We are not perfect yet, but we're getting better every day!
I'm in the middle of teaching an adult Sunday School class studying the doctrine of Christian Perfection, a distinctly Wesleyan idea. We are using the resource A Perfect Love: Understanding John Wesley's 'A Plain Account of Christian Perfection' and are just over half way through.
In this resource, Steve Manskar has "translated" the 18th century Wesley-ese into more contemporary language which we have found very easy to understand. Marjorie Suchocki has written a very helpful, insightful, and relevant theological reflection on the text. The study guide provided in the text has not been particularly helpful, but occasionally provided us some ideas for how to proceed.
It has been very good to be so Wesleyan for these past few weeks. I am remembering all over again just what attracted me to his theology in the first place. The "Way of Salvation," the strength afforded God's grace in Christ Jesus, having the image of God stamped a fresh on your heart, the emphasis on the process of the Christian life and the hope that we can and will be better people than we find ourselves presently to be - Yahoo! This is good stuff.
With that said, I cringe when I hear people say that we need to "get back to Wesley," or some such sentiment. That is the wrong metaphor, and not at all Wesleyan in and of itself. Granted, Wesley was influenced by the early church, but he did not want Methodists to simply live like they did "way back when." And so he probably would shudder at the thought that present day Methodists were trying to regress into an 18th century mindset and theology.
Rather, I hope that we energetically and creatively bring Wesley into the 21st century. Let's talk about a postmodern Wesleyanism that would include spiritual disciplines, an openness to the working of grace, the idea of salvation as a process/journey, etc. ... but translated into a language that 21st century people can hear and understand. In fact, I think that is what Manskar was trying to do with A Perfect Love.
We cannot spread scriptural holiness through0ut the land by simply replicating everything John and Charles did more than 200 years ago. But there is too much to learn from what they did and who they were to simply ignore them. We are Methodists; let's learn what that means, embrace it, and take the next step together toward perfection in love.
More Wesleyan thoughts to come soon ...