Saturday, September 17, 2011

Turning the evangelical movement around

"The Holy Spirit does indeed work incessantly to bring folk to faith in Christ and connect them to each other in the body of Christ.  However, does not the Holy Spirit also work to create the church as an institution that exists through space and time?  So in following up on the comprehensive work of the Holy Spirit, we are drawn deeper into the life and work of the church as an institution.  In practice Wesley was headed away from the institutional church.  If we follow his best instincts we will do a U-turn and head in the opposite direction."

William J. Abraham, Wesley for armchair theologians (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 121.  Cf. "It was this world of faith that Wesley inhabited.  He was supported at every level in his work.  The state, the church, the universities, and the intellectual giants of his day supplied him with a network of ideas and practices without which he would have been hopelessly handicapped.  Wesley himself rarely saw this; like most reformers and renewalists he had a keener eye for what was wrong than for what was right.  He was so preoccupied with the problems of dry rot in the pulpit that he forgot how good the foundations were.  He was so worried about the broken arms of his patients that he ignored how well they had already learned to walk.  He was so busy adding new trains to the railway company and getting them to run on time that he overlooked his deep dependence on the network of track and railway stations that dotted the countryside.  He was so taken with his piccolo trumpet and the tune he was playing that he disregarded the steady beat of the big drum at the back of the orchestra.  Wesley's life and thought depended critically on the commitments of the state, the requirements of the Church of England, the theological presuppositions of university life, and the effectiveness of the intellectual work done by a host of scholars and writers.  His genius was to note that these in themselves were not enough to secure the spiritual welfare of people.  The church also needed to be an effective tutor in the spiritual life" (32-33).

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