|TALKS-Keeping Faith with the Faith of Our Fathers|
Introductory Lecture for the Jonathan Edwards / John Wesley
Tercentenary Preaching Festival of Evangelicals Concerned
Ocean Grove, New Jersey
September 26, 2003
Dr. Ralph Blair, Founder
Evangelicals Concerned, Inc.
The evangelical movement sailed forth in the fervor for the gospel of Christ in 18th century “Great Awakenings” on both shores of that ocean out there. As it’s been said, “Evangelicalism emerged precisely on the trailing edge of Christendom and the leading edge of modernity.” (D. Bruce Hindmarch) Between the demise of the world of ecclesiastical power and the rise of Enlightenment power, the renewed power of the gospel broke forth.
Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley and his circuit riding preachers had their work cut out for them. The religious landscape of Colonial America was anything but the stereotype of white steeple devotion to Christ. And it was no better in England. Most Colonial Americans did not go to church. Eighty-five percent were unaffiliated with any church. (Robert C. Fuller) By contrast, today, only around 35% of Americans are unaffiliated with organized religion. Edwards and Wesley and the Wesleyans faced what we do today: people who are, as they say today, “spiritual but not religious.” Early Americans engaged in magic and occult practices – astrology, divination, fortune telling – as so many do these days. They were “spiritual but not religious” then, as now, because, then as now, they didn’t want to answer to any higher authority than themselves. Among the educated elite, a rationalist nod was given in the direction of the distracted god of deism. It was not a Christian culture. It was a world much like that in which the earliest Christians found themselves – and as multicultural as our own.
The modernity of the Enlightenment worldview has been largely superseded by the seeming skepticism of postmodernism. But indifference and hostility to biblical revelation and serious Christian thought and discipleship is as strong as ever.
A recent column in The New York Times illustrates the continuing hostility to serious Christian discipleship. Nicholas Kristof very confusedly writes in alarm over what he calls the “poisonous divide … between intellectual and religious America.” He feigns he’s “not denigrating anyone’s beliefs … But,” he warns, “I do think we’re in the middle of another religious Great Awakening [that will mean] a growing polarization within our society.” Well, yes, if we are, it will. As it should.
Social critic Michael Horowitz – no Christian – takes him on. He responds to what he says is Kristof’s “monumentally patronizing column – one that assumes that secularists are smarter [than believers] and that American evangelicals are akin to Islamic ayatollahs.” He sees Kristof’s “notion that evangelical Christianity is a kinder, gentler version of al-Qaeda terrorism and radical Islamist preaching – [his] central premise, [to be] as dangerous an idea as floats around the world.” Horowitz says it does “disservice … to Muslims struggling to recapture their faith from … Wahhabi mosques and madrasses” just as it does disservice to evangelical Christians.
Moreover, a new University of Chicago study of all suicide bombings over the past two decades finds that, contrary to popular perceptions, they are motivated by secular, not religious, zeal. The data show that “the leading instigator of suicide attacks is … a Marxist-Leninist group [in Sri Lanka], adamantly opposed to religion.” (Robert A. Pape)
Our evangelical heritage is rooted in the ministries of Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley. So it’s fitting that we, in Evangelicals Concerned, remember these two powerful minds and warm hearts of Christian witness in this, their 300th anniversary year.
Formative figures, they personify the two-fold tradition of American evangelicalism – Puritanism (with its reverence for Scripture over mere ritual) and Pietism (with its respect for experiential faith and practice over mere verbal ascent to a creed). They dearly loved God with both mind and heart.
In gratitude to God for His grace in the lives and lasting influence of our brothers, Jonathan and John, Evangelicals Concerned is sponsoring this Preaching Festival. We welcome all of you who have chosen to be here with us on this special weekend – those of you who are here in the flesh and also that “great cloud of witnesses” that always surrounds the Lord’s people – from every tribe and tongue and time.
And we’re especially honored to have with us, as the Festival’s preacher, Dr. Roy Clements. He’s known around the world for his faithful biblical exposition. He’s the kind of man Edwards called “a good minister that has the presence of God with him in his work [and is, as such] the very greatest blessing that God bestows upon a people – next to Himself.”
