Wesley's both/and Scripture way of salvation

October 29th, 2014

While an undergraduate at UT Austin, I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I asked Jesus to come into me as he came into Lazarus' tomb and bring to life the dead things in me. This happened on a Thursday night in response to a sermon about Jesus raising Lazarus given by the Methodist campus minister. I'll never forget it.

Mind you, in many ways there is nothing overly dramatic or even surprising about this conversion story. I had believed in or wanted to believe in the God revealed in the Bible for most of my life. And nothing dramatic or tangibly spiritual happened the night I prayed that prayer in response to that Methodist sermon. Yet, at first subtly and then vigorously, I began to catch fire.

Catch fire? First, this was a fire for becoming a disciple of Jesus and living a holy life. I was first taught Scripture in a Disciple Bible Study at the Wesley Foundation at UT Austin, and one of the leaders of the Bible study, a masters student, discipled me. Reading the Bible under his Calvinist direction, I began to think about the things the Bible said, and so to grow slowly and unsteadily in a Christian intellectual life.

Second, reading the Bible, my politics got out of hand. Being an English major, I had some socially radical professors from around the world who said things that sounded crazy and liberal. Some mocked Jesus and religion, though not all: By God's grace, one of my radical English professors was a liberal Muslim poet, and another was a young and brilliant Mormon feminist. How great is that? I am so grateful for them. When I say my politics got out of hand, I do not mean that my politics became secular. I was reading the Bible. My professors were just saying things that sounded like Isaiah!

And Jesus.

And John Wesley.

Anyways, before I knew it, Jesus had really taken my life off course, and I found myself working part-time as a youth minister at a small urban United Methodist parish, and reading a book about St. Francis written by liberation theologians. I had lots of Christological convictions and no theological sophistication, and St. Francis liked me just fine. He preached to me just like he preached to the birds.

I tell this conversion story not (hopefully) because I'm self-obsessed. In any case, insofar as I am self-obsessed, Jesus is healing me of it, and also letting life beat it out of me. Rather, I tell this story because of how interesting the God revealed in the Bible is. John Wesley got this. A division between personal holiness and social holiness isn't sustainable for real, Spirit-driven, Jesus-obsessed, to-Abba-Father-praying Christianity.

In Chapter 5 of Revival: Faith as Wesley Lived It, Adam Hamilton challenges us to get it too. Too often, we've opted for either/or Christianity: either personal relationship with Jesus or the social gospel of the Kingdom of God; either a dogmatic intellectual faith (be it liberal or conservative), or a vivacious heart-faith (again, liberal or conservative); either a bad partial reading of St. Paul or a bad partial reading of St. James and the prophets. Either St. Luke or St. John. In contrast: when Rev. Hamilton is asked if he is liberal or conservative, he always answers with a clear "YES." Like Wesley, we can be both/and Christians.

Rev. Hamilton writes:

Spiritual vitality, whether in individuals or congregations, is achieved by living out the Scriptures shown at the beginning of this chapter: Ephesians 2:8-10 and James 2:14-18. Two dimensions of Christian life described in those Scriptures are critical for revival: a personal faith actively pursued through prayer, worship, Scripture reading, receiving the Eucharist, meeting in small groups, and practicing other Christian disciplines; and an invitation for God to work through you in serving your neighbor, your community, and the world. These two dimensions, taken together, constitute the holistic gospel that Jesus taught and preached, and they constitute the holistic gospel that Wesley insisted was “the scripture way of salvation” (110).

The same John Wesley whose heart was strangely warmed at Aldersgate was, from early in his ministry, unflagging in pastoral visits to those in need. Rev. Hamilton draws on Richard Heitzenrater's scholarly work to direct our attention to "Wesley’s scheme for pastoral visitation for 1731, taken from Wesley’s diary: “Monday, Bocardo [Prison]; Tuesday, Castle [Prison]; Wednesday, children; Thursday, Castle; Friday, Bocardo; Saturday, Castle; Sunday, poor and elderly"" (110).

Count 'em: five days visiting those in prison, one day reserved for just children, and Sunday to the poor and elderly.

The Scripture way of salvation — the way of Aldersgate and Castle Prison — is broad, deep, enticing, and rigorous all the way through. Jesus says it is somehow easy and light too.

May we embrace Jesus' Way — and so be disciples of the One who is given, and gives, the Spirit without measure (Jn. 3:34).

Has Jesus led you to embrace or desire a holistic Christianity? What's your story?

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