Friday, April 8, 2011

Back to Wesley

     Just read another call for the UMC to go back to Wesley.  I wonder if those calling for a return to Wesley have this quote in mind--
"I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out." 
     That's from Wesley's article "Thoughts Upon Methodism."  I've been researching this article and Wesley's definitions of doctrine, spirit, and discipline and trying to understand how these three things worked together to keep Methodism from becoming a dead sect.
     What I'm finding are the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sources that informed his definitions.  I enjoy tracing this intellectual history, but I don't think this is what people are asking for when they say they want to go back to Wesley.
     For example, Wesley's understanding of the Soul is informed by his Aristotelian education.  He identified the faculties of the Soul as Understanding, Will, Affections, and Liberty.  When he describes the healing of the soul as the healing of these four functions  (See Sermon 141) Wesley is using terms that current UMCs do not use any more.
     I question how valuable it would be to go back to this aspect of Wesley's doctrine.  At the same time, I think conversations about current definitions of the soul and what it means to save the soul, would be fascinating.  So, I'm concluding that Wesley's categories (Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, Discipline) are helpful, but that I need to think through what those categories look like today.


LA said...

Hearing from Dr. Thomas Oord (via Facebook) regarding process theology's focus on the body-mind(soul) connection brought home for me Wesley's focus. The body's relationship to the soul, especially the soul's dependence on the brain is mentioned in Wesley's writings, however his emphasis is on the faculties of the soul-- their corruption, healing, and even in one sermon, their status in the afterlife. So what's the contemporary equivalent of Wesley's functions of the soul?

Br. Scot said...

If I remember correctly, Rex D. Matthew's dissertation had a section on Wesley's anthropology. Most of it was focused on Wesley's epistemology and it has been a couple of years since I read it, but I think that there may be something in there that will help.

LA said...

You're right, Rex's dissertation does discuss Wesley's anthropology and epistemology and he identifies the Oxford Aristotelian logical tradition as the source for Wesley's views. I build on Rex's thesis in my dissertation and identify the source for Wesley's conception of faith as a spiritual sense. This intellectual history still interests me, and I'm writing a book about it. In this blog I'd like to think through the implications of updating Wesley. I know Billy Abraham has a Neurotheology project, and I'm wondering if that's the move to make when it comes to talking about the soul from a contemporary Wesleyan perspective.

John Meunier said...

Randy Maddox has an interesting paper on doctrine, discipline, and spirit.

Wesley's Prescription for Making Disciples