The world’s leading evangelicals called Roy’s preaching “Christian teaching at its best” and “powerful exposition of the gospel of God – spiritual nourishment for believers everywhere.” But that was before he was known to be gay. His preaching is now no less evangelical than it’s ever been. But when those who’d said the glowing things I just quoted discovered I’d cited their earlier endorsements in last winter’s pre-Festival publicity, one of them e-mailed me immediately, insisting that I remove their old endorsements. And so I have.
I’ve asked Roy to preach four sermons that are rooted in the respective emphases of our honorees – two sermons characteristic of Edwards and two sermons characteristic of Wesley. He’ll be doing so, not only in terms of their individual emphases, but also in terms of their individual styles and even their sermon lengths. Wesley preached much shorter sermons than did Edwards. So Roy’s Wesleyan sermons will be shorter than his Edwardsian sermons – which will add to your free time.
Besides the four preaching sessions tomorrow, we’ll have a 300th Birthday Party on Saturday night. It’ll feature Edwards’ favorite: chocolate cake – though remember, it’s only the dark or bitter chocolate that Edwards knew that is rich in the antioxidants so good to cardiac health. And, speaking of ingesting what’s good for us, try not to use too much salt and pepper on your food. Wesley disapproved of such. He said it wasn’t all that healthy. On Sunday morning we’ll meet for worship and communion in a service built around the words of Scripture as well as the words of our two honored fathers in the faith. And, as we always do, we’ll be giving the offering away to poor strangers. After worship we’ll have a time for reflection and sharing on what the weekend has meant to us.
Also during this weekend, you’ll get to examine some autograph letters, books and other relics from our own Edwards and Wesley collections and you’ll get to tour the Ocean Grove Museum as well as the Great Auditorium, built in 1894 for the convocations of this grand-daddy of all Wesleyan Camp Meetings. So it’ll be a full weekend for encouragement in serious awe and joy in the Lord.
And throughout the weekend, as we take note of the no-nonsense claims of Christ and Christian discipleship, sooner or later, personal response will be evoked. If the claims of Christ are true, it’s fitting that we receive them and live on their terms. If we deem them to be false, we’re free to look elsewhere and cope with the consequences.
According to evangelical scholar John Stackhouse of Regent College, Vancouver: “What makes evangelicalism distinctive [from other Christian groupings] is its transdenominationalism.” We, here, come from a diversity of denominations. Edwards and Wesley themselves well illustrate this inclusiveness since they stand in varying Christian traditions – Calvinist and Arminian, Congregational and Anglican, Puritan and Pietist.
Notwithstanding their contrasting systems of thought and practice, they shared what Wesley called “the marrow of Christian truth.” So Wesley saw to it that Edwards’ works reached the Methodists (though with the Calvinist peculiarities removed). Wesley was fond of saying: “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.” And he meant it.
What Wesley and Edwards held in common was what C. S. Lewis would one day call “mere Christianity” and what Stackhouse, following Paul, calls “the classic good news of God being in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.” As Stackhouse puts it: “Doctrinally, then, evangelicals are creedally orthodox.” He notes that evangelicals seriously believe “the Bible [to be] the Word of God in written form” and we hold to the importance of Christian “conversion, … a life of holiness [and] missions.”
Edwards and Wesley also shared a deep appreciation for a well-balanced approach to every issue. In Wesley’s case, it was what he proposed as his “quadrilateral” – serious consideration of what we may learn about an issue from the Bible as well as from tradition, reason and experience. Wesley was so keen to keep up with the scientific knowledge of his day that he thought that anyone who consulted only the Bible was guilty of “rank enthusiasm.” And he thought that any minister who did not read books other than the Bible, at least five out of every twenty-four hours, should simply “get out of the ministry.”
In Edwards’ case, as historian Mark Noll points out, “Edwards, in full range of metaphysical, psychological and epistemological works, alongside a small library of theological and biblical writing, was responsible for the most God-centered as well as the most intellectually subtle reasoning in all of American evangelical history.”
Both men were representative of what Stackhouse endorses for all evangelicals when he writes: We are “not to confuse any particular interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself. The Bible is God’s Word written, but our interpretations of it are not. And,” he adds, “our interpretations of the Bible may well need to be adjusted in the light of our interpretations of God’s other means of revelation, whether science, history, tradition, spiritual experience, and so on.”
