I raised a question on twitter and facebook that I want to explore here, where I can develop things a bit more and where, I hope, you will feel free to comment without the constraint of 140 characters.
Here is how I put it on facebook:
“It seems to me that Wesleyans are almost invisible in social and print media. An informal survey on twitter, for example, named Adam Hamilton as the UM leader most likely to have the largest following on twitter. Hamilton has 9,000 followers. This is staggeringly small compared to Mark Driscoll (about 350,000 followers), John Piper (about 450,000 followers), or Rick Warren (about 900,000 followers).
Does the invisibility of Wesleyans in social media and print spheres matter? What is at stake?”
(As of this writing, the United Methodist who has been identified with the largest following on twitter is Tim A. Stevens (@timastevens), who is currently serving as the executive pastor at Granger Community Church with 38,000 followers. Leonard Sweet also has many more than Hamilton with near 26,000. Feel free to comment with an update if you know of someone who has more followers.)
I raised the question in a more concise way on twitter (you can follow me there @kevinwatson) and had several interesting exchanges there as well. Someone has also suggested the hashtag #andcanitbe if you want to contribute to the conversation, or follow it, there.
A few calls for nuance that have been made and are worth repeating. United Methodist and Wesleyan are not necessarily the same thing. And United Methodists don’t have the market cornered on being Wesleyan. In other words, there are United Methodists who aren’t Wesleyan. There are also Wesleyans who are not United Methodist.
I also feel compelled to say that the purpose of this is not to disparage the Reformed tradition, or to suggest that any of the names I mentioned are the best representations of the Reformed tradition. They are simply anecdotal. I recently saw a video clip where Mark Driscoll explicitly stated that he knows many Arminians who love Jesus, and that he would welcome Arminians to join Mars Hill. I would hope to see Wesleyans be at least as charitable to Driscoll as he is willing to be towards us.
But the purpose is to say that we are not doing a very good job of getting our message out. For at least five years I have heard people raise the lack of visibility of Wesleyans in print publications, for example, with some regularity and frustration. I once heard a UM leader make the point that you would not find hardly any books in Barnes and Noble that were written from a Wesleyan perspective. Since hearing that comment, several informal perusals of book stores has confirmed that observation in my own experience. And in many ways the discrepancy is actually worse in Christian bookstores. Now that physical Cokesbury stores are closing, there is almost nowhere a person who is searching for Christian resources can go to find material that is deeply Wesleyan. I’m actually not sure you can overstate the gap that currently exists between the effectiveness with which folks in the Reformed tradition are getting out their message compared to Wesleyans.
So, do you think this matters? Why? Most, but not all of you, who have already contributed on twitter and facebook did think it matters. And by all means, if you have already chimed in on facebook or twitter, please contribute here as well!
Jerrod Burris (@jerrodburris) said:
I think it does Kevin. Not that I have a hatred of Reformed theology – I used to be a Reformed theologian – until I “discovered” Wesley – thanks to your book (just thought I’d stick a plug in there for you AND give you some encouragement). Could it be that we are so “attached” to “our” bookstore (Cokesbury) that we never had a need for anyone else? Or could it be that there are so many bookstores attached to a denomination that it becomes tricky to “break-in” because of the separation between churches?
Bob Kaylor said:
Could the gap be explained by the fact that we have a dearth of celebrity preachers due to our itinerant system of moving clergy? Other than Mike Slaughter and Adam Hamilton (and Tim Stevens, who I had not heard of before), we do not have many larger churches in the Wesleyan tradition. Publishers are drawn to bigger names and social media follows celebrities. We also have few Wesleyan scholars writing for the mainstream (a la N.T. Wright, who transcends his own Anglican tradition). The climate of the country is far more Reformed/evangelical, so it makes sense that the minority view doesn’t draw as many “followers.” Even our UM churches are full of people who come from the culture of American evangelicalism’s Reformed mindset, which makes preaching Wesleyan theology even to our own people a challenge (a challenge that I gratefully accept, however). I am convinced that a real Wesleyan revival in our own churches could lead to a larger voice in the culture and on the bookshelf. I am grateful for your contributions in this area, which have made a difference in my church here in Colorado. Maybe the success of a revival would allow us to work on publishing theological issues rather than relying on celebrity faces?
