Walking as Jesus Walked

Having the Mind of Christ

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wesley on Dissipation

I have just read Wesley's sermon "On Dissipation."  As evangelist and spiritual director, Wesley diagnoses what ails the soul and speaks on how the believer may attend upon the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35). 

As I minister among persons who are increasingly "dissipated," I am struck at how timely Wesley's insights are.  Is Wesley foreseeing our "postmodern condition"? 

In this sermon Wesley defines "dissipation" and offers the medicine only the gospel supplies: to listen to the voice of Christ within.  Here are a few quotes from that sermon:

"Dissipation is in the heart, long before it is seen in the outward conversation.  There must be a dissipated spirit before there is a dissipated manner life." 

"Our spirits are at rest as long as they are united to God...so long as they 'attend upon the Lord without distraction'...as Mary attended to the Lord at the Master's feet" (Luke 10:39).

"...we are all by nature Atheists in the world; and that in so high a degree that it requires no less than an almighty power to counteract that tendency to dissipation which is in every human spirit, and restore the capacity of attending to God, and fixing itself on him."

"The original word 'dissipation' properly signifies to disperse, or scatter....And, indeed, it may be said of every man that is a stranger to the grace of God, that all his passions are dissipated."

"Hence, we may easily learn what is the proper, direct meaning of that common expression - a dissipated man.  He is a man who is separated from God; that is disunited from his centre, whether this be occasioned by hurry of business, by seeking honor or preferment, or fondness for diversions, for silly pleasures, so called, or for any trifle under the sun...whoever is habitually inattentive to the presence and will of the Creator is a dissipated man."

"For as dissipation or ungodliness is the parent of all sin; of all unrighteousness; of unmercifulness, injustice, fraud, perfidy; of every possible evil temper, evil word, or evil action; so it, in effect, comprises them all....if there be any vice; all these are included in ungodliness, usually termed dissipation...Abhor it, as you would abhor the devil!"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Canonical Theism

Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology & the Church, William J. Abraham, Jason E. Vickers, Natalie B. Van Kirk, eds., (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2008), pp. 335. ISBN – 978-0-8028-6238-9.

This review appeared in the Circuit Rider Magazine in November 2008.

“Canonical theism is both a vision of church renewal for the twenty-first century and a long-haul, intergenerational theological project” (xii).

With these opening words, William J. Abraham of Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology introduces a new set of theses and essays on how the church at the dawn of the millennium can constructively engage in theology and ministry. According to Abraham, the church at this critical moment in history “cannot face the challenges that lie ahead without rethinking the internal ordering of its own life and without its own intellectual leaders and teachers reconceiving their fundamental theological vocation” (xv). Instead, what must take primacy now is the canonical heritage of the church – that “great gift of medicinal salvation” mediated through the treasures, persons, bishops, saints, icons, and councils of the church’s life, created, guided, and sustained by the work of the Holy Spirit (xvi, p. 2 – Thesis IX). It is this heritage, undergirded by the Holy Spirit, which expresses how healing may come (p. 11). As a richly textured argument, canonical theism can help the church retrieve and re-envision the manifold components of its past to proclaim and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the present (xvii, p. 11).

Canonical Theism originated as a “working group” meeting at Perkins School of Theology over a three year period, beginning in 2002. Comprised of scholars from biblical studies, systematic theology, church history, and philosophy, it started with a conversation around the Thirty Theses developed by William Abraham. The group met biannually to address the key aspects of canonical theism, beginning explicitly with the relationship between the work of the Holy Spirit and the canonical heritage of the church and then moving creatively to the implications of canonical theism for church as a whole (xviii). The first six essays provide the meat and the central components of the book.

