Archive for February, 2015

Sermon 02-15-15: “Basic Training, Part 6: Deliver Us”

February 26, 2015

Basic Training Series

This sermon is part warning and part encouragement about the biggest challenge facing us: the reality that both our lives and God’s work in the world is opposed by an Enemy who wants to destroy us. Are you prepared for the fight?

The good news is that Satan is no match for our Lord. 

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:9-15

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

Like many of you, when I was growing up we had a “rec room”—sometimes called a “rumpus room”—in our basement. At one time, the rec room had a pool table, a pinball machine, a Pong-like video game attached to a TV on the wall, a stereo, a bar—which was never stocked—and a sauna—which never worked. But still… We kids loved playing in the basement, as you can imagine! And one of my favorite games to play there was a game we called “hot lava.” The object of the game was to get from the bottom of the stairs, which was on one side of the basement, all the way to the bathroom, which was in the other side, without letting your feet touch the floor.

Because the floor, of course, was hot lava, and if you touched it you’d die. So the object was to climb or jump on furniture, chairs, the pool table, the pinball machine—various objects scattered across the floor—in order to get from Point A to Point B. It was difficult to get from Point A to Point B without falling in hot lava.

In so many words, that’s the message of this final part of the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” The prayer ends with a warning from Jesus that there’s spiritual hot lava everywhere in our lives and in our world, and if we’re going to get through this life successfully, we’re going to have to be very careful. And to trust in the Lord every step of the way. Read the rest of this entry »

Last thoughts (this week) on Christian pacifism

February 25, 2015

A few weeks ago I heard a new argument for changing our United Methodist Church’s stance on human sexuality. It wasn’t a good argument, mind you, but it was one I hadn’t heard before. I reflected on it in this blog post. A United Methodist pastor in Birmingham named Wade Griffith applied Jesus’ words in John 16:12-13 to our sexuality debate: Jesus said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

One of the “many things” that Jesus still had to say to us, the church, was that homosexual practice—at least in the context of committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships—was blessed by God. God’s attitude toward homosexual practice wasn’t different back then; it’s only that the idea was so radical that no one back then could have handled it. So, by Griffith’s logic, first Jesus and later the Holy Spirit waited until the sexual revolution of the late-twentieth century had sufficiently prepared the world—at least the wealthy Western industrialized part—for this previously radical idea.

The Holy Spirit, said Griffith, waited until the right time…

As I wrote in the blog post:

But the Spirit didn’t wait, did he? Because within 20 years of Jesus’ words in John 16, this same Spirit—the very Spirit of Christ, who makes Christ present to us, who reminds us of Christ’s teaching and how to apply it to our lives—inspired Paul to tell us through scripture that homosexual behavior contradicts God’s intentions for humanity.

Did the Spirit not know back then, when Paul was writing the so-called “clobber verses,” how confusing Paul’s words would later prove to be for Christians? Couldn’t the Spirit at least have had Paul remain silent on the subject? Or did the Holy Spirit really have so little to do with producing the canon of scripture?

My point is this: Griffith’s argument falls victim to the idea that the revelation of God in Christ is different, even at times opposed, to the revelation of God in holy scripture.

How can an evangelical committed to the authority of scripture endorse this line of reasoning?

Yet, in my own way, I was unconsciously accepting its premise in my previous blog post (and comment section) regarding Stanley Hauerwas’s view (by way of Kevin Hargaden) of “Christological non-violence.”

In distinguishing Hauerwas’s pacifism from secular pacifism, Kevin writes, “Christological non-violence is different from generic pacifism because it holds that Jesus, not war (or its absence), is the centre of ethical reality.”

In other words, our basis for rejecting war in all cases—not to mention (although Kevin never does) any violent police action, and, indeed, any violent action to defend our families or ourselves—is Christ’s own teaching and example, not our commitment to non-violence, per se.

As an evangelical, I could almost accept that principle if I believed that Jesus taught that Christians can never resort to violence as part of a military, a police force, or in an effort to defend themselves or their families.

