February 19, 2013

Finding Our Wesleyan Voice (#AndCanItBe)

A conversation has recently begun taking up the question of why the Wesleyan tradition has so very little presence on the web and in social media. UM pastor and Wesley scholar Kevin Watson got the discussion started with a Facebook post which he then followed up with a longer entry on his blog in which he suggested that 
"we are not doing a very good job of getting our message out. For at least five years I have heard people raise the lack of visibility of Wesleyans in print publications, for example, with some regularity and frustration. I once heard a UM leader make the point that you would not find hardly any books in Barnes and Noble that were written from a Wesleyan perspective."
I think Kevin's observations are spot on. We Methodists don't have people who are writing books, curricula, and other resources that are widely used outside our tradition. And our web presence in minimal. As a result, our message is not finding a wider audience. This raises the question: How do we find our Wesleyan voice? And how do we get the message out? Here are a few brief reflections on those questions. 

Is there a Wesleyan Message?
One challenge that faces any effort to establish a Wesleyan voice to a wider audience is the reality that a variety of groups with very different theological perspectives and agendas lay claim to Wesley's name. Some groups focus heavily on a renewal of John Wesley's own theology and practice while others who take doctrinal stances very different from those of Wesley still invoke his name to advance their particular social program. With this disparity among those who see themselves as heirs of the Wesleyan tradition, it is difficult to find a single and unified voice. And with no particular voice, it's tough to get your message out. Contrast this to another group that is presently growing in influence; when someone tells you they are Reformed, you basically know what they mean. 

Discovering our Roots; Finding our Voice
In a more constructive direction, I want to suggest that any authentically Wesleyan message will intentionally emphasize what John Wesley himself emphasized (and I am, by no means, the only person to make this suggestion). You don't have to read much Wesley to recognize that he was convinced that God raised up the people called Methodists to renew the church with the message of entire sanctification. This is our primary distinctive. This is our contribution. We are the people who believe that God's grace is powerful enough and big enough to deal with our sin and produce in us the life of holiness in a comprehensive way. We believe that God can actually transform us such that we live in a way that consistently glorifies his name. We need to rediscover our roots in this doctrine and let it define our voice. Little to nothing else is distinctive about Wesleyan theology. If we do not articulate what is distinctive, then we have no contribution and no voice. 

Getting the message out
It's clear that we need to do a better job getting our Wesleyan message out to a wider audience, not least in web and social media. One step towards accomplishing this would be to create a central site that hosted key Wesleyan blogs by scholars, pastors, and other writers. The Gospel Coalition has become a central site for Reformed thinking and, judging by how often you see their material show up in various places, they appear to be doing it with some effectiveness. Any group with a message must have unified voice and a platform, a central website would go a long way in creating both. 

What do you think? How can we Wesleyans find our voice and effectively articulate our message to a wider audience? 

5 comments:

Jonathan Andersen said...

You're right about having a central site. The difficulty comes in defining the parameters regarding what material will be posted and what the central convictions of the writers would be. TGC has a document here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/about/who

Craig L. Adams said...

Great post. Thanks, Matt.

johnmeunier said...

There is something about a sustained, energetic, and focused effort that can have more impact than a diffuse one. But it needs organization and structure (leadership).

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks to all for your comments.

Jonathan, I agree that such a site would need some sort of parameters or a statement of faith defining the convictions of the contributors. Seedbed has a something could provide a starting point at the bottom of this page:
http://seedbed.com/about-4/

John M., I agree. Someone or some team would have to take this on as a serious project. The team would need a clear sense of mission, competent and committed leadership, thoughtful and provocative contributors, and a very sharp web designer.

deartheophilus said...

Very interesting. I like the variation in the term Wesleyan as opposed to Methodist or a particular denominational affiliation.

I don't think it is too hard to figure out what is distinctly Wesleyan. Though entire sanctification is a major one, it probably isn't the only one. Maybe the class and band meetings should come back into play some how.

Thinking about it further, especially in light of Christian perfection, we will probably have a harder time delineating sin than defending a concept of sanctification. Unfortunately, I think delineating sin is a major catalyst to sanctification.