Study Guide: Our Pietistic Thread

Sunday April 29, 2012 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

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.

Extended Summary:

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.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What additional questions and comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. What did you learn about your own faith while listening and thinking about this sermon?
  3. Were you surprised by anything?
  4. How do we make our personal relationship with Jesus more alive? How can we make sure our church doesn’t become a dead church?
  5. Why is it important to be a love-centered Kingdom? What would it look like if we were a moral-centered Kingdom?