John Wesley’s Teachings: Vol 1 God and Providence

I’ll admit this one is not for everyone, but it is for every Methodist minister, local preacher and Christian who wants to think seriously, but not obscurely, about what a Wesleyan theology looks like.

Thomas Oden, a professor at Methodist related Drew University, New Jersey, is a prolific author who, in addition to Wesleyan Studies, is also a significant voice in Theology, Biblical Studies and Early Christianity. He has had an interesting journey from mainstream liberalism to a more orthodox and Biblical understanding of faith but it’s his Wesleyan theological scholarship that is his main contribution. Here Oden is undertaking a very ambitious project. His intention is to write a systematic Wesleyan theology.

We know that John Wesley did not really write systematic theology, unlike for example John Calvin. This makes Wesley’s theology a little slippery. It’s hard to speak definitively of what Wesley taught on a particular issue. Oden considers Wesley was a bit more systematic than often considered, and is attempting to make it all a bit stickier and systematise Wesley’s thought. I think he largely achieves this.

Oden is creating a four volume comprehensive theology. Volumes one and two, which cover God and Providence; and Christ and Salvation respectively are now published, albeit from a head start given that they are adapted from his earlier John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity . Volume three will address The Practice of Pastoral Care, and volume four will cover Issues of Ethics and Society.

Oden’s task ‘has been to clarify Wesley’s explicit intent’ (p. 13) and write this in a way that is intelligible to a more general reader and annotate the work with numerous footnote references to the original sources. Each chapter ends with an excellent ‘further reading’ section that points to historic and more contemporary Wesleyan scholarship.

There are a couple things I particularly like about Oden’s work here. Firstly he reminds the Wesleyan tradition of the wealth of theological resources from the founders and the Wesleyan stream. Those of us who are Wesleyans are not part of an immature or shallow theological tradition. Oden articulates this extremely well. Secondly, Oden writes as an American Wesleyan scholar. In this he is a theologian (although not a missiologist) but importantly not an historian. Too much British Wesleyan scholarship has been historical. While this is a perfectly valid approach, and we need to know the past to inform the present and help shape the future, yet backward looking thinking is inevitably more interested in the past than the present. Oden represents a more forward thinking Wesleyan stream that seeks to understand the Wesley brothers and their colleagues to inform the future of Wesleyan thinking and practice.

My Williams John Wesley’s Theology Today (1960) is very well thumbed, almost as much is my Tuttle John Wesley: His Life and Theology (1978). My Campbell Methodist Doctrine: The Essentials (1999) is much narrower in scope but very useful, my Marsh et al Methodist Theology Today (2004) is still in fairly pristine condition. There are others, but Oden’s series is likely to become my first choice when wanting a clear articulation of Wesley’s view on a given subject.

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