George G. Hunter III
The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement
Abingdon Press, 2011
Chapter One – Christianity According to the Wesleys
This chapter begins with a discussion of Harry Denman who headed the Board of Evangelism for 26 years. During that time he guided the church’s evangelism efforts with strategies and techniques that were effective for their time.
Hunter points out that early Methodism had a missional identity and priority which the established churches of the day lacked. Part of the weakness of the established church mentality was that they existed in a Christian culture where everybody was a Christian. As he quotes Kierkegaard, “When everybody is a Christian, nobody is a Christian” (p. 6). If this assumption was false in Wesley’s day, it is certainly all the more false today.
Denman suggests that if we are to recapture that same vitality of the early methodist movement, we need to consider four important themes in Wesleyan thought.
First, we must recapture the Wesleyan theological perspective. Our Wesleyan theological tradition offers a welcome alternative to so many other expressions of the Gospel. This is why tools such as the Wesley Study Bible and Disciple Bible Study are so important to us. They help us recapture the supreme importance of Scriptures in Wesleyan Theology. This is not to say that we are to be fundamentalists. (Wesley was never a fundamentalist!). But we are to be a people who live and breathe the scriptures as the living Word of God. We should be so steeped in the scriptures that its phrases become a part of our own speech patterns. We are able to tell the biblical story, weaving our own experiences into its narrative.
Hunter mentions that the 1984 General Conference identified three essential themes of Wesleyan theology: original sin, grace, and sanctification (p. 8). I personally love the way you can identify those themes in what Paul wrote to the Ephesians...
8 You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It's not something you possessed. 9 It’s not something you did that you can be proud of. 10 Instead, we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. God planned for these good things to be the way that we live our lives. (Ephesians 2:8-10, Common English Bible).
Hunter points out that just a recovery of Wesleyan theology alone will not be enough (p. 11). We need to capture the overall strategy of the early Methodist movement which includes more.
Second, the importance of Lay Ministries. If the Holy Spirit fueled the early Methodist movement, the tires that made contact with the road was the empowerment of the laity in the leadership and ministry of the church. The lay preachers, class leaders, band leaders, were all a vital part of driving the growth and expansion of the early Methodist movement.
While the Protestant Reformation gave us the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers, it failed to implement the doctrine in the life of the church. Wesley rejected the notion that ministry was simply for the ordained. Wesley took the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and put it to work in the life and ministry of the church (pp. 13-14).
Third: the importance of Small Groups. Hunter points out that the purpose of small groups must extend beyond the simple objective of study. He describes three objectives...
1. a desire to live a new life (evident in the Rules);
2. an engagement in ministry to each other;
3. outreach and witness to others with an invitation to the new life and fellowship. (p. 16)
In our Incubator group, we have been talking about the importance of adapting our existing groups to a disciple-making paradigm. We must teach people to see God and work around them and help them to give witness to that experience. We take time to pray and care for one another in the group. Our fellowship becomes a means of building a family of God.
Ideally, every regular gathering of people would take on these characteristics: Bible study groups, Sunday School classes, committee meetings, choir rehearsals. We should never become so “business-like” that we forget that our main business is to be about making disciples.
Finally, we need to remember our missional emphasis – ours is to be a Missional Christianity. Every day we encounter people who lack a living relationship with Christ. They may be deists (people who believe in God). They may be pre-Christian (they believe Jesus is the Savior of the world, but don’t live their lives accordingly). They may even be hostile to any religious expression, especially Christianity. How are we able to make connections with people that go beyond the polite public exchange? How are we to involve them in what Hunter understands to be Wesley’s Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation)? I am rephrasing these steps for our own purposes.
1. People are awakened to their need for a new life in Christ by the grace of God.
2. Awakened people are enrolled in a group of faithful people who help guide them to an understanding of God’s grace. They are prepared to make a decision to accept God’s gift in Christ.
3. Continuing in the group, they are able to experience justification (by accepting it) and articulate the experience. They are taught to see God at work and they learn the needed vocabulary to witness to it.
4. Again, continuing with the group (and other groups) they learn to experience a holiness of heart and life (sanctification). (pp. 18-19).
Hunter continues this chapter by providing insights into three common understandings and practices of evangelism from the last generation (pp. 20-21).
1. Evangelism isn’t instant, it tends to be a process.
2. The old order of proclamation, invitation, and assimilation that was effective to an earlier generation must give way to a generation that desires to belong before believing. (see the sequence on p. 21).
3. We have a need to focus on those who may be most receptive to the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Hunter closes the chapter with a summary of what could be considered a game plan for the church (p. 22):
1. Initiate conversation and ministry with pre-Christian people in the community.
2. Invest the most time with the people who are the most receptive.
3. Invite them into the life of Christian community.
4. Support their quest until they discover, in God’s good time, the gift of faith.
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Questions... Share your thoughts and reflections in the comment section below.
1. What was one of Harry Denman’s programs of evangelism that was quite effective in its day? Why would this same strategy not be as effective today?
2. What are some of the ways Wesleyan theology contrasts with Calvinist/Reformed theology or with the Word-Faith (Name it and Claim it) theologies so prevalent today?
3. On page 14, Hunter asks the rhetorical question, “Does American Methodism stand a fair chance of experiencing renaissance without recovering the ministry and mission of the laity.” How well are we equipping and enabling laity for ministry today? Do we still have the tendency to view ministry as something we pay others to do?
4. Think about the small groups, classes, and/or committees you are a part of in the church. How are they at making self-replicating disciples? (disciples who make disciples?) What specific changes can be implemented in these gatherings to make them more intentional in the disciple-making process?
5. Thinking about the groups you are a part of: how are they doing at reaching out and witnessing to others? How are they doing at connecting others to Jesus Christ?
6. What is the role of the laity in developing and leading small groups? What is their responsibility for preparing for this type of ministry?
7. How can we best bring deists and pre-Christians into small groups that they may learn about and experience God’s grace for themselves?
8. How might you engage someone who is hostile to the Christian faith?
9. What groups are you a part of that provides the type of Christian community helpful for inviting pre-Christian people?