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Our Pietistic Thread

• Greg Boyd

The life and theology of John Wesley influenced many portions of WHC. Whether it was the pietistic way of life, his ideas on free will, or his love-centered Kingdom theology, we have a lot in common with Mr. Wesley.

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The life of John Wesley was full of stories that shaped his spirituality and his journey with God. He was the 15th son, born in England, and attended boarding school and then went to Oxford University. There, he joined the “Holy Club”, which was a club dedicated to helping each other live holier lives. This club included John’s lifelong friend, George Whitefield. The people that attended these meetings were called Methodists, as they were very methodical in their spiritual practices. He was later ordained in the Church of England.

In 1735, John and his brother accepted a call and set sail for America. They wanted to be missionaries to the Native Americans in Savannah, Georgia. As they were traveling across the Atlantic, a terrible storm broke the mast of their ship and everyone freaked out, except a group of Moravian Anabaptists who sang and calmly prayed during the ordeal. This was John’s first contact with pietists, and he saw in them something he lacked. After failing in his mission to the Native Americans, and having a love-scorned woman make his life miserable, John went back to England and for the first time encountered God on a relationship level during a service at a Moravian church. From this moment, he dedicated his life to telling others about this relationship and how important a relationship with God was.

During the 18th century, there was a lot of complacency and ritualism associated with Christianity. Most people were born into the church, and only attended so that they could have their security in their afterlife. They believed that as long as they held to certain truths and attended church, they would go to heaven when they die. John Wesley spent most of his life preaching that salvation came from a personal relationship with Jesus. We needed to be born again into a new spiritual life. He understood that the only way to have a relationship with Jesus was to actually have a relationship, where a person spent time with Jesus in prayer and constantly sought out how to incorporate Jesus into their life’s decisions. Like all relationships, there is ebb and a flow to feelings, and most relationships require continual, intentional commitment.

The concept of free will was very important to John Wesley. His lifelong friend, George, was a staunch Calvinist. The Calvinists believed that God predestines everything to happen, including who the elect are that receive God’s grace. Wesley said that “This picture of God makes God out to be worse than the devil.” He felt that a God who condemns most to die, and only saves a few while withholding his grace, was not the picture of God that he knew. We follow John very closely in this thinking. We hold that God came to save all, and it is our free choice, not predestination, that causes us to either follow Jesus or not follow Jesus.

Finally, John Wesley believed in a love centered Kingdom. The center of the Christian faith is that God is love and in everything God does, there is love. John Wesley saw a world where people claimed to be Christians but they did not love their neighbors. Their dogma and church attendance were more important than loving others. John spent his life developing people into disciples, and he often gave his money away, “lest it find a place in his heart”. This love oriented Kingdom reflects Jesus and the mission of the Kingdom in this world.

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Topics: Free Will, Identity in Christ, Kingdom of God

Sermon Series: Tapestry

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Focus Scripture:

  • 1 John 3:16

    This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

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4 thoughts on “Our Pietistic Thread

  1. Brian Clark says:

    Hi WH!
    As a Wesley aficionado and scholar, and as a very enthusiastic Podrishioner, I really enjoyed hearing about the WH connections to Pietism and the Wesleys. However, I’m also an Historian specializing in Early Methodism, and I was wincing over a few historical inaccuracies. None of these affect the basic Pietist inheritance of WH, but they are kind of important.

    For example, recent work by Geordan Hammond has shown that Wesley’s time in GA before his “conversion” was much more successful than others have thought.

    Historian Scott Kisker has shown that Wesley knew a great deal about other kinds of Pietism before meeting the Moravians on the boat to Georgia; in fact, his father, Samuel Wesley Sr., and mother, Susanna Wesley were in pretty close touch with a number of people trying to do Pietist like things in England before the Wesley brothers were more than schoolboys. So there were lots of Pietist ideas and concepts in England, and not a few in the Wesley home.

    Another strand of research, for example some articles by Richard Heitzenrater, has shown that one must speak carefully when calling Wesley’s “Aldersgate Experience” a “conversion” in the usual, Evangelical sense.

