John Wesley, a Generous Orthodoxy

And a Wide Appreciation for the Spiritual Classics of the Faith

learning is the essence of humility

I intentionally used this quote from an "eastern religious teacher" to introduce the tension about this post (and John Wesley as a model).

Christianity is always concerned about truth and error. God's Word is truth. Christ is the revelation of the Triune God, made flesh and dwelling among us. False teaching is a real problem, not just for the first century church, but for the 21st century one as well. There is objective reality and truth about that reality. Truth is not only what you perceive or what you opinion or what you want it to be.

John Wesley was a fierce proponent of truth and boldly declared what he believed to be true and corrected what he believed to be wrong. So, do not make the mistake of thinking that I (or more importantly, John Wesley) are not interested in truth. 

What I am interested in communicating is the openness that Wesley had to learn from the history of the church and from the multiple streams of living water (Richard Foster).

First we see this in the many different "views" that interpreters have of Wesley. Fred Sanders lists some of them. There is the:

  • basically Reformed Wesley,
  • the essentially Lutheran-Pietist Wesley,
  • the secretly Puritan Wesley,
  • the exotically Greek Patristic Wesley,
  • the Anglican Wesley,
  • the secret Baptist Wesley,
  • the crypto-Catholic Wesley, and
  • the proto-Pentecostal Wesley.

That is quite a spectrum of Wesleys. He almost matches (or at least the interpretive descriptions) of the self-claimed description of Brian McLaren in his book on Generous Orthodoxy. You almost want to ask, "Will the real John Wesley please stand up?"

Second, we see this in Wesley's reading program in the spiritual classics which he designed for the Methodist lay preachers. You can find that entire series of edited classics HERE. What a wonderful resource this is. Plus, the rest of the website has great resources for Methodism in general. Wesley had 50 volumes of edited classics, with each volume being about 300 pages.

What a project. First to read as widely as Wesley did. Then to think as carefully and devotionally about those classics as he did. Finally, to edit and redact them in such a way as to eliminate the parts he saw as problematic and to make them as useful as possible for the lay leaders of his movement! Obviously Wesley had a high commitment to exposing the Methodist leaders to the best spiritual classics in the history of the church.

I really encourage you to become a life long reader of the great spiritual classics. A wonderful way for a first exposure to these classics is to read the excellent two volumes by Richard Foster. (1)  Devotional Classics, and (2) Spiritual Classics. In each volume, Foster provides substantial snippets of a spiritual classic, along with some interpretive help and then excellent formatve practices to help you experience the teaching. As you read these books, you will find certain of the classics really appealing to you. Use that to go exploring the actual work itself.

And may God work in us a Generous Orthodoxy that makes us faithful disicples and fruitful servant-leaders.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International