With an appreciative nod to John Robinson, that wise old Puritan pastor who launched the Pilgrims on their voyage to Cape Cod, Stackhouse warns evangelicals today about what he calls the “dangerous trend … toward a traditionalism, even a creedalism, that is satisfied that God has broken forth all the light from his holy Word that he is ever going to break.” Said Edwards: “We find that those things that we received as principles in one age and are never once questioned, it comes into nobody’s thought that they possibly may not be true – and yet they are exploded in another age as light increases.” He continues: “The wisdom of God was not given for any particular age, but for all ages. It surely therefore becomes us to receive what God reveals to be truth and to look upon his word as proof sufficient, whether what he reveals squares with our notions or not.”
In this regard, Edwards and Wesley share company with other theologians, such as John Calvin, “who revised his own summary of doctrine several times … [and] Martin Luther, “who never felt it urgent to systematize his theology.” (Stackhouse) As Stackhouse says, it’s understood that they “wrote much theology in their different ways but always to meet the needs of their contemporaries, not presumably to speak for generations past or to generations in the future. The Bible, they each recognized, was inexhaustibly rich, complicated, and mysterious – just as one would expect from a divine Author.” Would that Stackhouse and other evangelicals today better understood this wisdom of our earlier brethren – especially when it comes to what is known today about same-sex behavior and interpretation in the ancient world and what is known today about same-sex orientation.
Edwards and Wesley weren’t the only important religious figures born in 1703. This is also the tercentenary of Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism – what, these days, we term Islamism – terrorizing, militant Muslim revolution. As we look back to the visions of Edwards and Wesley, Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda look back to the vision of Wahhab.
But our looking back can be clouded by the 20th century’s intervening secular and reactionary fundamentalist assumptions. The Religious Right, for example, has nothing to do with the Christian gospel and everything to do with a particular brand of reactionary Americanism which finds common cause with those who explicitly reject the gospel. And Islamists’ looking back is likewise clouded. As a sociopolitical ethicist explains: “Islamism owes at least as much to the totalitarian movements and ideologies of the 20th century as it does to any version of Islam.” (Jean Bethke Elshtain) And, of course, the Religious Right owes at least as much to a Right-wing sociopolitical agenda as it does to any version of Christianity – just as the Religious Left owes at least as much to a Left-wing sociopolitical agenda as it does to any version of Christianity.
An Islamic scientist recently assessed “the period from 1700 to 1950 [as] characterized by an increasing decay of the intellectual vigor in the Muslim world.” (Yashab Tur) A decay of the intellectual vigor in the evangelical world during much of that same period is noted by an evangelical historian in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Noll) From the engaging heights of Edwards and Wesley, evangelical scholarship – with few exceptions – languished in the mediocrity of reactionary withdrawal until the latter 20th century. Today, a plethora of first-rate scholars is to be found among the evangelicals (e.g., DNA researcher Francis Collins, philosophers Alan Plantinga and Nicholas Wolterstorff, historian George Marsden, and biblical scholar N. T. Wright).
Contrary to the tenets and terrorism of militant Muslims, Edwards’ “whole theology was built around the love of God and the ways we should be reflecting that love,” as it’s put by Marsden. Said Edwards: “The essence of all true religion lies in holy love.” And Wesley’s theme, too, was love. In a sermon on I Corinthians 13, Wesley addressed both his congregation and himself as in continuing need of hearing and heeding Paul’s words about the clanging-symbol Christians who “have not love” for God and neighbor.
Neither Edwards’ nor Wesley’s diligence for orthodoxy detracted from their devotion to orthopraxis. They were both determined to base holy living in the holy truth of revelation. Said Edwards: “Christian practice is the sign of signs, in this sense that it is the great evidence, which confirms and crowns all other signs of godliness. There is no one grace of the Spirit of God, but that Christian practice is the most proper evidence of the truth of it. … Practice is the proper evidence of repentance … of a saving faith … of a saving belief of the truth … of a gracious hope … of Christian fortitude.” Said Wesley: “I have only one point of view – to promote, so far as I am able, vital, practical religion; and by the grace of God, beget, preserve, and increase the life of God in the soul of men.”
