When I opened Yes in Christ: Wesleyan Reflections on Gospel, Mission, and Culture by Howard Snyder, my expectations were high. I hoped to read a collection of insightful, reflective, challenging, fresh articles grounded in John Wesley’s thought and practice and conversant with the issues of today’s Church. I was not disappointed!
Snyder’s collection of articles, some new and some revised, provide “food for thought” unlike anything I have read in a long time. Like some of you, I underline and write in the margins as I am challenged or struck by a particular thought or way in which a thought is presented. My pen was kept busy as I read. Within a single page, as Snyder presented some of the personal characteristics or historical circumstances that “lifted Wesley’s vision,” I noted 14 different issues: that page alone was worth the price of the book.
When Snyder identified “eight Wesleyan themes” that help to provide a lens through which to view the world, I was simultaneously elated and left wishing that he had given even more time and space to the elaboration of these themes. For example, Snyder, addressing the “lens of Scripture,” writes: “Wesley viewed and used Scripture in a particular way. The Bible is the authoritative narrative of salvation. It is not primarily a compendium of doctrine but the story of creation, sin, and redemption through Jesus Christ” . This soteriological focus reiterates so clearly the Church of the Nazarene’s own article of faith regarding Scripture when we affirm that the Scriptures inerrant reveal “the will of God concerning us in all things necessary to our salvation” [Article #4]. Snyder helps us to see again that our foundational understanding of the Bible as the book, which tells us the story of redemption, is acutely Wesleyan and must not be jettisoned for other views that focus on history, science, archeology, astronomy, or some other ancillary lens.
Another captivating part of Snyder’s methodology is his push against one of the classic conclusions from Wesleyan studies. Decades ago, Albert Outler, legendary Wesleyan scholar, coined a phrase to summarize the way Wesley approached theology and the sources for said theology: the “Wesleyan quadrilateral” was born. The primacy of the place of Scripture was affirmed with secondary placement given to tradition, reason, and experience. Snyder offers an additional “source”—creation—and therefore, offers a “pentalateral” [50ff]. Judge for yourself whether an additional place for “creation” is necessary or can be assumed in some hybrid of reason and experience; regardless, the conversation is intriguing in the historical milieu concerning the stewardship of creation.
Additionally, Snyder helped me to see more clearly something that I already knew but had not understood or articulated so precisely in regard to mission and evangelism: Snyder writes: “The first word in evangelistic witness is not bad news but good news: Not, ‘You are a sinner,’ but ‘You bear God’s image.’ Evangelism starts with good news” . I believe that what Wesley’s predecessors in the Reformation said is true—in order to hear the good news of God’s provision of salvation, you have to first hear the bad news of sin and brokenness. Snyder reminds me that even being able to hear the bad news requires the preceding or prevenient graciousness of God—good news, which makes the ultimate “good news” even better!
BRAD ESTEP serves as senior pastor of Kansas City First Church of the Nazarene