Tag Archive: Wesley

The sixth sense?

What would it look like to love God with one of the most precious gifts God has given – our body.   How might we engage our five sense in loving God?  Is this how we might embody Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind?  A few days ago we said something about our eyes; then our ears, then our hands and feet, then our mouth, then our nose, and now… a sixth sense?

“A sixth sense?” you say.  Well, yes.  But maybe not in the way you’ve typically thought of your senses.  We’ve covered the five senses you’re likely to find in medical journals and science textbooks.  But could another “sense” exist?  Is there an additional organ we might employ in our spiritual and social journeys?  What about the heart?  Perhaps that peculiar and vital contraption in our chest matters!

At first, we think of the heart as an anatomical necessity.  It is the hub of our livelihood, pumping blood to and from the rest of the body.  But we often attach other experiences and emotions to our hearts.  We personify our hearts when we speak of our heart’s desires.   We give our hearts legs when we become excited, proclaiming that our hearts are racing!  Our hearts swell with pride or love.  Our hearts burn.  Our hearts bleed.  Our hearts break.

Scripture is full of images, stories, and sayings about the heart.  When Moses demanded that Pharaoh let the people go we learn that Pharaoh’s heart was hard.  The Psalmist prays often for a clean and pure heart.  The wonderful wisdom literature of Proverbs suggests that a joyful heart is good medicine (17:22).  Jesus even says that the greatest commandment involves the heart: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

As Methodists, we celebrate John Wesley’s special heart moment in 1738.  Wesley, feeling lacking in his faith, went to a Moravian meeting at Aldersgate Street. After hearing a reading of Martin Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans, Wesley wrote in his journal: “About a quarter before nine, while the leader was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

In her brilliantly moving and touching novel Beloved, Toni Morrison tells of a slave’s heart.  Baby Suggs, an elderly woman who survived years as a slave thinks back to her years laboring under the sun.  Slave life had “busted her legs, back, head, eyes, hands, kidneys, womb and tongue.”  She says she had nothing left but her heart—which she put to work at once.

We too put our hearts to work.  When the rest of our body, or senses, feel broken and weary we offer our hearts.  To those who are hurting or lonely, we offer the solidarity of our heart.  When others’ hearts break, ours break too.  When the hearts of friends and neighbors rejoice, our hearts rejoice also. We offer our hearts in prayer, longing to connect our heart with God and the world.  How amazing to think that your heart, my heart, and the hearts of those across the globe share similar rhythms and longings. One of my favorite hymns, “O God of All the Nations,” begins with this opening verse:

This is my song, O God of all the nations,

a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is;

here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating

with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

Those with hearts let them share God’s heart.


Evangelism as initiation into Christian discipleship

Jones begins chapter four by making a distinction between mission and evangelism, a distinction he believes is often muddled in theological conversation.  Mission, he claims, is a wider ministry than evangelism. Mission includes all that God expects the church to do.  Evangelism, the sharing of love and the gospel, is only a part of that mission.  This distinction produces the clichéd turn of phrase: All evangelism is mission, but not all mission is evangelism.

Jones then explores whether evangelism, in word and deed, is a process the Church participates in or a product the Church wishes to produce.  Jones defines the “process” of evangelism as an on-going set of activities that foster discipleship.  Jones depicts the “product” model of evangelism as one that attempts to immediately win followers of Christ.  Jones argues for evangelism as process, and describes the problem with evangelizing for product as neglecting God’s sovereign freedom and the liberty of human beings.   Jones argues that evangelism must be conceived as a process that aims at a product.  Christians evangelize through a process of relationships such that persons are initiated and nurtured as Christian disciples.

Jones also examines several common links pastors and churches infer when discussing evangelism and mission in the parish setting.  First, he looks at the connection between evangelism and church growth.  He argues that too often churches associate effective evangelism with growth in church attendance.  The weakness of this attitude, Jones says, is that it causes evangelistic pastors and churches to become more concerned with conversion and less focused on sanctification and discipleship.  While getting people to come to church is great, what we do with them after they are there may be even more important.  Jones asks, “Do we confuse the welfare of the church with the welfare of the reign of God?” (109).

Jones also notes the common link Christians make between evangelism and proclamation.  Many view evangelism primarily as the proclamation or announcement of the Good News.  The shortfall of this outlook, however, is that is places too much emphasis on “proclamation as word” and de-emphasizes “proclamation as deed.”  To say that evangelism is proclamation carries explicit verbal connotations.  “Proclamation” does not cover all the various actions that may lead a person into Christian discipleship such as social action, denouncing injustice, or helping to feed the hungry at a shelter.

Jones concludes chapter four with his full definition of evangelism: “That set of loving, intentional activities governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God”(114).

I wonder, however, where the Church is in Jones’s definition.  Is “Christian discipleship in response to the reign of God” a solo endeavor?  Are “loving intentional activities” most faithfully and fruitfully carried out by individuals or communities?  Jones’s statement lacks an appropriate emphasis on the Church as an evangelizing entity and the Church as the place into which initiation occurs.  Perhaps we might alter Jones’s statement to read: Evangelism is that set of loving, intentional activities performed by individuals and communities through the Spirit and governed by the goal of initiating persons into Christian discipleship within a community of believers in response to the reign of God.

This is the fourth review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Stained glass window at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church (Downers Grove, IL)

The logic of discipleship

In chapter three Jones argues that Christian discipleship is the core of any evangelistic outreach.  He believes that evangelism is the part of the church’s mission that seeks to help persons enter into Christian discipleship.  Jones contrasts his emphasis on discipleship with William Abraham’s focus on evangelism as initiation into the kingdom of God (The Logic of Evangelism, 1989).

