About a year ago I asked a group of people at my church: “What is a Methodist?”
I discovered that it’s a simple question that’s difficult to answer.
The group gave lots of good answers, and throughout my class–Methodism 101–I tried to help develop a solid answer myself. In six short weeks we made some progress in answering the question, but I still wasn’t satisfied.
I wasn’t satisfied with my formulations and all the books out there trying to answer the question until I recently heard Dr. Joe Dongell of Asbury Seminary give his answer.
Speaking at the New Room Conference (the best conference for people in ministry I’ve ever attended), Dr. Dongell informed the crowd that he had read through all 14 volumes of John Wesley’s Works (Thomas Jackson edition) in the last five years.
That’s 14,000 pages.
From this adventure, he had come up with a list of 12 distinctives that identified “the people called Methodists” when they were a movement and distinctives that should continue to identify Christians in the Methodist / Wesleyan tradition today.
According to Dr. Dongell, a Methodist / Wesleyan is:
1. A person of “one book” (homo unius libri). The scriptures are highly valued and form the foundation for all theology and doctrine.
2. One who values reason, tradition, and experience as lenses through which they seek to understand and apply scripture to their lives and the church.
3. Arminian in their theology. They believe that God created us in his image, frees our sinful wills through prevenient grace, and desires us to cooperate with his work of grace in our lives.
4. One who has an optimistic view of salvation. They believe God’s grace draws us to himself, justifies us, sanctifies us, and will one day glorify us in eternity.
5. One who believes in Christian Perfection—that Christians can live holy lives free from willful disobedience to God on this side of eternity by the power of God’s grace.
6. Convicted that all progress in the Christian life comes through the means of grace—especially Holy communion.
7. Convicted that all progress in the Christian life must also come through the company of other believers.
8. One who believes that God desires all to be saved. They know God’s prevenient grace is calling all people to himself and therefore Christians must proclaim the message to all people as well.
9. One who attends to the poor and marginalized so that their suffering in body and soul can be relieved.
10. One who believes that God’s desire is to assure believers of their salvation through the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.
11. One who believes that God seeks to renew our intellect, wills, and affections. They have a holistic view of salvation.
12. One who cultivates relationships and seeks to be one with Christians of all stripes.
And this was an aside in his amazing talk. His keynote was about a common theme that he found throughout all of Wesley’s works—the operational center of all of Wesley’s thought: Love.
Perhaps that’s number thirteen: One who has the love of God in their hearts, loves God with everything, and shares that love with all those around them. After all, that’s how John Wesley typically summarized a Methodist.
What would you add or take away?