I say “almost” because I’d have to interpret Jesus’ words and actions against other passages in scripture, including Jesus’ unqualified praise of the Roman centurion as a paragon of Christian faith, or Peter’s uncritical acceptance of centurion Cornelius in Acts 10, or Paul’s words about the state’s “sword” being a “minister of God” in Romans 13. I would then avail myself of Christian tradition: how did the saints of the past interpret these verses, and were they, as a result, pacifists?

By the way, when it comes to tradition, I always assume, as a rule of thumb, that I’m not morally superior to the Christian saints on whose shoulders I stand. Even if I were a Christian pacifist, it wouldn’t be because I’m smarter or more virtuous than, say, Augustine, who most assuredly wasn’t a pacifist. If the case for Christian pacifism were as easy and obvious as some Christians today seem to make it, then what does that say about Augustine?

I know that there are arguments from scripture and tradition to be made for pacifism. I don’t find them convincing, but they can be made. But I wonder if Hauerwas’s “Christological non-violence” isn’t an ethical principle that he believes is embedded in the life, suffering, and death of Christ, which supersedes any argument from scripture, even where it contradicts the direct words of scripture.

If so, you can count me out. Christological non-violence must be an argument, first, from scripture, all of whose words are a gift from the very Spirit of Christ to us. It’s incomprehensible to me that Christ would teach something (through his words and actions) that the Spirit would contradict when the Spirit inspired these biblical writers to write these words. This is yet another application of that badly distorted “Jesus lens” I’ve written about before.

While we’re on the subject, Dr. Glenn Peoples, a theologian from New Zealand, applauds his government’s decision to send members of the New Zealand Defence Force to Iraq to train Iraqi troops in their fight against ISIS. His thoughts on the subject reflect mine. Follow the links below on Christian pacifism and “Turn the other cheek.” Among other things, he writes (emphasis mine):

“But Christians should be pacifists!”

No they shouldn’t. I know that some say that Christianity was universally a pacifist movement (a movement that taught that there is never any justification for the use of force against others) until bad people like Augustine came along and corrupted the church with the doctrine of the just war. The kindest thing to say about this is that it is an oversimplification, but the ordinary way of describing this is as a lie. There existed pacifists among the Church Fathers, but as I have explained before, the evidence does not support the claim that they were all pacifists up to the time of Augustine. “Turn the other cheek,” some say. “Learn what that means,” I say in reply.) For those interested, I discussed this issue, albeit briefly, on a panel for Elephant TV, and that discussion is available on Youtube (I do not know for how long it will be available).

We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Certainly, Christian reflection on vengeance, violence and hatred (and love!) should feed into our thinking about what the right response to IS looks like. But the result of such thinking does not push us to pacifism. Engaging with IS need not be about hatred at all, but about love. It is one thing for people to say “love your enemy,” as though acting against IS must be viewed as contrary to love. But what does it mean to love those who are left at the mercy of IS if the world does not intervene? What kind of false piety is it that would say to them, “although we could intervene to protect you, our love for those who are about to cut off your heads prevents us from doing so. PTL.” If I were more of a mocking person (I am sometimes, but this is too serious to engage in such triviality), there would be an exposed target in the attitude that calls on men, women and children to lie down and die so that we can keep our halo untarnished. We must confront IS, not because we hate them, but because we love those who are in the firing line.

Pacifism in the hard cases

February 24, 2015
From the cover of his memoir "Hannah's Child"

From the cover of Hauerwas’s memoir “Hannah’s Child”

I received an emphatic response, pro and con, to my last blog post about war and the justified use of violence. Of all the negative comments, the following, from my Irish Presbyterian friend Kevin, was best:

I feel this post badly mis-represents Hauerwas. It certainly does not engage with Christological non-violence in terms that proponents could recognise. For one thing, the claim that pacifism is secretly pragmatic is somewhat undercut by reference to one of Hauerwas’ most famous aphorisms:

“Christians are not nonviolent because we believe our nonviolence is a strategy to rid the world of war, but rather because faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent.”

I used to ask Christians who present the argument as you have the following question:

If Just War Theory is the appropriate Biblical pattern for Christian living, then what war that has been fought satisfied the criteria?

But in the midst of the never-ending War on Terror, I realise the question that needs to be asked is:

What war fails to satisfy Just War criteria?

