian nihilism)

In a recent post, John Meunier writes, “You cannot speak intelligently about Wesleyan theology if you discard the doctrine of Original Sin.” He shares a statement in the Book of Discipline which says, “We believe man is fallen from righteousness and, apart from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is destitute of holiness and inclined to evil.” I agree that we need to know we’re sinful in order to recognize our need for Christ. But is the Christian gospel really unintelligible unless we believe that every non-Christian around us is “destitute of holiness and inclined to evil”? I wanted to offer a different way to narrate this, with the help of 4th century saint John Cassian. I ultimately think a doctrine of total providence is more faithful to John Wesley’s vision than total depravity.

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In defense of the “so-called” Wesleyan quadrilateral and the experiential breath of God

The latest theater in the Methodist proxy war over homosexuality has involved attacks here and here on the “so-called” Wesleyan quadrilateral. It’s really painful to me to see the “so-called” adjective being added to it.To me, the quadrilateral is one of the jewels of Wesleyan theology regardless of its derivative status. I don’t see it as a method of Biblical interpretation per se, but rather open honesty about what everyone really does when they interpret the Bible using the plain meaning of the text itself, the church’s interpretive tradition, our deductive reason, and the meta-rational intuitions of our experience. The conservatives don’t like “experience” because it’s not something they can pin down and adjudicate decisively. But to drop-kick “experience” from Biblical interpretation is really to say that the Holy Spirit is not allowed to speak to us outside of the Biblical text. It’s very apropos for us to be having this conversation on the eve of Pentecost.

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The context of “going on to perfection” (Hebrews 6:1-3)

I came across the Biblical context of the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection in yesterday’s Daily Office reading. It’s Hebrews 6:1-2: “Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teachings about Christ and not laying again the foundation: repentance from works of death and faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.”

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Fleeing the wrath to come vs. hearing the voice of love

A few months ago, a friend wrote a blog asking whether the teachings of Henri Nouwen are “incompatible” with Methodist theology. The way that Nouwen presents the gospel is to say that it’s about hearing God’s voice of love, learning to love ourselves, and leaving behind the sins that are ultimately an expression of self-hatred. When I encountered this teaching in the first Methodist church I went to, it was so refreshingly different from the ruthless perfectionist I thought God was that I became a Methodist. I’ve found that all the Methodist churches I’ve encountered share this Nouwenian ethos. But this seems different than the 18th century Methodism in which the requirement for admission to a Methodist society was “an earnest desire to flee the wrath to come.” So what happened? Have we gone astray? Is Nouwen a false prophet? Continue Reading

Is Jesus saving the world from us?

Is Jesus saving the world from us? It’s a different way to talk about salvation, but honestly it’s the gospel that I’m hoping to be true as an evangelical afflicted by what Rachel Held Evans calls “the scandal of the evangelical heart.” When did we become the Pharisees Jesus came to Earth to stop us from being? How many of us have been secretly asking that question in our minds? How many of us need to be saved from a toxic salvation? I really feel that we are in the midst of a great awakening. The legion of demons that poisoned our gospel for so long is running off a cliff in a herd of hateful pigs, leaving us to wake up in the graveyard where we chained ourselves. We are discovering that Satan is our accuser and oppressor, not God.  We are realizing that our need to be right and justify ourselves has kept us inside a tomb whose stone was rolled away by Jesus. So I wanted to share five things God has been teaching me over the past few years about what Jesus saves us from and what He saves us for. Continue Reading

“I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” (with a response from John Wesley)

WNhIP9CYou know the stereotype about the cheapskate Sunday lunch church crowd who shortchange servers on their tips? Well, one pastor in St. Louis decided to try her best to live into this stereotype. She was mad that her church group got a mandatory gratuity charge for their gathering so she wrote on her receipt, “I give God 10%. Why do you get 18?” And then the server put the receipt up on the atheism page on reddit. Nice witness!!! Well I thought I would share some choice words from John Wesley for that pastor and any other Ebenezer Scrooges out there in the church Sunday lunch crowd. ***UPDATE: The pastor was identified; she complained to Applebee’s and got the server fired. Please pray that the server will be able to get a new job and that the pastor will be sanctified by this experience and not harassed by strangers. Continue Reading

God’s grace in 4 stick figure drawings

We had the first session of our new member class today. During the first class, we do introductions and give a primer on Methodist theology. We had the fortunate problem of having too many people in the class so our introductions took up all but 15 minutes. I didn’t want us to leave having only done introductions, so I tried to explain in 15 minutes and 4 stick figure drawings the three kinds of grace we talk about in Methodism: prevenient, sanctifying, and justification, along with the Christian perfection that God’s grace draws us toward. The way I’ve illustrated it is a bit individualistic (which of course I would have criticized if someone else had done it ;-)). I’m interested in hearing your feedback and suggestions for improvement. Continue Reading

Poor, blind, & dead: Jeff Dunn’s “purpose-driven life”

On the same day that Jon Acuff wrote a self-affirmation about his success as a Christian celebrity, Jeff Dunn at Internet Monk posted his own version of the “purpose-driven life” based on three of Jesus’ commonly preached themes: becoming poor, blind, and dead. It was such a fresh contrast from the kind of self-help drivel that Christians have come to accept as Biblical provided it has a few verses from Proverbs slapped on top. The purpose that we are given by the real gospel isn’t good news to the success-oriented bourgeois American ethos that many so-called “conservative” evangelicals have modified their Christianity to fit. The real gospel is good news to the poor, the blind, and the dead and to those of us who accept the utter foolishness that we’d do better to join them. Continue Reading

Isaiah 10 and the fiscal cliff

When I read something in the Bible and I think I shouldn’t say anything about it because it might make people mad, God sometimes lets it go. But not this time. He’s been bugging me for two days. I wasn’t going out of my way to mine the Old Testament for social justice texts. I was just reading my Daily Office, trying to stay out of trouble. And then Isaiah 10:1-4 comes along: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees,to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless.What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? To whom will you run for help? Where will you leave your riches?Nothing will remain but to cringe among the captives or fall among the slain.” I’m afraid this prophetic word seems quite apropos in the context of our government’s fiscal cliff standoff right now. Continue Reading

God built it; we didn’t

I used to build enormous towers out of blocks when I was four years old. My mom’s fridge still has a picture of me standing next to one of my towers beaming with pride. I built it. It’s a phrase that embodies the essence of human pride. Building something permanent was the ancient pagan form of immortality — to leave a legacy, hopefully with an engraving or a statue, so that no one would ever forget you. This is why the people of Babel decided to build their tower: “so that we may make a name for ourselves (Gen 11:4). For the ancient pagans, pride was a virtue, because pride was the anchor upon which good social behavior was built. To some degree, this is still the case today; people who want to be known as respectable try not to behave unseemly because of their pride. However, there is also a very pernicious side to pride. It can very easily mutate from dignified self-confidence into a neurotic neediness that makes us unsympathetic to others and dishonest about our flaws. Pride becomes a very lonely prison in which our ambitious agenda of self-promotion keeps us from having authentic, vulnerable relationships with other people. That is why one of the greatest gifts God gives us is to teach us to say, “God built it; we didn’t.” Continue Reading