    My own work on early Methodism, Whitefield and the Wesleys has shown that the Wesley was far more bitterly divided from Whitefield and the Moravians than he often wanted people to realize. Greg spoke of the Wesleys and Whitefield working together well for a couple of years (1739-1741) before John shattered the alliance with his bitterly Anti-Calvinist sermon, Free Grace. However, the period of getting along and working together was actually only about a month, and by late spring of 1739, the Wesleys had already moved to root out Calvinism from Bristol and were trying to actively usurp Whitefield from his primacy within the Methodist revival.

    I would also argue, against many in the field, that when you look at John Wesley’s writings carefully, there is a great deal of evidence to show that he may have been as morally and psychologically “complicated” as was Luther. Wesley was, however, much better at creating a public perception of himself, and he was a pioneer of the modern use of memoirs as a public relations tool.

    Love the sermons, Greg! Keep them coming!

    Brian Curtis Clark, PhD

  2. Jill says:

    The Tapestry series has been very refreshing! This past year we switched from a Catholic church and love the beliefs of WH. They are so simple, yet so deep, hard to explain to people who are so rooted in their Catholic beleifs or what have you.

    Also, my kids are still a little hesitant to go to the childrens ministries so they attend the service with us for now. My seven year old looked at me during the service and asked, “how does he know all this stuff?” Then later when we got home my 9 year old asked “why does Greg always say Abba Father?” Thanks Greg for your passion in your sermons that strike up good conversation with our kids.

    PS Aren’t you glad a lot of the attendee’s don’t have a Phd. It seemed like you were trying to explain Methodism in a nut shell which I’m guessing sufficed for most of us:-)

  3. Greg Boyd says:

    HI Brian, thanks so much for the feedback. As you could tell, Wesleyan history is one area I’ve never taken a keen interest in. Consequently, I was unaware of the academic controversies surrounding the old standard pop version of the story. I can see now that preparing for the message would have been MUCH harder had I been well read on it. Since you can’t nuance much of anything in an 8 minute overview, I suppose you’d just have to pick the most probable story line and go with it. Things are so much easier when you’re ignorant! ; – )

    Peace Bro

    ps. Did you catch my screw up in this last week’s sermon? I confused “restorationism” with “reconstructionism”… no small misstep given that they were polar opposite movements!! Thank God I’m a preacher and not a history prof!

  4. In response to the first person’s comment about John Wesley, I can see by what you shared about both the relationship with the woman on the ship, and being married in later life that he definitely had a complex personality. What I am enjoying about both Bruxey Cavey and Greg Boyd, and I sense that the people who attend this church are the same–that there is a congruency between what they believe and how they act. For some reason many of the great Christian leaders were not so balanced–but I think we are learning a lesson that people are not going to be impressed by our words as much as our actions.

    I very much appreciated the way Greg described how God is all powerful because even though he gave us free will, he had power to decide this. He wanted relationships with free people who could be creative and co-create with him and love him.

    I heard Greg use the word “co-create” in another message, and I am delighted to hear this term. When I was in new age spirituality, this was a very popular concept. But it was without the surrender to Jesus. And I was never satisfied or truly peaceful.
    when I surrendered my life, I started on a journey that has been full of ups and downs, yet never has he left my side.

    I was raised in the Methodist church, and I don’t remember learning much about John Wesley. I also never really learned about having a relationship with Jesus. When I asked the question at age 16, “Why do we need to go through Jesus to get to God,” I was laughed at by my youth counselor. For some reason, I didn’t get the foundations of the faith. That is when I left. But I pray that the children and youth of Woodland Hills are really understanding the foundations of our faith.

    Thanks for sharing so clearly the contrast between Calvinism and free will. I wonder what my Calvinist friends–who were very instrumental in inspiring me to surrender my life to Christ–would say if I made that statement about God–that if God predestined everything, he was worse than the devil. That is so logical. I think we will be having a very lively discussion! Don’t worry–I will be peaceful.

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