Thomas C. Oden. John Wesley's Teachings: Pastoral Theology. Vol. 3. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-310-58709-5.
Dr. Vic Reasoner
THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 2. Fall 2013. Volume 31.
Date Posted Nov., 2013
Oden's agenda was to pull together Wesley's vision of pastoral care and organize this body of material into a systematic pastoral theology. Oden claims that Wesley was the foremost eighteenth-century evangelical teacher on pastoral theology. The natural question is whether Oden is imposing this agenda on Wesley. However, Oden stated that the purpose of this series was to state precisely what Wesley taught without exaggeration or dilution.
Oden therefore proceeds to summarize Wesley's view on the call to ministry, natural gifts, educational preparation, and the pastoral office. Chapter two deals with pastoral counseling, visiting the sick, and mediating conflict. This continues in the next chapter, under the title of "soul care." Issues such as admonition, deception, temptation, depression, and patience are addressed.
Chapters 4-5 deal with Wesley's view of the family. Wesley himself was no shining example of how to be a model husband nor did he raise any children of his own. Yet Wesley did have his mother's example on the education and discipline of children. Wesley himself was largely home schooled. Oden includes helpful material on the purpose of education. On the subject of marriage, Oden supplemented Wesley's own blind spots by drawing from Isaac Ambrose, a Puritan whom Wesley had reprinted in his Christian Library.
Chapter 6 deals with Wesley's theology of the Church, including Word and sacrament. Separate chapters are also devoted to baptism and the Lord's Supper. Oden is especially helpful in his evaluation of whether Wesley taught baptismal regeneration. He concludes that regeneration is the thing signified and baptism is the sign.
Chapter 9 deals with the unity of the body of Christ. Wesley strongly emphasized that Methodists were not to separate, but to redeem both church and society from within. The shameful splintering of the conservative holiness movement is sufficient proof that they do not understand Wesley's theology. Oden applies Wesley's insistence on unity to the current trend of liberal clergy to split off from their historic roots. Oden is especially grieved with "ordained ministers who officiate at weddings that neglect the classic Christian teaching of covenant fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman." At this point Oden shares a personal note as a founder of the confessing movement within the United Methodist Church. His own decision about whether to stay or leave hinges on Wesley's own guidelines. So long as his church does not require of him some act which he cannot in good conscience consent, his intention is not to leave the church that baptized and ordained him.
In chapter 10, Oden deals with effective church leadership. However, this chapter does not focus on how Wesley was a clever administrator. The early Methodist leaders did not start with a plan. Instead, they were men of one book and they preached the old doctrines. And they simply followed the Spirit. Their priorities were doctrinal teaching, spiritual formation, disciplinary action, and protection of this work of God from opposition and persecution.
The final chapter deals with the ministry of evangelism. Oden does not present soul winning as either a sales program or an organized instrument of social change. Wesley's passion was for holy living and Oden presents the holy life as the essence of winning souls. In order to make his point, Oden devotes twelve pages to the life and ministry of John Fletcher. Oden presents Fletcher as one who embodied the wisdom of winning souls.
Based on Oden's agenda to state precisely the views of Wesley, I am surprised that Oden did not chronicle Wesley's changing views on church government or document his view on women preachers. But I do think that what Oden has done is ground-breaking. Many of us are looking forward to the fourth and final volume on issues of ethics and society, to be released on February 2014.