The former President of Yemen spent last night hiding in the back of a food truck after a drone attack he got caught up in killed three people. The conversation that American Christians has about who they are allowed to kill in the name of God appears absurd to your Christians brothers and sisters elsewhere in the world.

Here’s my preliminary response. First, if my post fails to “engage with Christological non-violence in terms that proponents could recognise,” he’s going to have to tell me what “Christological non-violence” means, and tell me what I’m missing. The word “Christology,” by the way, is a showy, overused seminary word that pertains to the ways in which Jesus is both God and man at the same time.

In this context, I’m guessing he means that because Jesus was non-violent, and, when given the opportunity in his passion to respond with violence, chose not to, we should therefore, in all cases, eschew violence. Indeed, as I said in my original post, Hauerwas’s pacifism is premised upon the idea (unless I’m badly mistaken) that God is perfect non-coercive love. Although he’s often called a “high-church Anabaptist,” Hauerwas isn’t like an old-fashioned Anabaptist whose pacifism says, “We believe strongly that vengeance is God’s to repay, and we look forward to it.” From Hauerwas’s perspective, there is no vengeance, no violence, on God’s part.

How he reconciles this with scripture I have no idea.

I never said that Hauerwas was pragmatic about his pacifism, only that the blogger I quoted was: Remember, he’s the one who said that there is a peaceful solution, if only we’ll have the time and patience to find it.

As for Hauerwas’s comment that “faithful followers of Christ in a world of war cannot imagine being anything else than nonviolent,” I can only wonder what world he’s living in.

And this gets to the heart of my objection to Kevin’s complaint. As I said in my comment back to him,

Kevin points to murderous drones killing civilians or whatever. Fine. But if you’re going to be principled about it, defend the principle in the hard cases, too. Here’s why a police sniper isn’t allowed to stop the man who’s spree-killing children at an elementary school. Here’s why soldiers can’t forcibly liberate Auschwitz. Good Lord, here’s why I can’t use force to stop the man who’s raping my wife or molesting my child. Reductio ad absurdum? Reductio ad Hitlerum? Sorry. It’s his principle, not mine. Do we make exceptions?

According to Hauerwas’s principle, any act of violence is proscribed—not just this or that heinous act of indiscriminate killing in warfare—because, after all, how can any of us faithful Christians imagine forcibly stopping someone who is harming our own children—or other people’s children? We must oppose not only our military in all circumstances, but also police protection, the violent defense of our families, and self-defense (obviously). As Hauerwas has said before, “What’s the worst that’s going to happen? We get killed? We’re Christians! Who cares?”

It’s easy for him to say! Even if we share his pacifist convictions, let’s confess that we in the industrialized West are unlikely to find our convictions put to the test. Why? In part because we’re freeloading (except for our taxes) off the umbrella of protection afforded by our national and local defense systems. Our stable systems of government are ultimately enforced through violence, or at least its threat.

As I also indicated in my comments, if this article fairly represents his comments in a recent debate, “maybe Hauerwas disagrees with himself, too.”

Police force that’s short of killing is now “an open question.” Really? It wasn’t an open question back when I was reading him in seminary. Is he really starting to budge on non-lethal violence? On what principle? And how does that principle, whatever it is, not apply to protecting lives outside of one’s country—if it were possible?

Does the cross mean a nation shouldn’t go to war?

February 20, 2015

I am not a pacifist. Even in the depths of my Candler-inspired apostasy from orthodox Christianity many years ago, I never completely made the leap that thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas wanted me to make: to extend Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount against personal vengeance (“turn the other cheek”) to a complete rejection of violence in the cause of justice in the world.

Even when I was reading Hauerwas in Christian ethics class (taught by a professor who himself wasn’t a pacifist, but a proponent of “just war” theory), I thought Hauerwas’s was a cheap kind of pacifism. After all, Durham, North Carolina, isn’t exactly Rwanda!

No… Even then I thought that Hauerwas’s pacifism freeloads off a police force and a military that he doesn’t support except, presumably, through his taxes—which, by the way, are ultimately paid at gunpoint. Not that you’ll hear me complain. I’m merely pointing out that the rule of law and our systems of government and justice—far from perfect though they are—are made possible in part by the use of coercive, sometimes lethal, force. From Hauerwas’s perspective, this kind of force is never Christianly permissible because God, he says, is perfect non-coercive love.