Other key aspects follow. Essays on the emergence of canonical theism and the way it engages with various aspects of contemporary theology extend the authors’ argument. Essays on the importance of the Holy Trinity in theology, the Philokalia in Eastern Orthodoxy, the issue of infallibility in Roman Catholicism, the matter of the authority of scripture in mainline Protestantism, the resurgence of arguments surrounding the historical Jesus, and the potential of renewal within evangelicalism, are also included. All of these essays are prolegomena to further theological reflection and exploration as they communicate the hope of charting new directions in the church’s life, especially with respect to theological education, systematic theology, catechesis, evangelism, and missiology. Here, as a robust form of Christian theism, canonical theism operates as “a complex means of grace that restores the image of God in human beings” and functions as “an instrument of spiritual direction and formation” in the life of the church (Thesis XI). It is a project deeply oriented toward the church’s renewal and to the recovery of the church’s nerve to share the gospel.

Several issues come to the surface when contemplating what this new collection of essays on canonical theism may mean for the church’s life. First, to persons who are concerned with the renewal of the church in all its various forms and who seek intellectual stimulus and theological depth canonical theism offers hope. In this sense, canonical theism is not one more speculative exercise in reinventing the church (e.g., Liberal Protestantism and Conservative Evangelicalism); and it is not one more entre to an already over-crowded, contemporary theological menu (e.g., process, feminist, liberationist, narrative, to name a few). Rather, it is an attempt to resource the church as a whole as it looks to the future with the rich treasures of the past, an attempt to come to grips with the brokenness of the church in history and to discover that healing truly lies within its own life.

Second, related to the above point, canonical theism challenges leaders in the church to deal with the epistemological commitments that have sustained division and fragmentation over the centuries. Across the board deep schisms exist in the church’s life (e.g., papal infallibility, biblical inerrancy, the use of the Quadrilateral, the historical critical method, to name a few). Making our epistemological positions absolute on a wide variety of issues has only served to diminish the church’s mission. Canonical theism, on the other hand, offers a breath of fresh air in “decanonizing” these proposals while also preserving and even enhancing their best insights (Thesis XXX). Here, canonical theism works more in the tradition of spiritual director than in the tradition of theological policeman/woman. As noted, the implications for theological education and spiritual formation are numerous.

Third, canonical theism has profound consequences for the way the church engages in evangelism and catechesis. In a post-Christendom era, the church is in the unique position of shaping persons in the way of Christ, from early childhood to teenage catechesis to seminary education and new convert formation. There is a deep need to rethink not only what the church proclaims but also how the church initiates. Canonical theism is under no illusion that the church can live off the fumes of a once-Protestant culture, whether in its conservative or liberal guise. The fumes are simply too thin, if not toxic.

And fourth, canonical theism provides an illuminating and candid look at how the church passes on the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). To be sure, Abraham notes, “Providence has secured more than one way for the faith to be kept alive across the generations” (p. 57). The provisions, supplied by the Holy Spirit through the canonical heritage of the church, have supplied the necessary medicine in the face of corruption and mistake (p. 57). As Abraham goes on to state, “There can be no community without responsible leadership and oversight” (p. 57).

And yet, in the era of “emergence,” when the code word is “network” and when persons from a wide variety of traditions are retrieving the practices of the ancient church for the future, it remains curious as to why the canon of episcopacy is omitted by some in favor of more egalitarian/missional networks. For example, how will such “networks” pass on the faith? How will they maintain continuity and accountability to the church universal? Certainly, there is a fear that stems from the abuses associated with hierarchal forms of leadership in the church’s history. This is well-documented. But given the amorphous nature of postmodernity, how will the church – the emergent, networked church, for instance – ensure that the deposit of the faith will pass hands? As an intergenerational project, canonical theism can assist in asking the right questions here; as a project of renewal, however, it will not offer a silver bullet to reinvent the church overnight. Rather, it will offer a way to re-envision the church across time as it announces the glad tidings of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.

Persons who may not know about Canonical Theism will want to purchase this work. It represents the fruition of years of study and prayer. To be sure, it is not an easy read, but it is an important read. As a theological project in the making, it is one that persons will want to take the time to chew on as they consider its central proposals and theses as well as its implications for ministry and mission. It is surely one that will offer the kind of healing that is good for the church’s aching and hurting soul.

