April 2010

This week we want to feature the latest addition to the Wesley Seminary team–Lenny Luchetti.  Although Lenny has over a decade and a half of pastoral leadership experience, he comes to us most recently from Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church.  God graced him to be a part of that church’s turn around into a thriving and strongly missionally minded community of faith. 

Not only has the broader Wesleyan community recognized in Lenny a man of great wisdom (he is a go-to person for Wesleyan leaders).  But God has also gifted him with excellence in the proclamation of the gospel. He is just finishing his DMin in preaching at Asbury Theological Seminary, and his primary responsibility will be for the seminary proclamation and communication courses. He was already in demand as a preacher.  Now Stroudsburg Wesleyan has gifted us to be able to hear him far and wide on a regular basis! 

I asked Dr. Luchetti to share a little bit of his vision for his ministry as part of the seminary, and here’s what he had to say:

“I have spent the past 15 years of my life investing in local churches. During that time, I have seen the potential of the local church to transform lives by embodying the values of a Kingdom not of this world. Now, I sense God is calling me to invest my life in those who are investing their lives in the local church. I am more convinced than ever that, while ministry forms and styles must change in order to adapt to a changing culture, the local church has been and will always be the main instrument through which God redeems and restores the world he created and loves. This conviction compels me to come alongside of pastors whose sleeves are rolled up and whose hands are already engaged in mission. I believe that Wesley Seminary, because of her intentional mission and unique values, is poised to equip passionate pastors who will lead missional churches that change the world.”

Welcome, Lenny, to the seminary team!


The previous post is here.

… A final aspect of Wesley that is quite striking is his pragmatism.  One reason it is so striking is the fact that we would not have guessed it given his personality.  It is no coincidence that the groups he founded were called “Methodists,” for Wesley himself was methodical, idealistic, and quite a perfectionist by personality.  His difficulty in relationships with women are notorious.

He is thus not the sort of person we might expect to find preaching in a cemetery, given that the gospel was strongly a matter of consecrated church space at the time.  It greatly pained him to preach outside of coal mines instead of being a pulpit.  We would not expect him to ordain bishops for the American church since by Christian tradition he did not have the authority to do so.  Wesley did all these things because he believed the mission outweighed the preferred method.

The Western world scarcely requires the pragmatism of Wesley’s day, and the Wesleyan tradition holds no corner on creativity in the pursuit of the mission. But the current emphasis on being missional, being focused on God’s redemptive goal of saving the world strongly fits with the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition.  We discuss this current emphasis in the light of the Wesleyan tradition in chapter 6.

… In the past, some have critiqued the Wesleyan movement for not being much of a “thinking” tradition.  Wesley left no systematic theology for his heirs.  He remained an Anglican his entire life and was largely satisfied with the Thirty-nine articles that serve as the basis for the Anglican Church.  What he did leave were a standard set of sermons that set rough boundaries for what he expected “the people called Methodist” to preach. [4]

In this regard, Wesleyans have sometimes tried a little too hard to be respectable by demonstrating their intellectual proficiency.  Perhaps a little jealous of the heavy emphasis on cognitive things in the Calvinist tradition, we have sometimes forgotten that a focus on heart and life is actually intellectually defensible as the right set of priorities.  So we need not be embarrassed by the fact that Wesley left sermons rather than theological tomes.  It is a good time for such an emphasis, as we will discuss in chapter 2.

The second feature of Wesley’s thought that we want to emphasize is his optimism about what God wanted to do to change the human heart.  In later life, he would call the notion of “sanctification” the “grand depositum which God has lodged with the people called Methodist.” [5]  The core notion here is not only that God wants to empower his people to resist temptation, but that God wants so to remake our hearts that it is a delight to do so.

Calvin also believed in sanctification.  Unlike the Lutheran tradition, that would rather not speak of “works” and “righteousness” for fear we will be tempted to boast, Calvin did in fact teach that God actually begins to make us righteous after we come to Christ.  But Wesley was far more optimistic about what God wanted to do than Calvin.  Wesley did not only think that we would have moments of victory or righteousness in some areas.  Wesley did not even take what would be the view of the Keswick movement in the 1800s, that we might be able to resist sin although it would always be a great struggle.  Wesley was optimistic that we might actually be transformed in our hearts to love the good truly and do the good because we love the good.

A life that did not show change was not a truly converted life for Wesley.  And thus it is that in some traditions you will mainly run into difficulty if your ideas do not conform exactly to the rest of the group.  But Wesleyans are far more likely to be troubled by your life than your passing ideas.  It is not that ideas do not matter.  It is rather a matter of priority.  We believe these were also the priorities of the New Testament and that certain developments especially in the study of Paul fit very nicely with this element of Wesleyanism.  We will explore these “new perspectives” in chapter 3.

The third element of Wesley’s thought that we believe is ripe for the current generation is his emphasis on what we might call social justice today.  No one who knows Wesley can question the emphasis he placed on personal salvation.  In the first preface to his standard sermons, he wrote, “I want to know one thing, the way to heaven.” [6]  But he also saw the gospel as something that should transform society as well.  He cared no less for the oppressed coal miner as for the lost aristocrat, and many would say that his ministry helped effect child labor laws and the eventual abolition of slavery in England.  In chapter 5 we recognize that it is a great time to bring forth this heritage today as well.  

[4] The first edition in 1746 had 44 sermons, but some would argue Wesley later expanded the number of standard sermons to 53.

[5] In a letter to Robert Carr Brackenbury dated September 15, 1790 (Works 13:9).

[6] As a child of his age, Wesley thought of eternity being in heaven.  It is just as easily argued biblically and from church history, of course, that our eternity is on a transformed earth.