Good thing so many heathens in our country disagree with him!

Even many years ago, I saw this inconsistency. Today, I have the Bible.

Which is why I can’t go along with Christian blogger Zack Hunt when he argues that the cross of Christ means that we as a nation shouldn’t use force to stop ISIS terrorists from continuing to do what they did last weekend—beheading 21 Egyptian Christians because they were Christians—and have done with too little resistance across Iraq and Syria: murder indigenous Christian and other minority religious populations.

Hunt writes:

No matter how righteous our cause may be, as Christians the cross remains in front of us a stumbling block on the path to vengeance. Which, I think, is why so many of us in the Church are so willing to go out of our way to justify our dismissal of the cross as a way of life. Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution. And it doesn’t require the struggle that comes along with loving and forgiving people that want us dead.

Why is military intervention necessarily a “path to vengeance” rather than a path to justice and, yes, love? Is it not loving to intervene, even with violence, to prevent violent men from murdering unarmed civilians when we have the power to do so? If we would support a similar police action within the borders of our state or municipality, by what logic would we oppose it outside of our borders? Because we don’t love non-Americans as much? That hardly seems Christian, either.

If you want to argue that intervening militarily is wrong because it would only lead to more violence and bloodshed, that’s fine… But it’s also a pragmatic and utilitarian consideration. No one ought to support Christian pacifism because it works! We’re talking principles here: we don’t resort to violence because, Christian pacifists say, the cross of Christ proves it’s wrong, not because it doesn’t work.

That’s what Hauerwas would say, and I’m sure Hunt would agree. Except, surely he’s being inconsistent when he says this: “Killing our enemies is just easier. It’s quicker and more satisfying than finding a non-violent solution.”

So there is a non-violent solution, he says, it’s just a matter of working harder to find one? We resort to violence out of laziness—because it’s “easier”? In other words, he says we should be pacifists because pacifism works. “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” In meantime, how many people will die?

Besides, who is he to say that “killing our enemies” is easier? Our troops put their lives on the line—indeed, sacrifice their lives—in order to save the lives of the weak and innocent. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Hunt speaks of vengeance, but why would that necessarily be our motivation to intervene militarily? I would be happy for our troops to swoop in and arrest all the terrorists without firing a single shot so long as it stopped their campaign of murder. But I’m pretty sure that ISIS wouldn’t “come out with their hands up.”

Hunt writes: “Paul, of course, famously echoed Jesus’ call to the cruciform life, declaring in Philippians 2 that as his followers, our lives should be like that of Christ who emptied himself, took on the form of a slave, humbled himself, and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

This same Paul wrote, in Romans 13, that God’s duly appointed ruler “does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The point is, both Jesus and Paul speak against personal vengeance, not against a nation’s justifiable use of violent force. Indeed, as Paul says, such violence accomplishes God’s will.

As for God’s use of violence, see, for instance, this post. God’s love often is coercive, as it will be, especially, in final judgment.

New sermon series for Lent: “King, Crown & Cross”

February 19, 2015


Beginning this Sunday and concluding on Good Friday, I’ll be preaching a new sermon series for Lent entitled “King, Cross & Crown.” This series will feature events in the life of Jesus from Mark’s gospel that lead to the cross.

Date Sermon Title Scripture
February 22 Meaning of Christ’s Death Mark 10:32-45
March 1 The King’s Arrival Mark 11:1-18
March 8 The Second Coming Mark 13:24-37
March 15 Anointing Mark 14:1-11
March 22 The Last Supper Mark 14:22-31
March 29 Garden of Gethsemane Mark 14:32-52
April 3 (Good Friday) The Cross Mark 15:1-39


Sermon 02-08-15: “Basic Training, Part 5: Forgive Us”

February 19, 2015

Basic Training Series

Forgiving others—and sometimes forgiving ourselves—is among the most difficult things we’re supposed to do as Christians. As I discuss in this sermon, we struggle with it, in part, because we refuse to accept that our relationship with God and with one another should be based on grace, not merit. We don’t deserve the many gifts that God gives us—the gifts of life, eternal life, love, and material possessions.

Sermon Text: Matthew 6:9-15

The following is my original sermon manuscript with footnotes.

