I am working on a new subtitle for this blog. My working draft is: 'A radical Wesleyan approach to transformation through ecumenical conversations'.
This is meant to pull together many of the strands I have covered over the last few weeks and I will try to outline here how I see it coming together.
My roots are in radical theology and so I think 'radical' is important but my roots are also in Methodism and I think from a Methodist perspective Wesley is important and especially his doctrine of sanctification.
Furthermore, sanctification is the key to unlocking the third dimension of reception. Wesley was a high church Tory and yet against his own preconceptions he introduced several radical approaches to the Christian faith. From 'consenting to become more vile' over field preaching to his ordination of ministers for America, and many other times, he acted with reluctance but decisively. I think the reason is that his conservative inclinations were covered by the first two dimensions of reception (ie receptive ecumenism between traditions and ecumenical reception between the local and central church) but the third dimension (the new industrial poor in particular) radicalised him. Here the issue was reception by the world of the Christian faith but also reception by the church from the world. I shall name this dimension 'transformational reception'.
Transformation ('transformational reception')
This is where we find reception of ideas by and from the world. The other two dimensions (the traditions, and local and central church) are largely internal conversations whilst this dimension opens up these other two dimensions to the reality of the world as it is.
The churches observe the world and respond to the world through the inspiration of the spirit. Without this third dimension ecumenism becomes an inward and solipcistic activity. Increasingly little of what the traditions say to the world will make sense or seem relevant or even loving. This is why so much street preaching these days is marginal; most of the groups that practice it are sectarian and live in their own world cut off from the reality most people experience.
The tendency is for formal ecumenism to be understood in a linear fashion. It is communication of my tradition to others, ecumenical decisions to local churches and the faith to the rest of the world. My point is that each of these dimensions is two way; they are conversations. The challenge to ecumenists is to learn to work in these three dimensions and in both directions.
A further complexity depends upon how we understand conversations. First, conversations are not second best to action. To enter into a good conversation is to act, even though it may be an exchange of words. But conversations do not have to be words; any action that causes a response is a conversation. In this sense the divine word is not only spoken but also acted.
So far I can think of three distinct categories of conversation for transformational reception:
- Conversations, usually verbal between the traditions and the world; secularists and people of other faiths. Each tradition may well have such conversations of its own but there needs to be a pooling of insights and ideas, if not full collaboration.
- Conversations that consist of interventions into matters of socio-economic reality. A great deal of ecumenical chaplaincy work, community work and even campaigning will come under this heading.
- Science and the study of the cosmos as a whole. An experiment or field observation can be seen as a conversation. Each tradition will of course have its own interpretation of scientific findings.
The study of missiology has a term Missio Dei, by which is meant God taking the initiative in mission;the experience of finding God already active in the most unexpected places. I'm not sure whether this is any different from what Wesley meant by prevenient grace. Transformational reception incorporates this activity into my model of ecumenism. It also begins to offer us a theoretical framework for understanding 'mission in unity'.