Wesley, Wesleyans and Reading Bible as Scripture

Posted:  November 13th, 2012 by:  United Theological Seminary comments:  Comments Off on Wesley, Wesleyans and Reading Bible as Scripture
Joel B. Green and David F. Watson

Amazon description: The theology of John Wesley has proven exceedingly influential in the religious and spiritual lives of Wesley’s followers and his critics. However, Wesley did not leave behind a written doctrine on scripture. This collection presents an array of diverse approaches to understanding John Wesley’s charge to read and interpret the Bible as scripture. Contributors move beyond the work of Wesley himself to discuss how Wesleyan communities have worked to address the difficult scriptural — and theological — conundrums of their time and place.

DAYTON, OH – In October 2012, United Theological Seminary’s Academic Dean, Dr. David Watson, published Wesley, Wesleyans and Reading Bible as Scripture with Dr. Joel B. Green, Associate Dean for the Center of Advanced Theological Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, that consists of a collection of diverse essays to understand John Wesley’s approach to read an interpret the Bible as scripture.

“It came about because there was a meeting of the Wesleyan Theological Society, and the theme was set up by Rob Wall, who is one of the contributors in the book,” said Watson, noting Wall is a biblical scholar at Seattle Pacific. “The theme was The Future of Scripture, and it got me thinking about the way in which people in Wesleyan traditions interpret the Bible and what it might mean to think across a few different Wesleyan traditions about biblical interpretation. So I approached Joel about co-editing with me, and he graciously agreed to do that, and then we began to solicit authors.”

Featuring 17 contributors – including United’s Associate Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies, Jason E. Vickers, as well as William J. Abraham, Elaine A. Heath and Laceye Warner, who have lectured at United – the text is a piece in the church renewal puzzle, the authors noted.

“It’s important for Wesleyans to be intentional about the way in which we teach the Bible in our churches,” said Watson. “In my opinion, the options presented by evangelicalism and liberal Protestantism haven’t served the church well. So, I think it’s important to open up a conversation among Wesleyans about how to read Scripture from within our own tradition.”

Green also echoed the need for those conversations and reflections in reference to church renewal.

“Historically, genuine church renewal has been tied to getting Scripture into the hands of God’s people, and getting Scripture into the hearts and heads of God’s people,” said Green. “Whatever else this entails, it highlights the importance of reading the Bible together for the purpose of forming, reforming and transforming God’s people. And it underscores the importance of reflecting with Scripture on the full range of the church’s practices — its evangelism, its pastoral care, its worship, its hymns, its engagement with the marginal, its educational ministries, its sacraments, its common meals and so on.”

Watson said his goal with this text is that he hopes readers engage the Wesleyan theological tradition and grow in their faith.

“I hope they get a better sense of the riches of the Wesleyan theological tradition and its breadth, and the way in which that theological tradition interacts with our reading of Scripture to help us grow in the life of faith,” said Watson. “I also hope they get the sense that the Wesleyan tradition is widely varied from the United Methodist Church to Holiness Churches to Asian Methodists to African American Methodists and Latinos and Latinas, that this is a tradition with a lot of breadth to it. We usually only encounter the Wesleyan tradition in our own church content but understanding different ways in which the cultures have appropriated the Wesleyan tradition can help us as we grow in the life of faith.”

Green has had previous experience describing what he believes it means to read the Bible as a Wesleyan – it was a concept featured in his earlier book, Reading Scripture as Wesleyans, which was published by Abingdon in 2010.

“In some ways, the practice of reading the Bible as Wesleyans presses us simply to read the Bible as Christian Scripture — so, for example, in our reading of the Bible we seek to hear God’s address, we regard the creeds of the church as a help rather than a hindrance to our efforts to understand God’s Word, we embrace the hard work of reading texts closely, we seek enlightenment from the Holy Spirit as we engage the Scriptures, and we seek in our reading of Scripture to become more Christ-like as persons and as communities of Christians,” said Green. “Reading as Wesleyans presses a bit further, though. We Wesleyans emphasize theological conversation and deliberation (“conferencing”), for example, as well as the importance of progressing along the path of salvation through new birth to holy lives, and these emphases help to shape our reading of Scripture.”

Green noted the text would “make a marvelous Christmas gift for any thoughtful Wesleyan / Methodist Christian” but would also be useful for different groups.

“And in fact, it would be wonderful to find that groups of church leaders, including pastors and teachers, gathered over time to work through and discuss the book,” said Green. “I am already aware that it is being looked at as a textbook for college and seminary classes.”

Watson said he could also see the text being adopted in seminary education.

“So much of biblical and theological scholarship over the last two or three hundred years has urged approaches to the Bible that hold the Bible at arm’s length, so to speak,” Green added. “Modern biblical studies generally encourages a dispassionate, neutral reading of the biblical materials. This doesn’t reflect very well what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian! So we hope that this book will get into the hands of leaders of Methodist / Wesleyan churches so that it might help to stimulate both faithful reflection on the nature and role of the Bible among God’s people as well as renewed engagement with the Bible.”

Wesley, Wesleyans and Reading Bible as Scripture is available at any online bookstore, at Cokesbury and from the Baylor University Press website.

Joel B. Green is Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Associate Dean for the Center for Advanced Theological Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is an award-winning author or editor of more than thirty books and serves as Teaching Pastor at La Canada United Methodist Church. He lives in Pasadena, California.

David F. Watson is Academic Dean and Associate Professor of New Testament at United Theological Seminary and author of Honor Among Christians: The Cultural Key to the Messianic Secret. He lives in Dayton, Ohio.

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