Do you feel sorry for Pete Carroll? I sort of do. In case you don’t know, the coach for the Seattle Seahawks had his team poised for victory in last Sunday’s Super Bowl. While the Patriots had taken a late four-point lead, the Seahawks were on the Patriots’ one-yard-line with less than a minute left in the game and one timeout. Meanwhile, they have the best running back in the business, Marshawn Lynch. They had three chances to hand the ball off to Lynch and let him bust his way over the goal line to put his team up by three with seconds remaining.


It seemed so easy to win at that point except… What did they do on second down? Instead of handing the ball off to Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass, which was intercepted at the goal line. Game over. The Seahawks managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. For someone like me who was mildly rooting for the Seahawks because I always root for the NFC team, plus the Patriots are—you knowevil, it was frustrating to say the least. Read the rest of this entry »

Ash Wednesday Sermon 2015: “To Dust You Shall Return”

February 19, 2015

ISIS terrorists lead 21 Coptic Christians to their deaths in Libya.

Ash Wednesday gives us an opportunity to confront a truth we so often don’t want to face: that we all are dying; that our time on earth is running out; that none of us is going to have all the time in the world to sort out our priorities, to get our lives right with God, to make amends for the ways we’ve hurt each other, to become the kind of people we know God wants us to become, to love and serve and bear witness for Jesus.

Ash Wednesday reminds us to live life with urgency, to make Jesus Christ—and nothing or no one else—the center of our lives. Then we can say, along with Paul, “To live is Christ and to die is gain.”

I believe this is the best Ash Wednesday sermon I’ve ever preached.

Sermon Text: Philippians 1:18b-26

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Like all of you who heard about it, I was deeply troubled by news from last Sunday about the ISIS terrorists who beheaded 21 Christians on a beach in Libya—just because they were Christians. From what I’ve read, they posted the executions on the internet for all the world to see. The terrorists said, “Safety for you crusaders is something you can only wish for.” Crusaders! As if the church in Egypt isn’t among the most ancient in the world—as if the church in Egypt doesn’t predate the rise and spread of Islam by hundreds of years!

Whatever! I don’t expect terrorists to be good at history. It angers me. I pray that God will use peace-loving nations of the world to put an end to their evil once and for all.

I admire the courage of these 21 Christians who gave the last full measure of devotion to our Lord. And it challenges me because as a Christian, I can’t help but imagine myself in the place of these martyrs. What would that be like? What would I be thinking? Read the rest of this entry »

If the one who sins against us is “possessed,” then can we find compassion?

February 17, 2015

brunerLast Sunday, I preached a sermon on the last petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Nearly all modern translations rightly understand that, contrary to the traditional language of the King James, Jesus is referring not to evil in general, but to “the evil one,” the devil. The ESV follows the KJV but indicates in a footnote the alternate interpretation.

The expression in Greek (tō ponērō) appears in two other places in the Sermon on the Mount. In the first (Matthew 5:37), everyone agrees that it refers to the devil. In the second, just two verses later (Matthew 5:39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”), all translations assume tō ponērō refers to an “evil person.”

In his commentary on Matthew, Frederick Dale Bruner disagrees that Jesus is only talking about evil people, offering the following insight:

I hear in the words “the evil one” [in Matthew 5:39] both (1) the human evil one and (2) the spiritual Evil One, in that order; both the possessed and the possessor, the enemy person and the enemy power. The significance of the double meaning is this: the evil ones whom we encounter in daily life are “possessed” by the Evil One; so, while we are rightly agitated by their wrong, have a heart—they are not entirely “themselves.” There is an Evil One behind every evil. In interpersonal relations we rightly “get even with” the devil by not trying to get even with evil people—that is the greatest paradox of our Command.

After citing Church Father Chrysostom, who also endorses his interpretation, Bruner writes:

While the Evil One works in the evil one, “possesses,” as we say, nevertheless the possession does not absolve the possessed of responsibility. But the possession does reconfigure one’s perception of the other person (and of oneself!). For our profoundest war, as the apostle reminds us, is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and so ultimately against the cosmic Evil One himself.[†]

So when someone sins against you, can it rightly be said that that person is under the influence of the Evil One (“possessed” seems a bit strong)? If so, then we have to also accept that when we sin against someone, we are under Satan’s influence. Paul himself hints at this when he describes the plight of unredeemed human nature in Romans 7: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Again, as Bruner says, this doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for our sins, but reminding ourselves of Satan’s influence over us helps us summon the pity or compassion that we need to forgive others (and ourselves).