To this end, Wesley established what he called “General Rules” for the members of his Methodist societies. For example: “There is only one condition previously required in those who desire admission into these societies, a desire ‘to flee from the coming wrath’ and to be saved from their sins. … It is therefore expected of all who continue therein, that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation.
“First, by doing no harm; by avoiding evil in every kind; especially that which is most generally practiced. Such as: Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us; Doing what we know is not for the glory of God. …
“Secondly, by doing good; by being in every kind, merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and as far as possible, to all. …
“Thirdly, by attending upon all the ordinances of God, such are: The public worship of God … The supper of the Lord; Private prayer; Searching the Scriptures; and fasting.”
Edwards had his “Resolutions” for Christian living. For example: “Resolved, Never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God. … Resolved, Never hence-forward, till I die, to act as if I were any way my own, but entirely and altogether God’s … Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be. Resolved, Never to do anything out of revenge.” And, he added: “Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.” He prefaced the resolutions by granting that “I am unable to do any thing without God’s help” and he prayed that the resolutions be “agreeable to [God’s] will, for Christ’s sake.”
A current exhibition at the British Museum is called London 1753. Noting how much things really do remain the same – whether in today’s New York City or in the largest metropolis of Wesley’s day (London), a reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement includes these comments by an historian: “Religion is scantily recorded, apart from the Methodism of Wesley …. Maybe the message is that London was a worldly city, and the established Church had a low profile. But sin and crime were there, and poverty, and gin (the cheap hard drug of the time), and retribution and philanthropy.” (Kerry Downes)
The popular notion that Puritans and Methodists did not have fun or could not joke about sex, for example, is mistaken. As the first four of the eleven children borne by Sarah Edwards were all born on Sundays, she and her husband were good-naturedly teased with the folklore that birth takes place on the same day of the week as conception.
Edwards believed that sexual pleasure, as all good pleasure, is given at the good pleasure of God. He said: “It is not contrary to Christianity that a man should love himself or, which is the same thing, should love his own happiness.” He understood, after Augustine, that truest happiness springs from that joy of virtue which is living in the will of God.
Edwards was sensitive to the social plight of women. According to a recently published history of the battles over sexual knowledge in by-gone America, Edwards reprimanded two young men who had mocked some young women after reading a “scientific” and bawdy guide to reproduction. It was not the book itself to which Edwards objected. It was the taunting the young women to which he objected. He demanded a public apology from the young men. Combating the same sexist sensibilities, Wesley opposed the Anglican ban on women preachers and made it a point to allow women to preach in his meetings.
Unfortunately, Wesley’s own marriage – unlike that of Edwards – was one long and troubled ordeal. It’s been observed that he found refuge in his extensive ministerial travels far away from her.
Wesley ran afoul of his own followers when he came to the defense of a man named Blair, confined to the Bocardo Prison at Oxford – on charges of sodomy. Wesley worked with Blair’s solicitor to get the charges dropped. There are fourteen entries in Wesley’s Journal concerning Blair’s case. Not one of them has a negative comment about the same-sex behavior.
Here’s how Wesley handled the subject of “sodomy,” as it were, in the Bible. In his commentary on the cultic prostitution in II Kings (23:7), he explained: “Sodomy was a part of idol-worship, being done to the honour of some of their idols, and by the appointment of those impure and diabolical spirits, which were worshipped in their idols.” He understood the cultic context of the text and found nothing on a generic homosexuality there. On the malokoi in I Corinthians (6:9), often confused these days with homosexuals in general, Wesley wrote this: these are they “who live in an easy, indolent way; taking up no cross, enduring no hardship.” Here he takes the literal sense of the Greek term, “soft,” metaphorically – as is exegetically proper. He calls them “good natured, harmless people,” though, of course, does not endorse their indolence.
Now certainly 18th century Christians could not have understood homosexuality as we can today. Our knowledge of psychosexuality is simply more advanced than theirs. But humble Christians did understand that the spiritual pride from which some try to lord it over others is self-righteousness. To the Religious Right’s vitriol of false-witness bearing and refusal to render unto gay couples what it demands for itself, we may respond with Edwards’ words: “Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of truth. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit to darken the mind and mislead the judgment.”
