My life in the Christian Church and among Christian churches has been kind of all over the place. I have noticed though, that this is kind of the norm for Protestant Christians in America. We who grew up in the evangelical subculture were more bound together by Veggietales cartoons and CCM music than any denomination or theology.
Thus, while my earliest memories were an independent fundamentalist church, I was mostly shaped in my youth by the Evangelical Congregational Church which branched off of the Methodists sometimes during the Holiness movement. Just writing that sentence reminds me of how confusing Protestant denominations are. In college I got connected to the independent Christian Church and ended up going to a Restoration movement seminary. Along the way I visited Baptist churches, flirted with five-point Calvinism and had my life changed by encounters with Anabaptist.
As an adult who is settled, though admittedly still learning, I describe myself as Wesleyan Anabaptist with a soft spot for Eastern Orthodox theology. Reading the likes of Gregory of Nysa, Maximus the Confessor, Isaac the Syrian and others has been paradigm shifting in how I understand God, perhaps even life changing.
I thought these theological ideas were limited to these long dead saints. Then I read Partakers in the Divine Life by S. T. Kimbrough. This book is absolutely brilliant. It connected my personal background in Wesleyan theology with my growing love for Eastern theology.
(Just add in some Anabaptism and I’m set!)
Kimbrough looks at how the writings of Charles Wesley reflect ideas of participation in the divine nature, or what the Orthodox may call “theosis.” It is not that Wesley was directly quoting these folks. Instead, Kimbrough shows how Wesley was familiar with other English writers from the time who were reading the eastern fathers. Of course, both Wesley and the eastern fathers were touching on themes they found in scripture.
Overall, this is an academic work, filled with quotes and footnotes. Yet it is highly readable and definitely worth reading for anyone interested in theology generally, spiritual growth and development and the history of Methodism. That latter point is perhaps most important because, at least in evangelical subculture, it seems that if you want to be deeply theological and academic, you need to be a Calvinist. The Calvinists are the intellectual stream of evangelicalism, while the Wesleyans are the more spiritual or practical stream. This work demonstrates that there is a strong intellectual tradition alongside of Calvin (via Augustine). I believe the Christian Church would be much better off following the Wesley’s (via the Eastern Fathers) for a compelling picture of God, salvation and spiritual life.*
Give this one a read.
*I know someone may say “but Augustine…” and yes, I know Augustine is great. There’s more to Augustine than what hyper-Calvinism makes of him.
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