Treasures of Renewal Conference

     William J. Abraham

A Wesleyan Theological Forum

This event will focus on the “Treasures of Methodism” for the renewal of the church’s mission. Professor Abraham will kick off our first Theological Forum that will foster ongoing conversation and action regarding the Wesleyan way of discipleship.

University of Indianapolis

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

10:00 a.m. in McCleary Chapel

1 CEU – Cost: $25.00 (Payable to Indiana Conference)

Suggested Reading: The Logic of Renewal (Eerdman’s Publshing, 2003)

A Continuing Education Event sponsored by The Wesleyan Connexion Project

Questions: Email Andy Kinsey at pastorandy@franklingrace.org

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Vital Connection

The following is a devotion I wrote for the Board of Church & Society in the new Indiana Conference.  Some of the insights come from Randy Maddox's article "'Visit the Poor': John Wesley, the Poor, and the Sanctification of Believers" in The Poor and the People Called Methodist edited by Richard Heitzenrater. 


From the beginning, the Wesleyan Movement, like Christianity itself, was largely a movement of and for the poor.  An Oxford don, John Wesley himself attempted to imitate the life and ministry of Christ to the marginalized and disenfranchised of England.  He brought together evangelical zeal and social outreach in a manner that focused on the needs of the working class.

The Methodists of Wesley's day translated their basic message of "love of God and neighbor" into a mission of help and hope in the community in which the poor were included as children of God.  The Wesleyan approach or method of outreach to society was (and remains) a defining feature of Methodist piety.


Throughout his life and ministry, John Wesley assumed that consistent and faithful social action must be grounded in deep communal and spiritual patterns of formation.  His statement that "there is go holiness but social holiness" presumes a whole network of ecclesial practices, notably the means of grace.  Indeed, in his famous sermon "The Scripture Way of Salvation (1765), Wesley integrates two key aspects of the Christian life, namely 1) how salvation is by grace through faith, and 2) how God upholds a place for our responsive appropriation of that grace.  Wesley insists that both works of piety and works of mercy are "necessary to salvation," being the way that Christ has appointed us to share God's love with others.

Throughout Wesley's writings, we see an integral connection between the reality of sanctification or holiness and the concern for the poor or social action.  Unfortunately, as the history of Methodism shows, the connection Wesley found to be so vital to the church's witness and mission has been difficult to maintain.  Again and again, we have seen how the heirs of Wesley's legacy have gone in different directions or staked out opposing positions:  for example, over the centuries there have been those who have focused a great deal of attention on Wesley's concern for social action but have paid little attention to the spiritual formation Wesley believed inclined us to be involved in this kind of ministry, and there have been those who have devoted a great deal of energy on Wesley's spirituality but paid scant attention to the formative power he assigned to works of mercy.  In the Wesleyan tradtion, holiness of heart and life involves making this vital connection and keeping it in tack. It is the key distinctive in imitating Christ, or, as Wesley put it, walking as Jesus walked.


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Mainline or Methodist?

The United Methodist Church in North America needs a Wesleyan Methodist Revival.  The Wesleyan Leadership Conference on October 14-16 at West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN aims to help the United Methodist Church recover what it means to be Christian and Methodist in the 21st century.  One step in the process is to ask the question, can we be "Mainline" and "Methodist"?

The Conference will focus on the book by Scott Kisker Mainline or Methodist?: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission.  In this work, Kisker argues that the heart of Methodism is really all about holiness: "the restoration of what we were created to be - the restoration of the image of God."  Persons can go to the following link and read the review I wrote about Kisker's book in Circuit Rider: Review.

Mainline or Methodist?: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission

The cost of the conference $95.00 per person.

Persons interested in attending may contact me at pastorandy@franklingrace.org.

Let me know!


Monday, August 2, 2010

Methodist Class Meetings in the 21st Century

Kevin Watson has written some very interesting posts about the importance of the Methodist Class meetings in the formation of the Christian life.  His blogs are worth reading, not only on this particular topic but also on other topics related to the Wesleyan theological tradition.  Go to Kevin's blog.  I think many persons will find what he says helpful.