Yesterday in my very rhetorical acknowledgment that I no consider myself evangelical and the reasons for it, I presented at the what would consider
The answer is somewhat in between. For me, when I talk about Wesleyan orthodoxy, I am referring to a type of theological and ethical beliefs that strongly resemble what we presently see in Wesleyan orthodoxy, but without the pressures and influences that come from trying to be evangelical at the same time. For me, to dissociate Wesleyan orthodoxy from evangelicalism isn’t as much about looking for something that is
So, my movement is more than just simply dropping an identity, but it is about avoiding the implicit draw and pressures to try to fit a Wesleyan orthodoxy into a present-day evangelical mold. For me, the problems I see with wider evangelicalism, which we might call political evangelicalism, can be derived from the theology and ethical shape that evangelical theology tends to take, which we might refer to as theological evangelicalism. While I don’t think to be a theological evangelical makes one a political evangelical, many of the ways evangelicalism has come to define the shape and contours of Christian faith can have deep, social implications that a) doesn’t have many resources to resist what today amounts to a political evangelicalism while b) having many views about God and people that contribute to the problem when it becomes political evangelicalism. For me, the concern is to search after as Wesleyan orthodoxy that has greater theological resources to resist the political demagoguery while providing a more dignity-giving, and ultimately more Scriptural, theology and anthropology.
The task is difficult and can be a matter of subtle clarifications because a person who see the orthodox faith through the lens of John and Charles Wesley will have beliefs that share a family resemblance to what is typically considered evangelical faith.
For instance, John Wesley never held to a doctrine of the inerrant of Scripture it is commonly talked about today, but I would describe his view
While these are not bad themselves and there are certainly many contexts where these three are useful, a brief perusal of the Psalms would suggest how much this trifecta just doesn’t work. Or, read the whole Golden Calf narrative in Exodus 32-34 and realize that trying to describe whether God is an angry God or not
Then, there is the matter of apparent contradictions in the various historical accounts in both the Old Testament and New Testament. Did God or Satan move David to take a census, and what were the precise options for the possible consequences? What was the order of the temptations that Jesus faced? When did Jesus purify the Temple: early in his ministry at in the Gospel of John or late in the ministry as in the Synoptics? What women were there when they saw the empty Tomb? How many times and when did Paul make his way to Jerusalem? Some of these apparent contradictions may have perfectly reasonable resolutions, but what if there is no resolution and there is no original manuscript that resolves the contradiction? For me, such contradictions would be largely immaterial if I believed that God raised Jesus from the dead.
For me, it is more theologically consistent and important to place our trustworthiness of the Scriptures in the God who makes Himself known rather than in specific, assumed logical, ontological, epistemology, and hermeneutical assumptions that are held a priori. In addition, that the prototypical doctrine of inerrancy subscribes to a specific hermeneutic framework to obtain truth, what role does the Spirit have in conveying the thoughts of God as they are expressed through Scripture? Can the meanings be mined from the Scripture by simply having the right hermeneutics, making the Holy Spirit ‘immaterial?’
This is where Wesley’s trust in the Scriptures can be more valuable, having been expressed before the battle of the doctrine of Scripture took full force in the face of the emerging science and historical/literary criticism. Wesley trusts the Scriptures, but because the Scripture is an expression of God’s promises.1 Scripture for Wesley is how God shows the way to heaven.2 Scripture is ultimately oriented towards a knowing and fellowship with a faithful God. And, as in his notes in 1 Corinthians 2.13-14, the Scripture comes from the Spirit and the things of the Spirit must be discerned through the Spirit.
In presenting this, I am not saying that Wesley has what I would deem a perfect understanding about the function of Scripture.3 I think instrumentalizing Scripture as a way to heaven, if by heaven he means eternal life, is a bit too narrow and can begin feed into the “get to heaven and avoid hell” mentality in evangelicalism. Additionally, I don’t think 1 Corinthians 2.13-14 should be used in analogy to Scripture. This is why I speak of a Wesleyan orthodoxy as trying to make sense of the orthodox, Christian faith through the Wesleyan framework: I give preference to orthodoxy over Wesleyan theology when Scripture and tradition have a strong push back against some aspects of Wesley’s theology, which may mean sometimes Wesley’s ideas get augmented.
But, beneath what I feel to be small differences between Wesley and
I present this as merely a brief, theological case study to demonstrate my point. I think a Wesley orthodoxy needs to be free from trying to fit into an evangelical mold. The more people of a Wesleyan orthodox try to present themselves as evangelicals, the legitimacy of bearing that identity will be judged according to certain ideas within theological evangelicalism. To try to be evangelical as the term has come to mean in this present age is to essentially submit the theology of a Wesleyan orthodoxy to the judgments of (stereo)typical evangelical doctrine, both from inside and from the outside. Rather, instead, I myself think of the relation of Wesleyan orthodoxy to evangelical theology as analogous to the Old Testament prophets to Israel: both the prophets and the religion of Israel as practiced held to a common set of ideas and beliefs pull from Israel’s history, but the prophets saw something insidious and deeply detrimental in the way the Israelite religion was being practiced and taught.
So, this is what I mean by Wesleyan orthodox and why I consider myself that but not evangelical. The identity of “evangelical” has ceased to become trustworthy to others and so I abandon it in part for that reasons. But I also think that theological evangelicalism, while it doesn’t share in the evils of its political counterpart, is unable to really intellectually resist it but in facts tends to lead to supporting of the ideals of its political manifestation when put under specific conditions. To put in perhaps an oversimplified manner, evangelical faith does not have the theological resources to both a) retain orthodoxy and b) love while engaging in deep ideological, social, and political disagreements and conflicts. I think Wesleyan orthodoxy does, but it will take having to set oneself apart from evangelicalism to explore Wesleyan orthodoxy on its own terms rather than on evangelical terms.