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November 15, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

Changing Blog URL’s

Sorry to do this to anyone who might be out there reading this stuff, but I am officially moving this blog from wordpress.com to my own host, located at cabematthews.com. So come join me over there. And update your RSS feeds.

November 7, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

Wesley on Several Occasions

I really enjoyed auditing a class on Methodist theology this past summer (“We have a theology?” I joked more than once). But I still don’t feel as conversant as I’d like to be in John Wesley’s thought. On top of that, the Barth project is on hiatus, and my leisure reading could use some focus and structure. Not to mention a change of pace, and Wesley is certainly that compared to Barth.

So, I have a new goal: read all of John Wesley’s Sermons on Several Occasions. Side goal: write the occasional blog post on the experience. Here goes.

Sermons on Several Occasions consists of 141 of them. Sermons, I mean. The title is very descriptive of the content. So I’ll leap right into the Preface to the first series (sermons 1-53). Here John Wesley introduces the sermons to follow and their general overarching theme: the way of salvation. I’ve picked out a few features of this preface that seem to be of note.

First, his sermons are sermons, designed for the preaching of the gospel to the people (ad populum); they are not designed as systematic treatises, nor are they written for theologians. They are written to be “plain truth for plain people.” If he’s a theologian he’s clearly doing what Barth called “irregular theology,” but his priorities are such that it may be unfair to label him as a theologian at all. He’s much more of a pastor, albeit a pastor who understands that discipleship is a deep responsibility, and so worth the critical care and precision of articulation we tend to call theology. But even with that Word-care and precise articulation, he makes it clear that he’s trying as hard as he can to be unpretentious.

Second, John Wesley is an evangelical. (If the previous sentence offends you, try it again with the prefix “proto-” in front of the ‘e’ word. If that didn’t help, I’m afraid that’s all I can do for you.) He says things like, “I want to know one thing, — the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way: For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book.” Wesley cares a lot about salvation and how it ‘works.’ For him it works only because of Jesus, and he aspires to be a homo units libri — a man of one book (the Bible, of course). The salvation way of Jesus, disclosed in the Bible, is distinguished from all other ways, is before all other ways.

Of course Wesley is not a contemporary North American evangelical. But while he never handed out a single “Have you heard of the Four Spiritual Laws?” booklet, he is heavily preoccupied with salvation. And while he gets somewhat heavy handed with “heart” language, he very much thinks that Christianity can’t really separate the ‘interior’ from the ‘exterior.’ And while calling him an inerrantist would be anachronistic at best, he does lean heavily on the Scriptures and treats them as primary and authoritative. While it would be irresponsible to read Wesley and hear in him the words of our fundamentalist neighbors, it would be just as irresponsible to read Wesley and not hear some room for rapprochement with them. God has acted to save the world, and Wesley is trying to take that very seriously.

Third, Wesley knew there were other people who knew more than him, and even offered them advice on how they might change his mind (plain proof of Scripture + kind patience). And then he went so far as to say that truth is not the primary determinative category for Christian discipleship — love is: “For, how far is love, even with many wrong opinions, to be preferred before truth itself without love!” But if Wesley isn’t a contemporary North American evangelical, neither is he saying that it doesn’t matter what we believe or think as long as our ‘heart’ is in the right place. I read him here as being in the same line as James Smith’s argument in Desiring the Kingdom: people are not primarily thinking things, but desiring — loving — animals. It’s not that our minds don’t matter, it’s just that they aren’t in charge. Wesley is concerned with the love of God for us, and our love back to God. Because that’s where the action is.

“The God of love forbid we should ever make the trial!  May he prepare us for the knowledge of all truth, by filling our hearts with his love, and with all joy and peace in believing!”

Next up: Sermon 1, “Salvation by Faith.”

November 4, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

this just in: John Wesley was against ‘hell houses’

Let us not kindle in each other this fire of hell; much less blow it up into a flame. If we could discern truth by that dreadful light, would it not be loss, rather than gain? (Sermons on Several Occasions, Preface to the First Series, ¶10)

He kind of rhymed, too…

Seriously, though. Form is just as important as content.

