Despite my attempt at a humorous take on The Study of Ministry Commission report a couple posts down, I did read with interest the report during a break from work earlier today. I found myself pulling out my pen to mark some of the language at the front of the report where it discussed theology.
Here is the report on Wesleyan theology:
Beyond context, our theology is always shaped by our call to mission and Christian experience. Wesley’s doctrines of grace and holiness were expressions of his own practical theology in eighteenth century England. While our doctrinal standards are received tradition, our theological task is ongoing. Thomas Langford used this analogy: “Doctrine is the part of the cathedral that is already completed, exploratory theology is creative architectural vision and preliminary drawings for possible new construction” (Doctrine and Theology in the United Methodist Church, p. 204).
I’ve not read Langford’s book, so I do not know if he means what this paragraph appears to imply. Here is how I read it.
Wesley’s doctrines were personal to him and his context. They were “his” doctrines, created out of “his own” practical theology that was firmly rooted and tied to a certain time and place — eighteenth century England.
These doctrines come to us as “received” tradition — not living — but the real work is in creating the new.
I see the upshot of this approach when I read on the next page the commission’s definition of justifying grace.
Justifying grace is a reminder to us that salvation is a gift to be claimed and shared with others.
A reminder? So, it is like a big flag God waves in our face to remind us that we should get about the task of laying claim to salvation? I know this is not Wesleyan. Which new creative architectural vision is this?
I understand that many candidates for ordination find the required questions on Wesleyan theology nothing more than a hoop to get through. As someone said at a recent gathering of Wesleyan United Methodists, they write the essays and then forget it.
Reading statements such as these in this report, I understand that attitude. I understand why the UMC website puts quotes around “standards” on the page that links to the Doctrinal Standards from the Book of Discipline. I wonder, to be completely honest, whether I should give up on this idea of pursuing a mid-career ordination. I don’t actually want to be a pastor who views Wesleyan theology as a dead relic like so many ruined cathedrals.