Posts Tagged ‘Asbury Theological Seminary’

Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, Part 1: “The chief end of man”

November 8, 2016

jwc_the_shorter_catechism_front_cvr_smWhile I was in Chicago last month at the inaugural Wesleyan Covenant Association meeting, I browsed a vendor’s table set up by Seedbed, the publishing arm of Asbury Seminary, Methodism’s premier orthodox, evangelical seminary. An attractive series of paperbacks caught my eye: “The John Wesley Collection.” They include essential writings of John Wesley, alongside Wesley’s revisions of other writings that he believed would edify fellow Methodists.

One of these books, which I purchased, was Wesley’s Revision of The Shorter Catechism, literally a revision of the Westminster Shorter Catechism of 1648. As far as I knew from my unorthodox, un-evangelical mainline Protestant seminary education, the Westminster Catechism wasn’t for us Wesleyan Arminians; it was for the Reformed—Presbyterians and the like.

I never knew, prior to purchasing this book, that Wesley had any use for it.

In fact, after revising or omitting articles dealing with the “decrees of God,” sanctification, and the Calvinist understanding of predestination, Wesley recommended its use for Methodist catechumens. (Please note: in spite of his revisions, he left the vast majority of its articles unchanged.)

The book contains not only the catechism with Wesley’s revisions and scripture proof-texts, but also James A. Macdonald’s century-old commentary on it. Without this commentary, of course, the revision would hardly be book-length!

All that to say, starting today, I’m going to begin a new series of blog posts on this book. So let me begin at the beginning:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Wesley’s proof-texts in the margin are 1 Corinthians 10:31, Romans 11:36, and Psalm 73:25-28.

Out of the gate, these words challenge and convict me. Not only are we to glorify God, this is the main thing that we human beings are supposed to do. God has created us to give him glory.

We can glorify God whether we think about doing so or not, which is good because—in my experience as a Methodist—most of us spend little time thinking about it. Why?

I wonder if it’s not because of a “stumbling block” to the doctrine that C.S. Lewis discusses in his book Reflections on the Psalms:

We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and of His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way—”Praise the Lord,” “O praise the Lord with me,” “Praise Him.” (And why, incidentally, did praising God so often consist in telling other people to praise Him?…)[1]

You get the idea: If God were as “virtuous” as we are, he wouldn’t need us to glorify him. And thus—as we too often do with doctrines related to God’s wrath, blood atonement, and hell—we allow ourselves to feel, however faintly, morally superior to the biblical authors.

Of course, unlike any tin-pot dictator, God is the one object that perfectly deserves all of our praise all the time. He doesn’t need it, but we need to do it—for the same reason, Lewis says, that we need to praise a great work of art, only infinitely more so:

The sense in which the picture “deserves” or “demands” admiration is rather like this; that admiration is the correct, adequate or appropriate, response to it, that if paid, admiration will not be “thrown away,” and that if we do not admire we shall be stupid, insensible, and great losers, we shall have missed something… He is that Object to admire which (or, if you like, to appreciate which) is simply to be awake, to have entered the real world; not to appreciate which is to have lost the greatest experience, and in the end to have lost all…

The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.[2]

Nothing brings us greater delight than to praise what we enjoy. To praise is to “complete” the enjoyment; it is, Lewis writes, “its appointed consummation.”

If this is true of everything that is less than God, how much more true is it of God? Lewis even refers to the catechism:

The Scotch catechism says that man’s chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” But we shall then know that these are the same thing. Fully to enjoy is to glorify. In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.[3]

Not being an expert on or “fanboy” of John Piper (although I admire him, Calvinist or not, as one of his generation’s most gifted preachers), I suspect this idea is at the heart of his famous maxim, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

If the first article of the Shorter Catechism is true, so is Piper’s maxim. Here’s one Methodist pastor who isn’t ashamed to say so.

James Macdonald’s commentary also relates our Wesleyan understanding of sanctification and perfection to this article. I’ll say more about that in a future post.

In the meantime, ask yourself these questions: “Do I enjoy God? If so, when? Is the enjoyment of God a priority in my life? Why or why not?”

1. C.S. Lewis, “Reflections on the Psalms” in The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1986), 177.

2. Ibid., 178-9.

3. Ibid., 180.

The main “job” of a disciple is to be with Jesus

November 4, 2015

When I took a homiletics (i.e., preaching) class in seminary, I heard it said that a good preacher could preach the Bible’s genealogies. I hope that’s not true, because yours truly will not be preaching a sermon series on the first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles any time soon!

Nevertheless, last Sunday evening I had a moment of insight into a passage of scripture that I’ve always read—thoughtlessly—as if it were a genealogy: the call of the disciples in Mark 3:13-19. The insight comes by way of Asbury Theological Seminary professor Joseph Dongell, who created Seedbed’s new Biblical Journey Bible study on Mark’s gospel. In verses 13-14, Mark writes:

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.

Dr. Dongell observes from these verses that the main task of a disciple is not to go out and do something; it’s to be something. Disciples are those who are desired by Jesus, who come to Jesus, and who are appointed, first, in order to be with Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus, therefore, not the things we do for Jesus, is our top priority.

We are, Dongell said, not God’s “workforce,” but the “being-with-Jesus force.”