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 250.

Follow-up on last Sunday’s sermon… more on “forgive us our debts”

February 13, 2015

Last Sunday, in my series on the Lord’s Prayer, I preached about the petition, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is the only petition in the Lord’s Prayer that makes reference to something that we’re supposed to do—forgive the debts (or sins) of others. And this has caused distress among some interpreters over the centuries.

Is God’s grace conditional? Does God’s forgiveness of us depend on our forgiveness of others? If we don’t or can’t forgive someone, are we therefore unforgiven—excluded from God’s kingdom, bound for hell?

I hope not! 

These are important questions, made even sharper by Jesus’ postscript to the prayer, in verses 14-15:

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I confess that I am extremely Reformed in my outlook on these words: In my mind, Jesus can’t be saying that we have to forgive first in order to be forgiven. For one thing, that would make forgiveness a kind of meritorious work, a contribution that we make to our salvation, which cuts against the grain of so much else in the New Testament (e.g., Ephesians 2:8-9). Rather, our forgiveness of others is a response to God’s prior forgiveness (or justification) of us.

As Bruner writes in his commentary, Jesus already assumes that within the lives of his disciples—the ones to whom he’s addressing these words—a “prior massive forgiveness” has already taken place, as seen in their answering his call to discipleship and being baptized. This prior forgiveness “precedes and makes possible disciples’ praying the Lord’s Prayer at all.”

We would not even be able to address God as Father if we had not first been given the Father through Jesus and then authorized to ask the Father for the several gifts of this prayer. Only the Father’s forgiveness mediated here through his Son makes it possible to pray the Lord’s Prayer at all.[†]

He then quotes Augustine: “For what will He not give to His sons when they ask of Him, who has given them that first that they should be sons?”

Nevertheless, as in the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21-35), if we have an unforgiving spirit, such that we’re chronically unable or unwilling to forgive others, then it proves that we haven’t understood the enormity of our own sin, and God’s costly forgiveness of it. In which case, our inability or unwillingness to forgive may be a symptom of the fact that we remain unregenerate, that we still need to receive God’s justifying grace.

Frederick Dale Bruner, Matthew: A Commentary, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 310-11.

Book review: Geordan Hammond’s John Wesley in America

February 11, 2015

hammond_bookIn the United Methodist-affiliated seminary I attended, we learned little in Methodist history class about John Wesley’s Savannah mission aside from its being an unmitigated failure: He sought an assurance of salvation, which he didn’t receive. He wanted to convert the Indians, which he didn’t do. And although he fell in love with Sophia Hopkey, his misguided zeal for his vocation prevented him from tying the knot, which led, indirectly, to his being run out of the colony.

In his new book, John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity, Wesley historian Geordan Hammond corrects the record, or at least paints a fuller picture of what Wesley sought to accomplish in Savannah, and reassesses Wesley’s success in doing so. Unlike previous works devoted to Wesley’s journey to and ministry in the Georgia colony, Hammond draws upon a wider range of primary documents, including Wesley’s diaries, journals of both sympathizers and opponents, and other primary documents related to the Georgia colony at the time.

Hammond’s thesis is that Wesley’s main impetus for going to Georgia wasn’t, contrary to popular belief, to gain assurance of salvation or even to be a missionary to the Indians. He went primarily to make Georgia a “laboratory for restoring primitive Christianity.” To that end, an indigenous population yet untouched or uncorrupted by the Christianity of the Old World would provide fertile ground for doing so.

What did “primitive Christianity” mean to Wesley? Mostly it meant the Christianity of the first three centuries—pre-Nicene—as envisioned by a group of reforming High Church and Nonjuror Anglicans. The Nonjurors were a group of clergy who severed ties with the Church of England by refusing to take the “Oath of Allegiance” to William and Mary of Orange, believing that doing so broke faith with previous oaths to the Stuarts (Charles II and his heirs). Read the rest of this entry »