Wesley’s theology, in one nice package

August 9, 2012

Methodist preacher’s kids!

I’m sympathetic with Scot McKnight, an Anabaptist writer and theologian, when he says that Wesley’s theological ideas are “hard to access.” Wesley, after all—unlike Thomas Aquinas or John Calvin, not to mention many theologians of the past century—never bothered to organize his theology into one neat package that we call “systematic theology.” Wesley was a preacher first and foremost. His theology came across mostly in sermons, Bible commentary, journal entries, and letters. And—good heavens—as many others have said, he never had an unpublished thought!

Fortunately, for those of us interested in Wesley’s theology, United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden has come to the rescue. I just ordered the first volume of a new four-volume project to systematize what had previously been, um, unsystematizable. (I have to occasionally use words like that so you’ll know that I’ve been to seminary.) Oden has organized and synthesized Wesley’s ideas as if Wesley himself had written systematic theology. The project is called John Wesley’s Teachings.

I haven’t read it yet, but I trust Oden to do the job. I frequently refer to his previous work of systematic theology, Classic ChristianityIn that three-volume work, he aspired, he said,  to say nothing new. Rather, he created a systematic theology based on the consensus of Christian thought: here’s what most Christian thinkers over the past two millennia have believed on topics related to God, humanity, Jesus, salvation, atonement, the Holy Spirit, etc. I often use Classic Christianity to make sure that I’m not coloring outside the lines.

Along with McKnight, I hope Oden’s new work will mean that theologians will “no longer be able to ignore Wesley.”

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