When we think historically – the 19th century – we can see broad impact of the Wesleyan message in American religious history. (I know people can argue about whether it was really that Wesleyan.) So, it can happen again.
What do evangelicals in the Reformed tradition have that we Wesleyans don’t? I think they have a more well-defined network, with identifiable nodes, or key linkages that helps to support and maintain the network. Christianity Today is one of the major nodes, but Charles Fuller was the first to use radio back in the 1920s.
We Wesleyans have a looser network, still inhibited by denominational boundaries. United Methodist institutional leaders are largely overly-cautious about playing too much with evangelical groups (“ecumenical” but in a narrow sense; ironic).
We need to find ways to strengthen our network and to identify key linkages and find out what linkages we need to create/develop.
Jeffrey Rickman said:
A couple of responses: First, while the UMC is not the only Wesleyan body out there, it should be the strongest ambassador of Wesleyanism by virtue of our heritage and numbers. I often wonder if we are called to be the first Christian body (I know of) to bring about a revival by going back to our roots rather than splitting off and creating something new. I think the weight of the Wesleyan tradition has to sit heavily upon our shoulders in order for us to feel the weight of our actions. What we do matters. We are representing something. Let’s bear the mantle.
Second, I have heard a lot of Methodists complain about the popularity of Reformed preachers, while failing to address specific points of their theology. When we as Wesleyans present a counternarrative, I think many just point to Jacob Arminius without remembering Wesley’s take. We should probably insist on Wesley’s “Scripture Way of Salvation.” Preventing Grace! Justification! Sanctification! Perfection! The problem is that so many Methodists hate the latter two. So…that’s as far as I think anyone has gotten before saying either, “Well let’s forget Wesley” or “Let’s kick out the people who want to forget Wesley.” I’m not sure we are wanting the conversation to go in either of those directions…
Paul Lawler said:
As one who has many dear friends who serve in multiple tirbes (Reformed Calvinist as well as Wesleyan Arminian), the primary concern I hear from my reformed friends is our lack of capacity to hold Scripture as our standard as Wesley did. Go back and read any of Wesley’s sermons and obseve the saturation of Scripture throughout the sermon text. It is clear that Wesley’s authority is the Biblical text. Too many “Wesleyan authors” and “Wesleyan theologians” express concepts with an absence of (or deeply distorted) Scriptural support (At times, hermenuetical gymnastics). Perhaps this is why our prophetic voice is lacking in the public sphere. I have found many Reformed Calvinist that are more comfortable with reading Wesley than many modern day “professing adherents” of Wesleyan theology. Many profess a shadow of Wesley (Primarily because this is all they know through what they have been taught by others), but do not embrace the originator of the shadow.
Secondly, there is far too much “emotion based reasoning” among many in the Wesleyan tribe when attempting to present perspectives on Wesleyan theology verses Reformed. If we wish to engage, let us do so on the basis of Scripture and not emotion. We undercut our credibility with statements like, “Do you really believe God is like that?” Rather, let us interact with the Scriptures in a manner that reflects reverence and throughfulness regarding God, God’s nature, and the ways in which God intereacts with humanity. This brings an authoritative voice to the dialog and ultimatley, to the culture. The former is embarrasing to our tribe.
Third, let us not forget the legacy of Wesleyans who have had great impact through the ages . . . John & Charles Wesley, Francis Asbury, E. Stanley Jones, E.M. Bounds and many others. Each of them were not pursuring popularity; they pursued Christ and His mission through the integrity of God’s Word. In the process, God lifted them up and increased their influence. These priciples are timeless. God will do it again through the Wesleyan tribe if she rises again into her originating impulses.
Great post and I really enjoyed reading the additional comments. Very thoughtful.
Matt Judkins said:
I can’t help but think our lack of clarity and broad agreement is a hindrance to communicating the Wesleyan distinctives of Christianity in a broader way.
For instance, Calvinists of multiple stripes have such a distinct theology (even though I realize there are variations and debates in every camp) that even Methodists are aware of the T.U.L.I.P. way of summarizing salvation from a Calvinist perspective. In fact, even those of us who are clergy in the UMC have an easy time describing a Calvinistic understanding of salvation because of the clarity of this tradition.