We’re here this weekend because both Edwards and Wesley were born in 1703 – Wesley on June 28th at Epworth in Old England and Edwards on October 5th at Windsor Farms, Connecticut, in New England. Both were sons of ministers.
Here’s what Edwards remembered of his life-changing encounter with God. It was in the month of May, 1721, and he was but 17 years old – though already an honors graduate of Yale College. He writes:
“The first instance that I remember of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things that I have lived much in since, was on reading those words [of I Tim 1:17] ‘Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever, Amen.’ As I read the words, there came into my soul, and was as it were diffused through it, a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense, quite different from any thing I ever experienced before. Never any words of scripture seemed to me as these words did. I thought with myself, how excellent a Being that was, and how happy I should be, if I might enjoy that god, and be rapt up in him in heaven, and be as it were swallowed up in him forever! I kept saying, and as it were singing over these words of scripture to myself; and went to pray to God that I might enjoy him, and prayed in a manner quite different from what I used to do, with a new sort of affection. …
“After this my sense of divine things gradually increased, and became more and more lively, and had more of that inward sweetness. The appearance of every thing was altered; there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in every thing; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon for continuance; and in the day, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things; in the mean time, singing forth, with a low voice my contemplations of the Creator and Redeemer. And scarce any thing, among all the works of nature, was so sweet to me as thunder and lightning. …
“I felt then great satisfaction, as to my good state; but that did not content me. I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ, and after more holiness, wherewith my heart seemed to be full, and ready to break; which often brought to my mind the words of the Psalmist [119:20] ‘My soul breaketh for the longing it hath.’”
For eight months in 1722, Edwards preached in a small Presbyterian church in New York City. He then went back to Yale to teach for two years before becoming the minister of the great Congregational church at Northfield in Massachusetts. Between 1734 and 1744, the Great Awakening of evangelical experience broke out in his and other congregations throughout New England. Here’s what he wrote of that revival in 1742: “This work … is the work of God, and not the work of man. Its beginning has not been of man’s power of device, and its being carried on, depends not on our strength or wisdom.”
But all the works of God bring division, as Jesus foretold. So in 1750, Edwards was dismissed by his church board for his closing the communion table to those who were unwilling to conform their lives to serious discipleship.
Providentially, this gave him time to write, as he assumed the less demanding care of the small congregation at Stockbridge. Here, his writing proved him to be, in the words of a current Kings College scholar, “the only serious [American] rival to Locke, Voltaire, or Leibniz.” (Stephen R. Holmes) Historian Mark Noll states: “Edwards combined herculean intellectual labors with child-like piety because he perceived God as both infinitely complex and blissfully simple.” But another historian laments: “all that brain power going to waste in the mind of a man who liked to think about God!” (Peter Gay)
It was at Stockbridge that Edwards preached to the Housatonic Indians for whom he had great affection and respect. Then, in 1757, he was elected president of Princeton College here in New Jersey. But five weeks after his installation, he died of complications from a smallpox vaccination, for which he’d volunteered in the interest of science.
Here’s what Wesley remembered of his life-changing encounter with God. It was again in the month of May, as was Edwards’, but now 17 years after Edwards’ conversion at age 17. Wesley was 35 years old and an Anglican priest now returned to London from an aborted ministry in the colony of Georgia. He writes in his Journal:
“In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he 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, 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.
“I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, ‘This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?’ Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.
“After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He ‘sent me help from his holy place.’ And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.”
Wesley had graduated from Oxford fourteen years before this and had then received his master’s degree. For a short time, he’d assisted his father in his home parish at Epworth. Soon he was off to America with his brother Charles, who would later become the great hymn writer. They’d sailed for the slave-free colony of Georgia where Charles would serve as secretary to its founder, General James Oglethorpe, and John would serve as an Anglican priest.
But within three years, both John and Charles were back in London. The American sojourn was an especially humbling experience for the young preacher. He’d mishandled the affections of a young woman who had caught both his eye and the eye of a more politically-placed suitor. John’s stupid mistake was to try to defeat his rival by misusing the power of his clerical office and bar him from communion. Predictably, the situation became intolerable. So one night, the defeated Wesley took off under cover of darkness and boarded the anchored ship next bound for Old England. He never returned.
Now, for the first time in his life, he was experiencing an assurance of salvation by grace through faith in Christ under the ministry of that little Moravian chapel in Aldersgate Street. Changed irrevocably, he’d now go forth to preach the evangelical faith all across England.
