I love history. As a Christian, I enjoy learning the history of the Christian church, both the good and the bad. In my reading I make it a point to read works from times and places other then my own. Books on Christian spirituality are (almost) a dime a dozen in any bookstore. Some are great, many are awful. When I go to the classics I find books that are often much more difficult to read, but reveal an incredible spiritual depth.
Before I started blogging I read many Christian classics, ones I would love to blog through but am not ready to reread. I have blogged through works from some medieval saints, such as Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. The title of these blogs was “listening to the saints”, the idea being that in the cacophony of our busy and loud culture we Christians do well to listen to the wise words of those who have gone before.
(I just spent the afternoon sitting on campus at a table to raise awareness and make a call to action about human trafficking. The vast majority of students who walked by alone had earphones in, listening to music. God forbid we don’t have some sort of constant noise in our heads! Wow, I sound like an old man.)
As I return to blogging on the works of Christians long-dead, I am re-titling it “walking with the saints.” I still think we ought to listen to what they have to say. But it helps to remember that these people were much like us, people with passions and desires and struggles who sought to follow Jesus in their lives. I like the image of all of us Christians, the communion of the saints, walking together as disciples of Jesus.
One of my favorites is the English preacher John Wesley (1703-1791). Wesley was a preacher at a time of nation-wide revival as many came to renewed faith in Jesus. He is the founder of Methodism, a denomination still strong today and with many offshoots of its own. I have begun reading through Wesley’s journal and will blog thoughts on that in the coming months. A couple years ago I read Wesley’s book A Plain Account of Christian Perfection and found it incredibly thoughtful and encouraging:
A large part of Wesley’s argument is that since God commands this of us, then it is obvious that it should be possible. He also spends a good amount of time refuting attacks on this doctrine. Some say it is too human centered. Wesley’s response is that those who reach this perfection do so by God’s grace and are so in touch with God that they recognize, more than other Christians, their need. Along the same lines:
“If we were not utterly impotent, our good works would be our own property; whereas now they belong wholly to God, because they proceed from him and his grace: While raising our works, and making them all divine, he honors himself in us through them”.
He says that those who are perfect can continue to grow in grace “not only while they are in the body, but to all eternity”. Further, these are not super-Christians, Wesley even says that they can still learn from those who have not yet achieved this perfection. Finally, it is not impossible for a Christian to fall from this perfection.
I am not sure if I am with Wesley on this. But I think part of the challenge is that so much of the Christian subculture, at least the impression I get, is an emphasis on our sin and how we will never be holy in this life. I wonder though, is not this emphasis on our sin an emphasis on who we were? And now, are we not new creations in Christ? Does not the emphasis on sin leave out truths about the resurrection and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?
All that aside, reading Wesley’s work moved me, I want to grow closer to God, to be consumed by the love of God. I want to love God with my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. That is my prayer.
I am sure I will be encouraged by his journal as well and I look forward to blogging through it.