We, on the other hand, have a tendency to just say something like, “we believe in grace.” At our best, we are able to describe prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying experiences of God’s grace, but if you get into traditional Methodist doctrines like scriptural holiness or entire sanctification, we get a little fuzzy.
The other thing I would say holds Reformed teachers and preachers together (at least the popular level folks like the ones you mentioned) is agreement on methods. For example, Keller and Piper (who I mentioned above) disagree on points, and yet they strongly agree on the authority of Scripture. United Methodists, on the other hand, are deeply divided on the very same issue.
John Denmark said:
Having served on Committees on Ordained Ministry for nigh on 35 years, I have observed many candidates who came out of U.M churches and seminaries whose education, theology and orientation are everything but Wesleyan. Yet I have been privileged to observe many candidates who have experienced transformation.
John, I don’t think the point of this discussion is to suggest that only Wesleyan theology is good and transformative. We recognize the work of God in people’s lives across a wide spectrum of positions. I do believe, as Kevin has written, that Wesleyan theology remains under-utilized and badly misunderstood. I think the result is that we are not experiencing the degree of transformation available or called for. And regarding transformation, we need more clarity about what it actually looks like. We are being transformed from what into what?
Chad Brooks said:
I was really encouraged by this conversation on FB. I was never a reformed Baptist (as most of the folks pointed towards in our conversation) but I did grow up in a pastors family at a mega-church. I would also point out the larger network and impression of the larger family of evangelicism. I have had this conversation with many others before and I think it needs to take place in such a public space like twitter. I was greatly encouraged.
I agree with Matt. Since we are never really able to come to a consensual statement as a group, any larger recognition won’t happen. I also don’t think this is only a theological issue but also a concern of missional praxis.
As an progressive evangelical within the UM now (provisional elder under appointment) I question how well are we reaching and transforming people. Louie Giglio popped up as part of this conversation. I don’t think anyone would argue his impact on millennials in the church and the controversy surrounding his departure from the inauguration really showed the level of societal disconnect we are dealing with. Lines are now drawn in the sand and will continue to be drawn.
The ministries of many in these traditions we talked about are reaching people, whether or not we disagree with their theological positions (and I do). What is more important is for Wesleyans to realize how these churches and ministries have been able to seriously tug on the heart strings of people and bring them closer to Christ. In our DNA I believe we are best poised to function as a disciple creating and forming movement, but we first need to trim off what has kept us from that original vision of a Methodist revival.
Kevin Watson said:
Thanks for all of the comments! They are more substantive than the post itself! There is much to chew on here. Steve, in your first comment, I’d love to hear more from you on what you think are the practical steps that could help us strengthen develop a Wesleyan network etc. Maybe a topic for a future post on your site? 🙂
Jeffrey, I am moved by much in your comments. I have long felt that the only hope for the UMC is a return to our roots. Without the doctrine, discipline, and spirit that initially animated our movement, I’m not sure we have much to offer.
Paul, thanks for your in depth response. For those who are not aware of the Rejuvenate Conference Paul is organizing (not sure if that is the right word, sorry if it isn’t Paul!), you should check it out, especially the video on the discussion focused particularly on UM renewal. It features one of my favorite quotes from JW: http://vimeo.com/53340352
Matt, I agree with you completely. I am increasingly seeing a need for clarity about what we believe. My recent posts on Wesley’s Catholic Spirit and What We are For not being sufficient are ways of getting at a similar concern.
Chad, you said: “In our DNA I believe we are best poised to function as a disciple creating and forming movement” to that I add my hearty amen!
The challenge I see now, based on the energy around this on FB, twitter, here, and in other conversations, is to try to be stubbornly practical. What is the next step the Spirit is asking us to take? I think the Spirit is asking for us to do more than let off some steam or frustration. I really believe God wants to use this message to save broken and hurting people.
John Leek said:
Though my interest is more in the theology than the method I’d like to add a point.
One of my professors pointed to the extensive apparatus of the UMC and how it is in nearly every community in our nation. He noted that if there is ever going to be national revival again it’ll have to have a way to spread. He sees the UMC as the best way by far to facilitate that.
It’s going to take more than buildings and bodies however.
Kevin, I think we need to figure out how to get some of you younger, entrepreneurial, innovative folk, to brainstorm about how to make this idea work. It might even be worth trying to get a few of you together at WTS next month. This would only be a small part. We need pastors, youth pastors, college ministers, and lay people interested in the kind of ongoing conversation and searching that we’d like to foster.
