After-Modern Wesleyan Spirituality: Toward a Neo-Wesleyan Critique of Criticism -- By: Thomas C. Oden

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 25:0 (NA 1993)
Article: After-Modern Wesleyan Spirituality: Toward a Neo-Wesleyan Critique of Criticism
Author: Thomas C. Oden


After-Modern Wesleyan Spirituality:
Toward a Neo-Wesleyan Critique of Criticism

Thomas C. Oden

Dr. Oden, Henry Anson Butte Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University, presented this as the keynote attress of the Wesleyan Theological Society annual meeting held at ATS in November, 1992. Although somewhat edited, it still maintains its original oral character.

In choosing the odd phrase “after-modern Wesleyan spirituality,” I intend by spirituality to point to the disciplined approach to life in the Spirit as formed under the guidance of John and Charles Wesley. By after-modern, I mean the course of actual history following the death of modernity. By modernity I mean the period, the ideology, and the malaise of the time from 1789 to 1989, from the Bastille to the Berlin Wall.

By Wesleyan I embrace all those who even today deliberately remain under the intentioanl discipline of Wesley’s connection of spiritual formation, freely subject to his teaching, admonition, and guidance. Does this eliminate the millions of Methodist laity and clergy who suffer almost total amnesia concerning Wesley except for a romanticized, triumphalist version of Aldersgate? Not altogether, since even they continue to sing the hymns of the Wesleyan revival, share in its liturgy, and reappropriate certain lively fragments of Wesleyan spiritual formation.

In postmodern Wesleyan consciousness we take for granted all available methods of modern inquiry. The postmodern return to classical Christianity is not a simplistic, nostalgic return to premodern methods as if modernity never happened. Rather it is a rigorous, painstaking rebuilding from the ashes of modernity using treasures old and new for moral and spiritual reconstruction.

What makes this Wesleyan consciousness “post” is the fact that it is no longer intimidated by the absolute relativism of mod rot. Post modern Wesleyan spirituality has doubly paid its dues to modernity, and now is searching for forgotten wisdoms long ruled out by the narrowly fixated dogmas of modernity.

There is in postmodern Wesleyan consciousness a growing critique of criticism, a pervasive discontent with underlying aspects of failed enlightenment methods, especially with their moral wreckage and cultural impoverishment. Included in this critique of criticism is a growing recognition that many survivable ideas once assumed to be modern are actually premodern in origin, or grounded in ancient wisdoms.

The eighteenth century evangelical revivals were in a superficial sense quintessentially modern as a critique of Protestant scholasticism, yet coming in a deeper sense in the unique form...

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