Abraham claims that evangelism seeks to initiate persons into God’s saving work, the reign of God.  The Triune God first initiated this mission, and Christians are called to evangelize others into the mission.  Discipleship occurs after initiation into the kingdom.  Naturally, Abraham believes that the church plays an active role in the initiation process.

Jones counters Abraham on several key points.  First, Jones argues that while humans respond to the reign of God, it is not the reign of God into which they are initiated.  Rather,  humans are initiated into disciples after a faithful response to the reign of God.  Discipleship, not entry into the reign of God, is the aim of evangelism.  Second, Jones critiques Abraham’s stance on evangelism and initiation outside the church.  Jones believes that Abraham’s view establishes a position in which God only acts, or initiates, with the help of Christians in the Church.  Jones suggests that Abraham narrows the scope of God’s reign by limiting it to the church’s ministry.  The reign of God is wider than the ministry of the church.  Jones writes, Abraham “limits God’s sovereign action on earth to be no larger than the ministry of the church” (70).

Jones rearticulates the logic of evangelism as initiation into Christian discipleship in Wesleyan soteriological terms.  First, evangelistic outreach calls people to repentance, seeking ways in which God is already working to turn around others.  He writes, “In modern evangelism, one of the most crucial tasks of discernment is to discover the ways in which a non-Christians might be responding already to God’s grace” (79).  Additionally, justification comes as the point of entry into the Christian life where one’s relationship with God changes.  Jones highlights one’s baptism and cognitive commitment (intellectual acceptance of the gospel) as marks of justification.

Finally, Jones examines sanctification within evangelistic outreach.  He argues that from the moment of justification, sanctification begins through worship, spiritual disciplines, formation (conversion), witness, spiritual gifts, and faith-sharing.  Through a congregation – a gathered community of believers in which persons live the Christian life together – sanctifying grace works to perfect believers in love of God and neighbor.

Throughout Jones’s discussion of initiation and discipleship he could have devoted more time to baptism.  He quickly gives a nod to baptism’s role in discipleship, but his thought in this area appears short-changed.  It only seems appropriate to connect our baptismal vows with evangelism.  As baptized persons we are initiated into God’s family (Church Universal).  Also, through the water and the Spirit we are incorporated into God’s saving mission in the world.  To speak of our evangelistic motivation without tying that motivation to baptism seems to not fully portray our baptismal identity and calling.

This is the third review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Fusing doctrine and theology

Scott Jones begins Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor the exact place the book’s title suggests.  He asks: “How do we love non-Christians well?  Evangelize them.  How do we evangelize non-Christians well?  Love them.”  Jones locates his cyclical argument amid a proliferation of definitions of evangelism.  But for Jones, love is the hinge of any definition of evangelism.

Jones suggests that any theology of evangelism flow from Christian scripture.  We should start with that which is most fundamental to the gospel, and allow those claims to shape all other theological constructs (30).  What does scripture tell us about anthropology?  Soteriology?  Sin?  God?  From these starting places, Jones argues, we may begin to lovingly interpret and meet human needs, which is core of Jones’s evangelism.

As Jones rightly points out, God’s evangelistic love of the world is the central message of scripture (33).  God’s love draws all of humanity into worship and relationship with God and one another.  Love for others demonstrated through actions, Jones says, is the crux of evangelism.  Such loving acts are evangelistic in two ways.  First, loving actions are good news (God is actively working to solve humanity’s problems).  Second, actions are invitational (God is working to invite and encourage persons to participate in the reign of God).

Jones’s emphasis on God’s love for humanity as the impetus for human love for one another is faithful to the canon.  All of Christian scripture directs us to see and live God’s compelling love for God’s creation.  Jones’s call for Christians to tie God’s love for us to our love for others is thoroughly Wesleyan.  (Think of John Wesley’s love for 1 John).

I greatly appreciated Jones’s ability to wed doctrine (what we believe about God) to theology (how we live our beliefs).  This link seems all too often missing in much evangelistic conversion.  Evangelism too often becomes something we do because well…we’re supposed to, right?  Jones shows that there is much more depth behind our convictions to evangelize.

I am reminded of St. Basil’s argument concerning the essence of God. Basil believes that while God’s essence is an unknowable mystery, “we can know God by His energies, or His activities.”  At the heart of God’s redemptive activity is love (John 3:16).  For Basil, what we believe about God is revealed to us in God’s actions in the world.

The same may be said of the Church today.  Perhaps the world will most know the essence of the Church by the Church’s actions.  The question then becomes, “Do our actions point to a loving, caring, generous essence?”  The words of the famous hymn come to mind… “And they’ll know that we are Christians by our love.”

This is the first review in an eight-part series looking at Scott Jones’s Evangelistic Love of God & Neighbor

Wesley’s Advent for Today

Bible & CandleCome, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set the people free.
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.

These are the opening words of one of my favorite hymns.  Whether it is Christmas, or Easter, or Pentecost, I love singing Charles Wesley’s famous hymn, Come, Thou Long-expected Jesus.  Though the hymn was written in 1745, it remains appropriate for us now in 2008.

Today, our coming and going to all sorts of events consumes our Advent Christmas season.  We go to parties and shopping malls.  Family and friend come over to visit.  Carolers come to our houses to share their songs.  Coming and going has become part of our Christmas tradition.

However, Wesley’s hymn reminds us that Advent is really about the coming of God in Jesus Christ.  At Christmas, we celebrate God’s coming to us on earth.  In the manger, we witness God’s coming into human history.  Still today, God comes into our lives to free us from our fears, and to release us from our sins.  God comes so that we may have peace.  God comes at Christmas in the form of a little baby, so that we may say, “in the future, Christ will come again.”

How are you anticipating God’s coming?  How might God’s coming into your heart transform your life?  How may God’s advent renew and refresh your spirit?

O, come, thou long-expected Jesus!

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