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John Wesley's Teachings, Volume 4: Ethics and Society Paperback – February 4, 2014
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About the Author
Thomas C. Oden (PhD, Yale) is Director of the Center for Early African Christianity at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania and Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University. He is an ordained Methodist minister and the author of many books, including The Rebirth of Orthodoxy: Signs of New Life in Christianity, How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind: Rediscovering the African Seedbed of Western Christianity, Doctrinal Standards in the Wesleyan Tradition, and Classic Christianity. Dr. Oden is also the general editor for the widely-used Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series.
Top Customer Reviews
In volume 4 Oden surveys the ethical holiness of John Wesley. Methodism is more than a doctrine; it is a lifestyle. Faith is the starting point for evangelical ethics. In the section on social holiness he describes the Methodist practice of small group accountability. This was Wesley’s major contribution to ethics.
The second section deals with economic ethics. Here Wesley advocated a work ethic and self denial. He taught an avoidance of debt and extravagance. He preached generosity and charity. He taught modesty in dress because extravagance robs from the poor. Thus, Wesley emphasized simplicity in dress as a mean to an end. The later American holiness movement made dress standards the mark (or at least the uniform) of belonging to the holiness movement.
Wesley did address the evils of gambling, alcoholism, prostitution, and slavery. He is famous for his advice on the use of money, but when it comes to time management his main advice is to get up early.
When we come to Oden’s third section, political ethics, he has less relevant Wesley material. Wesley followed the conservative, nonjurist political views of his mother and felt the American Revolutionary War was unnecessary. I am more in sympathy with the political views of Samuel Wesley who supported William of Orange in his overthrow of James II because he had broken faith with the English citizens. John Wesley was simply wrong in his predictions that the American revolution would result in the disaster of the French anarchy. The French Enlightenment was rebellion against God. The American revolution was rebellion against George III. While Wesley was horrified at the civil disobedience manifested at the Boston Tea Party, I am also in sympathy with the modern Tea Party movement. Wesley attributes the American revolution to pride which took over after the First Great Awakening waned. Many historians however, see the First Great Awakening as the foundation for the war for independence.
In Wesley’s Christian Library, the bulk of Volume 16 is letters written by Samuel Rutherford. However, Wesley seems to have taken no notice of Rutherford’s great treatise, Lex Rex, written in 1644 which was the theological basis for the American revolution. Oden makes a valiant effort to salvage something from Wesley’s Toryism, but he does not have much to work with. There is no discussion of the ethics of just war.
While I am a proponent of Wesley’s theology, when it comes to politics I agree with Francis Asbury in his review of Wesley’s A Calm Address to our American Colonies, “I am truly sorry that the venerable man ever dipped into the politics of America. My desire is to live in love and peace with all men; to do them no harm, but all the good I can. However, it discovers Mr. Wesley’s conscientious attachment to the government under which he lived. Had he been a subject of America, no doubt but he would have been as zealous an advocate of the American cause. But some inconsiderate persons have taken occasion to censure the Methodists in America, on account of Mr. Wesley’s political sentiments” [Journal, 19 March 1776].
The final section of this volume is labeled theological ethics. Here Oden devotes over a hundred pages to a restatement of Wesley’s thirteen discourses on the Sermon on the Mount. While the Sermon on the Mount is the major Christian statement on ethics, Oden adds little to Wesley’s exposition.
The final chapter of this book is a helpful overview of Wesley’s systematic theology on law and grace. While Oden is faithful in his representation of Wesley, there is little in this volume that addresses the great moral and ethical questions with which the Church wrestles today.
Part One: Social Ethics
Part Two: Economic Ethics
Part Three: Political Ethics
Part Four: Theological Ethics
It is amazing to me that John Wesley's teachings are 200 plus years old but yet still relevant to our society today. It is much like The Bible where Holy Scripture can be thousands of years old but still hold relevant truths for today's culture and society. This just goes to show us that Biblical Truth and is taught with integrity to scripture will always be relevant.
Given the current cultural upheaval that my particular community is facing in regards to racial issues I was very intrigued by what Wesley had to say in regards to Slavery. His section on "Confronting the Moral Failures of Slavery" is so in tune with truth that it sheds a great light even today on what we face. In 1791 Wesley wrote to William Wilberforce to encourage him to continue to fight against slavery. He wrote about how the African's that he had visited in their native land were more inclined to be living productive fruitful lives more in line with Adam and Eve in the garden than those of the "cultured" elite living in England, Europe and America. He was appalled by the conditions that he saw the slaves relegated to and was calling all to cease in their activity.
His open letter to Ship Captains calling on them to cease the activity of the slave trade points to what I would say is a treatment much like Martin Luther's statement nailed to the Wittenberg door. Wesley knew his scripture and was calling Christians to abide by the truth of the scripture to Love their Neighbors as themselves.
Many other topics he brings to light will encourage you to take a broader more Biblical look at how we face Ethics today. How can we declare our war on illegal immigration, our push against entitlement to the poor and our crackdown on age and sex discrimination without comparing the topics to Scripture and God's teaching and truths.
I was highly encouraged by this work and thought that it was a great work for Thomas Oden to take on. He has given us a great reference tool to understand the mind and character of a great man of God.
I encourage you to buy and read this volume and then purchase the other three volumes and acquaint yourself with teachings that will encourage your heart.
Being the father of Methodist thought I am amazed that the Methodist church has taken the path they are on and have so abandoned the scriptural teachings of scripture. They instead have adopted a social gospel but left the truth of the entire gospel in the dust. I pray they would reacquaint themselves with Wesley's teaching and repent of their sins and return to the Gospel of truth.