But precisely because of his new found evangelical fervor, he was now being barred from preaching in Anglican churches. The ever-innovative Wesley didn’t let the establishment’s hostility stop him. He boldly proclaimed: “The world is my parish,” and traversed over 250,000 miles – mostly on horseback – preaching the Gospel of Christ in open fields, coal pits, and at the market crosses in village after village and, later, in his own preaching chapels in London, Bristol and elsewhere. He nonetheless remained a life-long Anglican priest. On many a Sunday evening, he’d lead his Methodists into the great St. Paul’s Cathedral for the ancient prayers and praise. By the end of his long life, he’d written hundreds of essays, tracts and sermons and he’d established the Methodist revival throughout England and America.
Though each was a man of culture and scholarship, each at home in university life, both Edwards and Wesley preached as well to the poor, the uneducated, the oppressed. Edwards ministered among Native Americans in the colonies and Wesley ministered among the paupers of London’s slums and the poor people of the English countryside.
Edwards’ pilgrimage here on earth was relatively short. He died in 1758 and his remains are buried in the old graveyard at Princeton. Wesley lived on another 32 years. His remains are buried behind the Wesley Chapel in London’s City Road. Both believers now live in the blessed nearer presence of their Lord and Savior.
Today, Edwards is the most studied figure from colonial America. Yale University has just published a multimillion dollar, multi-volume edition of his life’s work. Says the dean of historians of Puritanism: Edwards “was one of America’s five or six major artists – who happened to work with ideas instead of with poems or novels. He was much more of a psychologist and poet than a logician. Though he devoted his genius to topics derived from the body of divinity (the will, virtue, sin), he traced them in the manner of the very finest spectator.” (Perry Miller)
Wesley, too, is honored by Christians of many communions around the world. A Roman Catholic scholar writes of Wesley: he was “Saint Benedict as regards his liturgical sense of piety; Saint Dominic for his apostolic zeal; Saint Francis of Assisi for his love of Christ and for his detachment from the world; Ignatius of Loyola for his genius as an organizer.” (Maximinim Piette)
Along with our own celebration, the tercentenary is being celebrated around the world. Major convocations have been or will be held at Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Epworth, Manchester, Lincoln, Berlin, Atlanta, Dallas, San Diego, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, Washington, DC, Buffalo, New York and Durham, North Carolina and elsewhere. Right here in Ocean Grove, earlier this summer, EC friends Don Dayton and Michael Christensen joined other Wesley scholars in Drew University’s conference on “War and Peace in the Wesleyan Tradition.”
But we remember the past so as to live more wisely and truthfully in the present and the future. We can so easily get squeezed into the cramped quarters of our own daily life that we fail to understand our heritage. C. S. Lewis urged: Be open to “the clean sea-breeze of the centuries.” Here at the shore this weekend, may we of the early 21st century be open to those bracing winds of God that are blowing in upon us from the 18th century works of God.
The spiritual heirs of opposition to Edwards at Northampton ultimately turned to Unitarianism, denying the deity of Christ. (Incidentally, the minister of the Northampton Unitarians today is a gay man who was once an evangelical Christian, winding up a Unitarian after a stint in the ministry of the MCC.) And these days, secularism is the rampant religion at Edwards’ beloved colleges. At Yale, only some fifty or fewer students bother to attend Sunday service in the campus chapel and at Princeton, celebrity professor Peter Singer advocates infanticide. When we lose faith in God as He reveals Himself in scripture, the godlings we invent rush in and take over. Today, a shameful fifty-one percent of United Methodist clergy denies the bodily resurrection of Christ. In the words of a nobler son of Wesley, dean of the Duke University chapel, these “privileged, middle class” preachers simply “don’t want to have a God who resurrects the dead.” (Will Willimon)
With keen foresight in his old age, Wesley wrote the following words of warning: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist, but I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. That will undoubtedly be the case unless they hold fast both to the doctrine, spirit and discipline with which they first set out.”The same is true of us in Evangelicals Concerned. That’s why we’re here this weekend. May God bless us as we meet together. May God grant us clear minds, a willing reception for His truth and a tenacious love for Christ and one another.