Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maddox on Wesley on Making Disciples

My thanks to John Meunier for the link to Dr. Randy Maddox's paper, "Wesley's Prescription for Making Disciples of Jesus Christ."  I discovered that the Quarterly Review article was an edited version of a paper Maddox produced for the United Methodist Council of Bishops' Task Force on Theological Education and Leadership Formation.  The paper does not address seminary education or the type of training that would best prepare leaders for the church.  Instead, Maddox describes five characteristics of Wesley's ministry and discusses their implications for today.

The faculties of the soul (Understanding, Will, Affections, Liberty) are referenced in the paper, although Maddox uses terms such as "intellectual convictions"and "rational initiative" instead of Understanding.  This is an example of one possible approach to updating Wesley-- maintain Wesley's definition of the soul but use terms that are more familiar to a contemporary audience.

The advice that Maddox offers to the 21st Century church is shaped by Wesley's theory of the soul:
  1. Cultivating a Doctrinal Sense of Christ-likeness will reform the Understanding
  2. Offering opportunities to experience the Spirit will reform the Affections
  3. Engaging in formative practices will reform the Will
  4. Participation in the Means of Grace (which includes working with the poor) will reform the Affections and Will
  5. Creating small groups for support and accountability will reform the Liberty
I take away from Maddox's argument the insight that our definition of the soul matters because it determines the focus of our ministries.  Our view of the soul, its predicament and functions, is implicit in our church programming.

For that reason theological education must provide students with an opportunity to both learn and test various theories of the soul.  Activities such as reading, preaching, and writing about the soul are insufficient.  Seminary students must have learning labs in church settings where they can try out theologically-informed practices of ministry and evaluate their results in order to determine what kind of impact these practices are having on souls.

These reflections make me wonder if there is an unacknowledged theory of the soul that currently informs most church programming (including preaching)?  If so, how do we surface this theory and make it more explicit?  When we become aware of our definition, what means should we use to evaluate if our practices are producing the desired reform to the soul?


John Meunier said...

How very "experimental" of you - in the Wesleyan sense. The learning lab analogy is great.

Your insight about the importance of our conception of the soul is fruitful as well. This is related to, but different from, anthropology.

I think often in churches we do not think much at all about souls. We view people more or less as constituted by consumer culture. And our spiritual medicine is dispensed based on that conception.

Ben said...

I think you're spot on here. Candler School of Theology requires that you complete a Contextualized Education requirement in both of your first 2 years of seminary. The first year you're placed in a clinical or social setting. The second year you're in an ecclesial setting. You're also placed in a small group where assignments are required and where you can theologically analyze your experience with peers as it's happening.

But I'm not sure other schools have requirements like this. Your thoughts on this relating to our conception of the soul is really good, however. It should make us start asking better questions.

LA said...

John, I'm musing on the view of the soul in a consumer culture. Just heard an NPR story about Gary Vaynerchuk the author of "The Thank You Economy." He uses social media to build profiles of potential customers. Once he has a sense of their interests, tastes, and lifestyles he devises a marketing plan tailored to each individual.

Such a view implies that souls have unique needs and meeting those needs requires familiarity with each person. In contrast, the church emphasizes and targets the universal need of all souls for grace.

Marketers know how to manipulate people through the use of colors, sounds, images, and messages that stimulate a false sense of need, which implies a view of the soul as vulnerable to outside influence.

So, the church as composing vulnerable souls with different, possibly competing and conflicting interests? It's not a definition of The Soul, but maybe what we need is not a metaphysical theory but a theory of cognition-- how do we learn, what causes us to change, what helps us become better people, what inspires us to grow in faith, what motivates us, what stimulates feelings of compassion, awe, etc.