Growing up in Christian faith, I found John Wesley to be a vital source of theological thinking and understanding of the Scriptures. My spiritual growth was nourished by Wesley, especially early in my seminary education. However, even as I greatly appreciated Wesley and felt he was the best of the traditional theological options in Western Christianity to approach the Scriptures from, Wesley had his feet of theological clay. As I pressed forward in my exegetical studies, I found myself drifting further and further away from many of the ideas that Wesley taught, even as I considered myself a practical Wesleyan where the rubber met the road.
Traditions are an inevitable part of our growing up in faith. None of us come to God, the Scriptures, etc. without prior teaching and conventions that help to form our interpretations and practices. However, the fundamental question is this: how is it that our theological traditions function for us across time? Do they function like foundational ideas that we build our further knowledge about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, etc. from? Or, are they closer to signposts that give us a sense of direction to help us begin to comprehend the Scriptures and the life we lived empowered and lead by God’s Spirit? Do our traditions restrict how we read the Scriptures or do they help us to generate understanding from the Scriptures, while allowing the Scriptures to at times push back and call our traditions into account?
It is this journey that I think is important for every reflective Christian to consider in their spiritual journey. How does your tradition function? Do you think coming to maturity in faith is about mastering your theological traditions? Or, do your theological traditions help you to investigate, perceive, and comprehend the ultimate object of our faith: God the Father who is made known in Jesus Christ, at work through His Holy Spirit, and is testified to by the Holy Scriptures? You can never escape your tradition as a starting point, but is the development and telos of our Christian lives and comprehension controlled by our traditions or by the God testified to in the Scriptures?
Theological traditions are a deep source of inspiration and understanding when they operate like signposts. Wesleyan theology has done me much good in trying to explores the contours of the lived out Christian faith according to the Scriptures. Even as my theology has diverged in some subtle yet significant ways from Wesley, I am deeply indebted to this theological heritage for where I have come to. At the same time, however, my Wesleyan theology has also cause me some hurt, treating the call to righteousness and godliness spoken throughout the Scriptures as some form of behavioral perfectionism, rather than as practices that through the Spirit’s leading can mold and form me in Christ. I had a bit too much of “methodological” approach to Christian faith.
Learning how to treat our theological traditions as signposts rather than foundations is a vital point for spiritual growth for the Church going into the future, I believe.