Jeffrey Rickman said:
It’s probably some social taboo to comment more than once on a post, I want to follow up on the final act of the conversation as spoken by Kevin. Yes, we need to save broken and hurting people. But many who are a part of the problem would point to ways that they have healed or consoled others, or ways in which they have seen the churches they lead do so. Much good is done by our denomination. UMCOR is one of the most impressive relief agencies out there. UM churches host community gardens, food pantries, crisis centers, urban renewal programs, and dozens of other programs I am not clear headed enough to list now. Yet it’s clear that we aren’t creating the social change the early Methodism created, and that’s because we aren’t Spirit-led or -filled people any more. We have succumbed to what Paul listed as the second problem, which is emotion-based reasoning. We have insisted on doing the work on our own terms rather than on Christ’s. So long as we focus on the work itself, we will be lost. And I know you agree with this Kevin, because in your book you quote Ephesians to argue that faith comes before works. Works proceed out of faith. By reading the comments on the conversations that you have facilitated, it seems clear that the first step forward is to be able to delineate distinctly Methodist theology and to help our denomination conform to these tenets.
I’m not saying that we can’t do any work until we have conformed everyone. But I do think it is important to do work only among those leaders and churches who do conform to Christ through the Wesleyan tradition, bearing distinct fruit as over and against those who preach works first. A network should be created in which we support and hold one another accountable, in which there is mutual cooperation and a clear vision of what we are aiming at. Until we have the clarity and courage to draw that line in the sand and work in the light, confusion and discouragement will almost certainly reign. Yet after the lines that we drawn in previous decades, I think it makes sense that many of us would be reluctant to cause more division. Don’t know what to say after that…
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Gryphon Hall said:
CS Lewis once wrote that you can tell that a humble man is humble not by the self-disparaging remarks that the man does but rather that he doesn’t seem to think too much ON himself and, when he does, he has a rather accurate picture.
I believe the real reason why most Wesleyans do not go trying to get “the message out” is because they actually GET that the message is not whether free will is involved in salvation, or whether God only a few to be saved, or whether Grace is resistable or not. The “message” is not bringing out polemic debate as a means of evangelism but of actually living in holiness and speaking and teaching about holiness.
If it’s only about social media following, it’s because Reformed Theology is, by it’s very beliefs and definition, divisive: and nothing drives social media more than polarization—I loved that rapper/I hate that rapper, I loved that movie/I hate that movie, rocks/ sucks… “Calvinism is the true expression of Christianity” and “only we few, we happy few” vs, well, their straw man of “Neo-Pelaganism” or “unbelievers of God’s sovereignty”… which is a much more exciting statement than “let’s get on living more like Christ, loving our fellow man, and not calling attention to oneself”.
Gryphon Hall said:
I also believe strongly—despite being (in my own eyes) still a staunch Wesleyan Arminian (grew up in the UMC but, by necessity worshiping with Baptists)—that trying to make Wesley as popular and known as Calvin (or Spurgeon, or Piper, or any of the other “exegetes” out there) is a little like “saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” ” (I Corinthians I:12) Should we really be going out saying “this is Wesleyan theology, which is in contrast to Reformed theology” and implying that this is closer to the truth?
Yes, we believe in grace (and the various sub-species of it)… we also believe in love, but I see no-one obsessing of the different variations of it (Storge, Philia, Eros and Agape) and using that as a division of Christianity. Why advertise to the unbelievers how much we don’t agree on something as important as salvation?
And even within the church itself, how useful is it to draw the battle lines more obviously. Yes, we ought to be clear about what we believe and systematic about it (Hebrews 5-6), but ought we not stick, in the meantime, to “milk to drink, not solid food; for [we] were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now [we] are not yet able, 3 for [we] are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among [us], are you not fleshly, and are [we] not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,”[substitute Wesley] and another, “I am of Apollos,”[substitute Calvin] are [we] not [still] mere men?” (I Corinthians III:2-4)
Polemics have their place, but more as a means to find truth between agreeing believers… not as another glorified means to say “us vs them”.