May 18, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

Homiletics

Now that we’ve sat in our comfortable seats and looked at the Scriptures,

Let’s sit in the Scriptures and look at our comfortable seats.

March 14, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

I want the Goods

At the very beginning of Book II of Plato’s Republic, Glaucon, one of Socrates interlocutors, lists three different types of goods:

1. Some things are good purely for their own sake, and not because of anything in particular that comes from them. Joy and ‘harmless pleasures’ are the two examples Glaucon cites.

2. Other things are good both for their own sake and for the sake of things that come from it. Knowing, seeing, and being healthy are Glaucon’s examples here.

3. The third kind of good are things that aren’t particularly good in and of themselves, but are nonetheless desirable because of good results that they produce. Examples include exercising, medical treatment, medicine itself, and making money. (357b-c)

This three part typology (which Socrates responds to quite agreeably, if you were wondering) is fascinating to me, because I think our culture has no comparably nuanced language for the good. For us, what is good is just what is desirable. We participate in other activities, we call them “necessary evils”, but we do so because they give us things that we do desire. But at bottom we’re always only driven by desire. And my hunch is that our desires are more arbitrary and disorganized than we think they are. They have to be in order for capitalism to work.

Plato surely had his own problems (and ends up taking the Republic in a surprisingly totalitarian-esque direction), but nonetheless I think Glaucon’s three different kinds of good are helpful, if for nothing else than to help develop for us the vocabulary of the good beyond the language of “I want…” or “I feel like…” For these exercise their own more clandestine form of totalitarianism, deeply and violently sinister, but in ways that kill quietly, with a smile and a helping of the finest delicacy.

March 7, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

Suffering is overcome by suffering

Bonhoeffer on Matt 26:39ff:

Jesus prays to the Father that the cup pass from him, and the Father hears the son’s prayer. The cup of suffering will pass from Jesus, but only by his drinking it. When Jesus kneels in Gethsemane the second time, he knows that the cup will pass by his accepting the suffering. Only by bearing the suffering will he overcome and conquer it. His cross is the triumph over suffering.

Suffering is distance from God. That is why someone who is in communion with God cannot suffer. Jesus affirmed this Old Testament testimony. That is why he takes the suffering of the whole world onto himself and overcomes it. He bears the whole distance from God. Drinking the cup is what makes it pass from him. In order to overcome the suffering of the world Jesus must drink it to the dregs. Indeed, suffering remains distance from God, but in community with the suffering of Jesus Christ, suffering is overcome by suffering. Communion with God is granted precisely in suffering.

Suffering must be borne in order for it to pass. Either the world must bear it and be crused by it, or it falls on Christ and is overcome in him. That is how Christ suffers as vicarious representative for the world. Only his suffering brings salvation. But the church-community itself knows now that the world’s suffering seeks a bearer. So in following Christ, this suffering falls upon it, and it bears the suffering while being borne by Christ. The community of Jesus Christ vicariously represents the world before God by following Christ under the cross.

[…] Bearing constitutes being a Christian. Just as Christ maintains his communion with the Father by bearing according to the Father’s will, so the disciples’ bearing constitutes their community with Christ […] Jesus called all who are laden with various sufferings and burdens to throw off their yokes and to take his yoke upon themselves. His yoke is easy, and his burden is light. His yoke and his burden is the cross. Bearing the cross does not bring misery and despair. Rather, it provides refreshment and peace for our souls; it is our greatest joy.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, pp. 83-84)

January 10, 2011 / Cabe Matthews

A quick gloss of St. Paul’s big three

I believe that the church in our generation needs to rediscover the apostolic Gospel; and for this it needs the Epistle to the Romans. It needs also to rediscover the relation between this Gospel and its order, discipline, worship, and ethics; and for this it needs the First Epistle to the Corinthians. If it makes these discoveries, it may well find itself broken; and this may turn out to be the meaning of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. (C.K. Barrett, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, 1968)