How easy it is to lose sight of this!

As I told my class on Sunday, I’ve had to attend many seminars and read many books over the years related to “church leadership” as part of my pastoral training. One thing they all have in common is this almost Pelagian emphasis on the things that we must do in order to be successful pastors: there’s always some eight-point plan, or four-point program, or five-step process to follow. I promise no one has ever told us that we need to spend more time praying or listening to God’s Word. Being with Jesus never comes up.

Why? It can’t be because all of us pastors are already so great at that part of the job that seminar leaders and authors can afford to take it for granted! I know from painful experience, as I’ve preached before, that we can be so busy “doing church” that we pastors face the temptation to become professional Bible readers and professional pray-ers. God forbid!

Sermon 09-27-15: “Owning Up to Our Sin”

October 8, 2015

Fight Songs

This sermon is all about repentance: what it is; why we need it; how we distinguish it from remorse; and the role in plays in our lives once we’ve become God’s children through faith in Christ.

Sermon Text: Psalm 51:1-19

Audio only this week. Click the playhead below or right-click here to download an MP3.

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Many of you no doubt heard the news last week about Volkswagen, the world’s largest car-maker. It turns out, the company rigged all of its diesel-engine cars with software designed to deceive both consumers and regulators into believing that their cars were “greener,” more fuel-efficient, and better performing than they really were. Basically, there’s a piece of equipment inside the car’s exhaust system that filters out nitrogen oxides, which are bad for the environment. The car’s computer would only turn that system on when the car was being tested for emissions, thereby enabling it to pass inspection. And then the computer would turn the system off again when it wasn’t being tested.

Why not run the filtering system all the time, you may ask? Because it takes energy to operate the system, which means your car burns more gas, which means it’s less fuel efficient than it would be if the system weren’t running. “So what’s the harm,” the engineers and executives must have thought, “if we just turn the system off when no one’s looking. No one will find out.”

But U.S. regulators did find out. And as a result, eleven million cars around the world are being recalled… Untold billions of dollars to fix the problem… Plus the inevitable lawsuits, the squandering of public trust in the company, the loss of market share, the loss of jobs, the anger of the company’s customer base, the tarnishing of the reputation of a once proud car maker. The magnitude of this scandal has never been seen in the auto industry. The CEO, Martin Winterkorn resigned, reluctantly, saying that as the CEO he takes responsibility, because he’s supposed to, but he didn’t know anything about the deception, and he did nothing wrong. Many auto industry observers say that given the top-down management culture at VW, it’s hard to believe he didn’t know—that he would have had to go out of his way not to know… to turn a blind eye.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tim Tennent on the need for “gospel clarity”

April 1, 2014

Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, doesn’t blog often enough, but when he does he usually makes it worth our while. In this post, he points out the potentially dangerous fact that most of our fellow Methodists possess at least a vague understanding of John Wesley’s “heart-warming” experience at Aldersgate on May 24, 1738.

I say “potentially dangerous” because if that’s all they possess then they risk divorcing Wesley’s experience from its scriptural foundation:

I don’t know of too many Methodists who have actually read Martin Luther’s preface to the Book of Romans. The fact that the heart-felt experience of Wesley is far more known than the textual source of that experience is significant. We can all too easily forget that our experience of God’s work does not come untethered from the truth of God’s word. When Christian “experience” becomes disconnected from God’s Word it drifts into mere emotionalism.

It’s easy to imagine that we’ve succumbed to “mere emotionalism” when our marketing tagline is “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

The phrase “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” says absolutely nothing about Jesus Christ or the glorious gospel. It only speaks of our hearts, our minds and our buildings. Is that really the best we can do? As I have said before, if there were public relations consultants in the 19th century, the phrase “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” could have just as easily emerged as a great tagline for a 19th century brothel.

This reminds of something a professor at UMC-affiliated (and theologically orthodox) United Theological Seminary said about the UMC’s website. If it’s true, as we say, that the UMC’s mission is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” then doesn’t it follow that our church’s official website ought to reflect that priority?

Perhaps the public website should take a more evangelistic approach. How about, right up front, a link to the testimonies of people who have accepted Christ and known his transforming power? How about a link to a video called something like, “Why Should I Choose Jesus?” Or perhaps a video, or at least a page, called something like, “Why Does Christ Make A Difference?” Perhaps one could have the option to chat or have a video call with a pastor. Maybe it would be helpful to have something on the basics of Christian belief.

Nevertheless, Tennent’s words in this next-to-last paragraph seem exactly right:

Brothers and sisters, we must find new ways to let the clarity of the gospel ring forth from our lives and from the ministries of the church. Wesley’s “heart-warming experience” must be wedded anew with the steadfast powerful message of the gospel as found exposited by Luther in his preface to the Romans. This is certainly how Wesley himself interpreted his heart warming experience. After May 24th he became crystal clear about the nature of the gospel, the centrality of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Word of God. He became razor sharp in his passion to preach the gospel, evangelize the world, disciple believers and spread scriptural holiness throughout the world. We should remind ourselves every day that being a Methodist or a Presbyterian or “non-denominational” means nothing if it is not first and foremost an outgrowth of our more basic identity as Christians who have been transformed by and through Jesus Christ.