Kevin Watson said:
Thank you for your extensive comments. I’m not exactly sure how to respond, except to say that in reading your comments, it feels like you misunderstood my concern. I specifically said I was not interested in disparaging the Reformed tradition. What I was trying to get at is that there seems to be an enormous gap between the success and quality of the communication of the gospel among those with a Reformed accent than those with a Wesleyan accent. I am not trying to aggitate more controversy between Reformed and Wesleyan folks. I am lamenting the fact that the Wesleyan message is being communicated so ineffectively.
Matt O'Reilly said:
Here are a few thoughts on finding our Wesleyan voice:
John Meunier said:
Just a small and unhelpful point: Tim Stevens at Granger would not jump out at me as a Wesleyan voice, so one issue here is that being employed by a nominally Methodist congregation (Granger is more generic megachurch than anything else) does not make one a Wesleyan.
Gryphon Hall said:
I apologise if I misunderstood, but I thought you were saying that we had to be as visible those of the Reformed tradition. My answer was, in short: we don’t have to.
As far as the success and quality of the communication of the gospel: in my own personal experience, “Calivinists” tend toward broadcasting as their ministry (radio, television, lots of print), but most of the Wesleyans I see out in the actual field. Feeding the poor, translating bibles, building homes, caring for the sick, visiting prisoners.
And it crosses borders: whether I was in my home country of the Philippines or where I now live in Australia. True, we don’t have recognizable personalities we can point too that people “follow”, but as Dale V Wayman stated on Facebook: “It could also be that Wesleyans are so busy living out and practicing the gospel that they don’t have time to mess with stuff like twitter and the like. We want people to follow Jesus not celebrities.” (http://goo.gl/G25aq)
Especially with our tradition of itinerant workers, we don’t tend to set up VIPs.
In short: working as intended—the message (with a Wesleyan accent) actually IS being communicated and effectively. My only concern is: why fix it when it ain’t broke?
Gryphon Hall said:
The only reason why I brought up the polemic debate is that when I listen to folks like MacArthur on radio, I always feel like they’re bringing it up. As if the central message is understanding that theology. If that is what is meant by “flavor”, and if we are supposed to do the same, i.e. share our own gospel to show that our “flavor” is as valid, if not better than the other camp just to be “visible”… well, I find myself uncomfortable with that.
When it becomes the point where our own superstar Wesleyan preacher’s materials and writings become ESSENTIAL to “understanding the scriptures” in the same way it seems from their PoV… well, I find myself uncomfortable with that.
Andrew C. Thompson said:
This is an energizing conversation. I think there are two distinctions to make: one is about media used to communicate a message, and the other is about the way in which we go about articulating the message we do have to share. Perhaps in doing all the important work in ministry and discipleship that we Wesleyans try to do, we are not engaging the intellectual content of the gospel enough. The conversation here and elsewhere has made me realize the importance of the latter, which is something that Wesley himself always found time to do in addition to his work of ministry. I tried my hand at doing that last night on my own website, in a post at this link: http://www.andrewthompson.com/2013/02/28/the-god-of-free-grace/
I cite this post not to publicize my own stuff (my apologies if it comes across that way), but because of the fascinating response the post immediately got from one Reformed-minded reader. The first comment on the post is representative, I think, of the concerns that many Reformed Christians have. (And I tried to respond to it this morning in a follow-up comment.) I believe Wesleyan theologians will be taken seriously in the public arena when and where they are as thoroughly biblical in their account of grace, salvation, and the nature of God as Reformed thinkers always try to be. We simply must come to grips with that, and proceed accordingly.
Andrew, I’ll take a look at your blog.
For research reasons (a paper coming at WTS), I’ve been reading Abraham Kuyper and related secondary sources (e.g. Richard Mouw). I think it’s worth the time to ready Mouw’s very short and very personal introduction to Kuyper (a Dutch Reformed statesmen, educator, journalist – in The Netherlands). There are some interesting points of contact for conversation and Kuyper wrote from an explicitly Calvinist perspective. It’s interesting to me that Kuyer qua Mouw write as “middle-of-the-roaders” compared to groups with which they had issues (in Kuyper’s case, he took issue with Anabaptists and other “sectarian” groups, as he saw them).
I’ve been reading Wesley’s discourses on the Sermon on the Mount and have noticed again how robust is his view of divine providence and how easily he refers to “our Sovereign God.”
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