Obviously the Wesleyan tradition has something to do with John Wesley.  At the same time, Wesleyanism has not stood still.  Parts of the United Methodist Church today, for example, have become open to many ideas and practices that Wesley himself would never have accepted.  But even the dozens of smaller Wesleyan denominations that arose in the 1800s and 1900s each have their own flavor.  Generations of Wesleyans, Nazarenes, African-Methodist Episcopals, and many others may have little or no sense of who John Wesley was at all.  In many respects, we are more like his grandchildren than his children.

Nevertheless, while we are not bound to Wesley, numerous aspects of his thinking and practice ring true to the heart of the Wesleyan tradition today.  We do not worship Wesley, and we probably should not even hang on his every word.  But he provides an excellent starting point for defining what we mean in this book when we talk about a Wesleyan or the Wesleyan tradition.

He was, of course, orthodox in his faith, by which we mean he affirmed the common creeds of Christendom.  He believed that God really existed and that God had created the world out of nothing. [1]  Wesley believed in the Trinity, that the one God existed as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He believed that Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.  He believed that Jesus physically rose from the dead.  He believed that Jesus would literally return to earth one day.  These beliefs do not distinguish Wesley from other Christian groups.  They are what he held in common with other groups.

Wesley was a Protestant, but he was an Anglican Protestant, and the Anglican tradition in general remained closer to catholicism than many other forms of Protestantism.  For example, Wesley affirmed the “Scripture only” principle of the Reformation.  But in practice he drew heavily on tradition, reason, and experience to make his arguments.  Albert Outler described his actual method of finding God’s will as a “quadrilateral” of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. [2]  As we will see, this openness to experience and tradition are part of what makes this a great time for the Wesleyan tradition.

But despite the many things Wesley had in common with other believers, we are most interested in some of his most distinctive aspects, the ones that resonate the most with where we are at this point in history.  I’ve boiled it down to four: his 1) orientation around the heart, 2) optimism about life-change, 3) quest to change society, and 4) sense of the priority of mission over method.  Each of these relates to one of the chapters in this book.

Wesley’s focus on the heart has proved to be right on target not only biblically but also psychologically and philosophically.  He once wrote that religion does not “consist in orthodoxy or right opinions… A man may be orthodox in every point… He may be almost as orthodox as the Devil… and may, all the while, be as great a stranger as he to the religion of the heart.” [3] So while Wesley clearly valued orthodoxy, he rightly recognized that it was far more important to have things straight in your heart than in your head.

Another one of Wesley’s great sermons was called, “On a Catholic Spirit.”  In this sermon, Wesley explored the kinship that Christians should have with one another.  He applied the words of 2 Kings 10 to believers, “‘If thine heart is as my heart,’ if thou lovest God and all mankind, I ask no more: ‘give me thine hand.'”  While Wesley cared deeply about ideas, a much higher priority was that a Christian’s heart not only was full of the love of God, but also with love of one’s neighbor and enemy…

[more next week, D.v.]

[1] Some in the broader Wesleyan tradition today are “panentheists,” who believe that the world is part of God, evolving along with God.  Wesley would not have accepted their thinking, and the burden of proof is on them to justify their place in the Wesleyan tradition.

[2] Outler

[3] In his sermon, “The Way to the Kingdom.”

Here are some passages that come to my mind this blessed morning:

Matt. 28:18-20–“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

John 11:25–“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.'”

Acts 2:24, 32-33–“But God raised him up, having loosed the pains of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it… This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.  Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear.”

Rom. 4:22, 24-25–“That is why Abraham’s faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.’ … “It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who was raised from the dead: Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

Rom. 6:4–“We were buried with him in baptism to death so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we also might walk in newness of life.”

Rom. 10:9–“If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

1 Cor. 15:20-22–“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For as death came through a man, through a man has also come the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”

Acts 1:11–“Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky?  This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven.”

As we remember Christ’s death on the cross today, we might think of some of the biblical pictures of that event:

Romans 5:8–“He confirms His own love toward us, God does, because although we were still sinners, Christ died on our behalf.”

1 Cor. 15:3–“Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.”

2 Cor. 5:21–“God made the one who had not known sin to be Sin for us, so that we might in him demonstrate the righteousness of God.”

Rom. 3:25–“Christ Jesus, whom God in His faithfulness put forward as an atoning sacrifice, through his blood, to demonstrate that He is righteous even though passing over the sins that had been previously committed.  God did this in His forbearance at this present time, to show that He is righteous and that He makes righteous the person who comes through the faith of Jesus.”

Rom. 8:3–“For what was impossible for the Law to do, because of the weakness of our flesh, God did by sending His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering.  Thus God condemned sin in the flesh.”

1 Cor. 5:7–“Our Passover lamb, Christ, was sacrificed”

Hebrews 10:14–“With one sacrifice he has perfected forever those who come to be sanctified.”

Matthew 27:51–“And behold, the veil of the temple was divided in two from top to bottom and the ground was shaken and the rocks divided, and the tombs were opened…”

1 Peter 2:24–“He himself has born the burden of our sins in his body on the tree so that we might live to righteousness, because we have died to sins.  By his wound you may be healed.”

Luke 22:20–“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is being shed on your behalf.”

Mark 10:45–“The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

John 3:14–“and as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”

Hebrews 2:14–“Since the children shared blood and flesh in common, he also partook similarly of them so that through death he might destroy the one who had the power of death: the Devil.”

Revelation 5:9–“Worthy are you to take the book and to open its seals because you were slain and you bought for God with your blood from every tribe and tongue and people and race and you made them for our God a kingdom and priests and they will rule on the earth.”