It seems like it has been forever since I last posted! And it has been over a month. It is a shame, too, because there are a couple of articles I really would like to get posted. I suppose, though, I have been quite busy, but I will try to get back in gear!
Wesleyan Theological Society ). The Journal contained articles (based on the papers) read at the 2011 meeting of the Society. As I looked through the listed articles, W. Stephen Gunter's article caught my eye. Gunter teaches at Duke Divinity School, and his article is titled "Beyond the Bible Wars: Why Innerancy is Not the Issue for Evangelical Wesleyans."
As many may know, the issue of fundamentalism's relationship to conservative, evangelical Wesleyans is not a new issue. Likewise, the basic idea in the article that Wesleyans approach Scripture differently than the way fundamentalists approach Scripture was not new, either. Wesleyans look through soteriological eyes when going to Scripture, while fundamentalists, with their foundation in Reformed theology, begin by looking for propositional truths. - Quoting Wesley's famous "homo unius libri" paragraph*, Gunter says, "This soteriological use of the Bible as the source book for understanding the way to heaven and the life of holiness is different from the epistemological use of Scripture to verify factuality of rational propositions."
Well, as I said, the basic concept is not new, though much of the particular information was new to me. However, the thing that really caught my eye had to do with how this understanding of faith and the Bible is demonstrated in the very ordering of Anglican and Methodist Articles of Religion/Faith when compared to the Reformed Confessions. Gunter says:
Unlike most other Protestant creeds (especially the Westminster Confession
in the English context, which places Book One with its ten affirmations on
the Bible first), the Anglican Articles affirm first the faith in the Trinity. After
this comes affirmation of the nature of Christ, the descent into Hell, Christ's
resurrection, and the Holy Spirit, all prior to the first mention of the Bible.
And when we do get to the article on Scripture, it is not about rational
authority per se, for it reads, "On the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for
Salvation." . . . This is a different emphasis and nuance than can be found in
nearly any confession or creed of early Protestantism, especially those of the
Reformed tradition that are foundational for Fundamentalism, especially as
they have been interpreted by many Neo-Reformed Evangelicals for the last
hundred years. As Paul Bassett [yay, Dr. Bassett!] has rightly pointed out,
"By contrast, in most of the continental confessions, especially those of the
Reformed tradition, the article on Scripture stands first, or, even prior to that,
a preamble asserts the priority of the authority of the Bible." As we have
seen, this is very much the case for many Calvinian evangelicals . . .
As this is true for the Anglican Articles, it is true also for the Methodist Articles, as well as those who, even though they have re-written their own Articles, have remained true to their Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. For example, the Free Methodists, Wesleyans and Nazarenes have all re-written the original Methodist Articles, but all of them maintain the order of Trinity, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and then Scripture. Further, even though The Wesleyan Church did fall into the fundamentalist position of confessing the Bible as "fully inerrant in their original manuscripts, the title of the Article does still speak of "sufficiency" and the Article, itself, does seem to still focus on essential doctrine and salvific concerns.
Interestingly, both the Free Methodists and Nazarenes avoid this fundamentalist position, while utilizing language that is familiar to fundamentalism. The Free Methodists say (at least in their 1995 Discipline - I don't have a newer version!), "[The Bible] bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, the living Word . . ." (emphasis mine). Nazarenes say, "[The Holy Scriptures] . . . inerrantly revealing the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation . . ." (emphasis mine). The language is familiar to fundamentalists, as I indicated, but the context is thoroughly Wesleyan. The Bible bears unerring witness to Jesus Christ, and the Scriptures inerrantly reveal the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation.
Again, though, the thing that I found fascinating is that the soteriological emphasis is demonstrated for Anglicans and Wesleyans in the very ordering of our creedal statements, and that is seen clearly when compared to the ordering of the Reformed creedal statements. As Gunter says, "For Anglicans and Wesleyans . . . the authority of Scripture has a soteric rather than rationalistically defined epistemic center. On this point, Wesleyans are more Anglo-Catholic (and early church and Eastern and Orthodox) than Puritan-Reformed!"
By the way, Gunter does consistently link Anglo-Catholics and Wesleyans throughout his article.
Another statement made by Gunter in this article that readers of this blog may find interesting is as follows: "In recent years, many Methodists have become enamored with Mr. Wesley's Anglican roots, especially his high-church liturgical expression, and have wanted to return to the liturgy, unfortunately quite often without taking Wesley's soteriological appropriation of Anglican theological method along with them. In so doing, we have often left Wesley and Wesleyan Methodism behind."
I wish that Gunter had fleshed that out a bit. I am not sure what, exactly he is talking about in the latter part of the quote. Perhaps, though, his quote is reflective of the my own observations concerning a number of my sisters and brothers in the Order of St. Luke. In the Order, I have observed (and I think I have mentioned it on the Wesleyan/Anglican facebook page) that many who are conservative toward Wesleyan when it comes to liturgy are, on the other hand, not very concerned about Wesleyan theology (or soteriology). Conversely, many who seem to be concerned to be conservative toward Wesley theologically (and soteriologically) seem to be completely uninterested in Wesley's liturgical commitments. - Perhaps Gunter is referring to those who are concerned about Wesley's liturgical commitments but who are less interested in his theology (and soteriology).
All in all, I really enjoyed Gunter's article, and I look forward to reading more of the articles in the WTJ.
*The full quote is: "God himself has condescended to teach the way [to heaven]: for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price give me the book of God! I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri [a man of one book]"