The problem was that I was already an ordained priest. It was some time later that I would learn that I shared with Wesley a post theological education conversion to Christ. I say “conversion to Christ” because that is what it was for me. I had felt called to the ministry, and, before seminary at least, I had believed in the Trinity and the creeds of the Church. What happened to me that night was that I experienced a personal sense of forgiveness and total acceptance by a living and real Christ. Jesus Christ became alive for me in a new way.
The most immediate result of this was expressed by what I did that night. I took the sermon that I had written that week and burned it in the fire place. I was determined to speak now of the love of Christ I knew personally, and not the ideas about God that I had learned in seminary. Let me be clear on this. I am not proud of the fact that I am a post theological education Christian. For example, people are surprised to know that one of my faculty advisors was Henry Nouwen. Yes, I was blessed by a number of outstanding teachers, not the least of which was Jaraslov Pelikan while at Yale. I do believe that some of them had a deep relationship with Christ. But none of these teachers ever spoke of a personal relationship with Christ as something to be desired, and most down played any sense of conversion. Conversion, if it existed at all, was a gradual process of growth. Consequently, I look back a bit jaded at my seminary experience.
For several years, I struggled to integrate my experience with both my theological education and my experience with Episcopal Church practices. Then on my tenth anniversary of ordination, I took a month’s sabbatical. I spent the month at a seminary following guidance from the Dean. What the Dean asked me in our first session changed my theological identity. As I shared trying to put these pieces together, he asked me, “While you were in seminary, did you read the source material of Anglicanism?” What he meant was whether I had actually read Cranmer and the other English Bishops of the reformation. Of course, I hadn’t. I had read commentaries and histories about them, but not the actual works. For the next month, I felt that I had found my roots. I discovered my evangelical and conversionist legacy which is thoroughly Anglican. Then he introduced me to the “Three Ws of Anglicanism; Wesley, Whitfield and Wilberforce. Wesley spoke to me.
Wesley was a high church Anglican who’s “heart was strangely warmed” in the Aldersgate experience, and who had deep commitments to the marginalized and poor of his world. In reading Wesley, I found an Anglican who expressed both what I believed and what I had experienced. I am not a Wesleyan if you mean by this a Methodist. I consider most Methodists that I have known to be very nice and well-intentioned people none of whom have either the conviction or passion of Wesley. I remain a person who believes in both conversion and sanctification. Here are some of the other things that I learned from Wesley:
All the head knowledge in the world cannot substitute for “knowing Christ Jesus in the power of his resurrection.”
Religious experience apart from creedal belief usually ends in shipwreck somewhere.
True conversion leads to passionate love for the poor and to concrete steps to alleviate their poverty.
Social justice and evangelism are both mandates of scripture, to hold one without the other is to diminish Christ’s work.
Holiness of life is the goal of all disciples – we don’t want to be people who do good things - we want to become people who are Christ-like.
Simplicity of life is a Christian virtue.
Christian leaders who hold power often work to suppress Christian experience even those who once claimed a conversion experience.
Being called a fanatic is often a compliment.
Nominal Christian life is the greatest enemy to true discipleship.
Innovation for the sake of mission and evangelism is Apostolic and needed in every age.
Extreme Calvinism quenches human freedom and is joyless.
People have free will and it is obvious that we have to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in ministry and growth.
In Christ, women are equal to men and can be effective agents of ministry.
Bishops are important, but prelacy is a sin against Christ and his Church.
And when it comes to preaching, “set yourself on fire in the pulpit and the whole world will come to see you burn.”